With numerous research projects and demonstration sites, the Southwest Research Center offers many educational opportunities throughout its nearly 900 acres.
Students who are part of the Greater Ozark Center for Advance Professional Studies (GO CAPS) program in Monett are getting a first-hand look at those educational opportunities. GO CAPS Monett, a program dedicated to giving high school students hands-on learning experiences, introduced an agri-business/food systems strand to its curriculum last year. The group has used the Southwest Research Center as its classroom since it began.
“We really appreciate the partnership with GO CAPS Monett,” said David Cope, superintendent of the Southwest Research Center. “It’s a great opportunity for the students to feel out every sector of the agriculture industry before they jump into the workforce or head off to college. It’s a great chance for the students to find the right fit for them.”
GO CAPS Monett offers five strands to high school students in the southwest part of the state – STEM; medicine and healthcare; agri-business/food systems; business and technology; and teacher education. The program provides profession-based learning and professional skills development, while also promoting responsiveness, self-discovery and exploration, and an entrepreneurial mindset.
Kailee Mallory serves as the instructor for the agri-business/food systems strand.
“Our students get to test drive their careers as high school students,” Mallory said. “They’re building skills in a professional environment. It’s an amazing opportunity to find what interests them and the program allows them to get a head start on their careers.”
Mallory said students have to be juniors or seniors in high school and they are responsible for getting to the Southwest Research Center each day. Interested students fill out an application and go through an interview before being accepted into the program. Mallory said she has students from Monett, Wheaton, Aurora, Mount Vernon and Billings. Students can receive college credit through the program as well.
“GO CAPS Monett provides students with a ton of responsibility,” Mallory said. “They get to meet with numerous individuals throughout the industry. It’s an opportunity to learn how to be professional and punctual.”
Students have the opportunity to visit with local businesses, such as Tyson Foods, Hiland Dairy and FCS Financial. They hear from a variety of speakers and tour various locations. While there are no tests, students are graded on professionalism and attendance, as well as a capstone project. This year’s capstone project, MO Beef for MO Kids, is focused on bringing locally sourced beef to cafeterias in the Monett school district. The students were in charge of finding cattle producers who were willing to donate the beef, presenting their plan to the school board and are working to let other high school students know of their plan.
“An important part of this capstone project is raising beef awareness,” Mallory said. “We’ve added some school gardens as well with the goal of producing our own freshly-grown produce for the cafeteria. We’re really trying to provide some healthy cafeteria options.”
GO CAPS Monett students have also played an important role during the Southwest Research Center Field Day and Career Exploration Day. They help prepare for the event, as well as during the actual event. This year presented another professional opportunity, too, as Southwest recently held a ribbon cutting for a new facility. The students helped during the planning of that event as well.
The students play a key role in several research projects at the Southwest Research Center, from walnuts to cattle.
“The students have definitely been able to get their hands dirty and jump into some of our research projects,” Cope said. “They’ve been an important part of several of our events, and we really appreciate their professional approach to the work. This partnership provides us great outreach and educational opportunities, and we’re hoping it opens the door for recruitment opportunities as well.”
Kensie Darst, a freshman at the University of Missouri working on her bachelor’s degree in agricultural education, was a part of the GO CAPS Monett program before coming to MU. Darst was incredibly involved in her FFA chapter at Aurora throughout high school, so the program was a perfect fit. She now serves as a vice president for Missouri FFA, and made several connections during her time with GO CAPS Monett. Those relationships helped guide her to Mizzou.
“Being at the Southwest Research Center allowed me to have a direct line of communication with employees of the University of Missouri,” Darst said. “I gained more of an insight on all of the research that MU does throughout the entire state of Missouri. This created a found appreciation for all that the University does for their employees and their students.”
Darst is working toward becoming a high school agriculture teacher. GO CAPS Monett helped prepare her before she even stepped on the MU campus.
“Thinking about preparation for life after high school, one thing that GO CAPS prepared me for was professionalism,” Darst said. “Our advisor, Kailee, challenged each of us to become young professionals by developing the basic life skills that we would need when it comes to meeting industry leaders and future employers. Little did I know then that these skills would be a necessity for our day-to-day lives. GO CAPS allows students to receive hands-on experience outside of the traditional classroom setting. It puts students in a professional environment where they are given the opportunity to engage in a career that they wish to pursue.
“GO CAPS provided me with the opportunity to become an advocate for agriculture. This is an essential component, as we all know, to becoming an ag teacher. Being highly involved within my local FFA chapter, I knew that having this opportunity would further my knowledge within the agricultural industry, while also allowing me to learn about different businesses and farms that are affiliated with the industry.”