High school students from Chicago have taken an online course from Iowa State University as they prepare for careers in agriculture. With a little extra effort, they'll get paid for doing it, too.

Iowa State's college of agriculture pilot project involved 12 juniors and seniors at the Chicago High School of Agriculture Sciences. They are enrolled in an agronomy course to learn about crop production and soil management. Those who complete the course with an A or B and then enroll in agriculture full-time at Iowa State will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the College of Agriculture.

"I am taking the class because it gave me the opportunity to dabble in something that I might deal with in college, seeing that I will be going into horticulture," says Brittney Kee, a CHSAS senior. The curriculum at the school focuses on agribusiness and plant and animal sciences.

"The scholarship is a great motivator," she adds.

Iowa State offers the course as an extension of its agronomy department. says David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs in the College of Agriculture. "You would be hard pressed to find many 17-year-olds in Chicago who could tell you what agronomy is all about. So, with the help of a donor's support, Steve Fales, chair of our agronomy department, and I decided to use this experiment to introduce an exciting major to a new audience." 

The course presented to the CHSAS students was the exact same one that Iowa State students take on campus as their introduction to crop production, says Gina McAndrews, course instructor. Students use Computer Integrated Multimedia Program for Learning Enhancement, an interactive computer program that includes digitized tutorial videos, practice learning exercises, self-quizzes and problem-solving scenarios. Subjects range from plant anatomy and grain quality to plant breeding and tillage practices. Students in the distance class have hands-on lab assignments to help them learn the material.

Iowa State's College of Agriculture and the agronomy department hope to increase the number of students involved, in other states and in Iowa. "We plan to evaluate the success of the pilot program and make plans for expansion next fall, including a special marketing program in Iowa," says Acker.

Iowa State University