Andrea Fristoe

Nation’s First Public Community College Offers Students Experiential Learning Opportunities

Blog Post created by Andrea Fristoe on May 16, 2018

This is a feature from the May 2018 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link


Three Faculty-1.jpgLocated 45 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois, Joliet Junior College has a booming agriculture program for postsecondary students looking to obtain an associate’s degree or lay the foundation they need to transfer to a four-year institution. With over 80 agriculture course offerings, students are able to find their niche in agriculture, while they also gain valuable employability skills.


The college itself was the first public community college in the United States. It created the first postsecondary agriculture transfer program in Illinois in 1954 and the first two-year career agriculture program in 1964. The Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences department at Joliet Junior College currently has eight full-time faculty members, three adjunct faculty members, and three support staff members.


A unique opportunity that the Joliet Junior College agriculture program offers its students is an extensive Supervised Occupational Experience (SOE) program, which places them in paid internships that help them to complete 15 percent of their applied science degrees. The program involves nearly 150 businesses each year to provide its students with employment opportunities for their SOE’s. As part of this experience, the students have to complete job interviews, work full-time in their positions, and receive an evaluation from their employer. The students are actually required to complete two separate SOE’s while they are enrolled in the program in order to obtain their applied science degrees.


opap1.jpgThe first SOE is a summer internship program that lasts 10-14 weeks after the students complete their second semester of classes. The students have a database of over 1,500 potential employers and internship opportunities to choose from. The placements span 38 states and four additional countries. Each business has an established relationship with the agriculture program at Joliet Junior College and is willing to work closely with the students and staff to make sure all requirements are met for the students to earn their degrees.


“We believe this is the most effective method for students to learn not only skills, but also the positive attitudes which will contribute to their success in the future,” said Bill Johnson, former Agriculture Production and Swine Management Advisor at Joliet Junior College.


The second SOE program occurs during the students’ final semester and lasts 10 weeks. Typically, this position is with the same employer as the first SOE and the requirements are exactly the same. The benefit to this second opportunity is that most students are offered full-time employment from their internship immediately following graduation. Since the implementation of the SOE program began in 1966, the placement of Joliet Junior College graduates in full-time positions has been nearly 100 percent.


opap2.jpgAs the agriculture industry continues to evolve, it is imperative that institutions like Joliet Junior College continue to grow and produce students who are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to be competent in the workforce. The school’s mission is to provide students the opportunity to develop academically, personally, and socially as they prepare for lifelong learning. It is for this reason, and through the SOE program offered at Joliet Junior College, that they were named the 2017 NAAE Region IV Outstanding Postsecondary/Adult Agricultural Education Program award winner.


The Outstanding Postsecondary/Adult Agricultural Education Program award is sponsored by Monsanto as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about this award category and to see the other regional award winners, follow this link.


NAAE would like to express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the faculty and staff at Joliet Junior College and close friends and family of Bill Johnson, for his recent passing. We appreciate all of his contributions to agricultural education. He will be greatly missed by all.