Program helps home-schoolers learn about agricultural sciences

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

by Sheradan Hill

Twenty students from ages 8 to 14 gathered in a classroom last spring buzzing with excitement. They evaluated the bacteria growing in the petri dishes they prepared at their last session.

“I swabbed the bathroom door handle!” one exclaimed just before their instructor, Jennifer Fishburn, called them to attention.

For several months, Fishburn explored her calling as an agricultural educator by creating a hands-on program for local home-schooled students. The program was led by Purdue students.

“The reason we reached out to home-schooled students was because there aren’t many opportunities available to just them,” said Fishburn, a senior plant science major from Argos, Indiana. “Our goal is to make science easier to learn through hands-on experiences in a structured way.”

The program begins with the basics of plant anatomy and progresses through topics like photosynthesis.

“They’re getting a high-quality education,” said Fishburn. “The ultimate goal would be getting these students interested in majoring in something like plant science.”

Fishburn admitted that she did not always imagine herself in plant science. She credited the influence of her high school FFA adviser. Fishburn was interested in animals, but her FFA adviser introduced her to more avenues in agriculture and encouraged Fishburn to explore options.

“When I got into high school I had a reality check that being a veterinarian isn’t the only option,” Fishburn said. “Soil judging in FFA is what spun me toward plant science.”

Fishburn said her high school experiences taught her how important it is to try new things, so when she arrived at Purdue, she wanted to try as much as she could. Eventually, that adventurous spirit led to her becoming a teaching assistant for a Purdue botany class. In turn, that led to her experience with the home-school students.

She didn’t limit her curiosity to her major. Like many college freshmen, Fishburn went to various club call-outs, ate pizza, and found an organization that worked for her. Now she is the president of the Rotaract Club of Purdue University, a collegiate version of Rotary International.

Jennifer Fishburn
Photo by Sheradan Hill
Jennifer Fishburn explains plant sciences to an elementary school student. The senior plant science major helped create a hands-on learning program for home-schooled students near Purdue’s West Lafayette, Indiana, campus.

“In my free time I enjoy doing community service activities,” she said. “I definitely love the Purdue Rotaract Club for that reason.”

Club members select projects in which they want to participate. Fishburn said one of their recent projects was helping members of the community winterize their homes.

Fishburn said she is proud of the outreach program she helped create in the home-schooling community. She hopes the outreach efforts will continue after she graduates. One thing is certain: The experience helped shape her path. After earning her degree, Fishburn will participate in a one-year transitional program to obtain a teaching license.

In the meantime, Fishburn said she is trying to enjoy her remaining days at Purdue. That includes a variation on a Purdue tradition: running through all the fountains on campus.

“I’m trying to convince people to do a cap and gown fountain run after the graduation ceremony, but I guess you have to return your cap and gown,” Fishburn said. “I’ll definitely miss being constantly surrounded by my peers (especially in the College of Agriculture), but I know I will always have a network of agriculturists.”

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