Name: Brandon Keller
Title: Agriculture Instructor
Institution: Northeast Community College
Project Name: Developing a Precision Agriculture Workforce Ladder through Secondary, College, and Incumbent Worker Education that Integrates Emerging Technologies and Farm Data
ATE Central: How did you become involved with ATE?
Keller: I became involved with the ATE program shortly after being hired by Northeast Community College in Fall 2017, as the then-PI for our current grant wanted to transition out of the role. Since I came into the college with some previous grant experience during my master’s program at Northwest Missouri State University, my supervisor asked me to consider taking over the PI role on the project at the end of year one. That fall I got to attend my first NSF ATE PI Conference in Washington, D.C. and I was immediately hooked on the ATE program! I was amazed by all of the opportunities and dedicated faculty members out in the ATE community.
ATE Central: Tell us about the goals of your project.
Keller: The overarching goal of our project was to create a laddered approach to increase skilled precision agriculture technicians in Nebraska, addressing an industry shortage that the 20 country region our college serves was witnessing. To make this happen we broke our ladder into three areas:
High School: To help develop awareness and interest in Precision Agriculture early in high school student careers through the use of a five-lesson curriculum that will eventually be proposed to the Nebraska Department of Education to be integrated into the Introduction to Agriscience curriculum across the state.
College: To create a modularized and hands-on curriculum for our students that will provide real-world, hands-on instruction in the classroom. It was also a goal to take the farm data produced on our 530 acre college farm and identify ways to integrate that date into our agriculture programing.
Incumbent Workforce: To provide short-course workshops, modularized trainings, and customized trainings to help continue the education of technicians in our service area.
ATE Central: What makes the work of your project/center unique?
Keller: Part of our project was creating a mobile Precision Agriculture Learning simulator that allows us to bring the training to the person instead of requiring the person to come to the training. Northeast Community College contributed the trailer to the project and funds from the National Science Foundation outfitted the trailer with various Precision Agriculture equipment for hands-on training. The trailer has traveled to high schools, industry and trade shows to provide hands-on training with up to date technology. Due to the success of the PAL simulator, our original target of 12 high schools delivering curriculum over three years was nearly doubled by year three, with a waitlist for more that would like to be added to our PAL simulator visit list.
ATE Central: What's the best part about your work with ATE?
Keller: I would say the best part of my work with ATE is the opportunity to network with so many amazing people across the United States that are part of the ATE program. Through my involvement with the ATE program I am more connected to faculty members across the United States than I had ever dreamed of when starting my career in higher education just four years ago.
ATE Central: What changes do you see in the future in the Agricultural and Environmental Technologies field?
Keller: I think we will continue to see the trend in agricultural technology of improving our efficiency in agricultural production to allow us to do more with fewer resources. We have the unique challenge within the agriculture industry of continuing to produce enough of the correct food sources to feed a growing global population all while losing production capacity every year. The added challenge then becomes figuring out the logistics to get the food resources allocated to the proper areas globally.
ATE Central: What's your favorite dish or type of food?
Keller: I am a big fan of seafood! I really enjoy any opportunity I get to travel to a location where I can order fresh seafood off the menu, as it is not common in Northeast Nebraska!
ATE Central: Is there something that people might be surprised to learn about you, or something else you'd like to share?
Keller: I am an avid SCUBA diver, the thrill of being able to breathe underwater and explore portions of the world that are not seen by everyone is absolutely fascinating to me. It is my hope to one day make it to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef!