A case study: Student perceptions of a high-impact agricultural learning experience
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The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University established a leadership and professional development program for undergraduate students in 2017. The Matador Institute of Leadership Engagement (MILE) is a three-semester program that utilizes high-impact, authentic, and experiential learning to engage undergraduate agricultural students and develop their leadership and professional skills. Each semester encompassed a different aspect of leadership including individual leadership, service leadership, and community leadership, as well as different segments of the agricultural industry including livestock, commodities, and conservation. Students engaged in classroom-based instruction as well as field-based instruction. Classroom-based instruction was delivered through coursework, self-assessments, workshops, seminars, and guest speakers, while field-based instruction was delivered through agricultural tours, legislative trips, service projects, and internships. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine students’ perceptions of instructional methods, as well as their perceived leadership and professional development that resulted from the program. A conceptual framework guided this study through the incorporation of concepts including high-impact learning, authentic learning, and experiential learning. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews and written reflections. Data analysis was guided by a coding process and thematic analysis. Themes emerged regarding students’ perceptions of instructional methods, including active engagement, preference for field-based learning, and learning from industry leaders and professionals. The themes that emerged regarding students’ perceived leadership and professional development that resulted from the program included understanding of self and others, knowledge of the agricultural industry, networking, and concept of leadership. Overall, students preferred field-based instructional methods that were hands-on and involved interaction with industry professionals, while their perceived leadership and professional development included their increased understanding of themselves as well as others, their ability to network, a more comprehensive understanding of the agricultural industry, and a more developed concept of leadership. The findings of this study could offer valuable insight to future research and leadership programs looking to implement effective practices.