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DSU students studying to communicate agriculture

Dickinson State University agriculture majors Inga Larson, left, a junior, and Shauna McNaughton, a sophomore, talk about their career aspirations Thursday afternoon at the university's agriculture building (Press Photo by Bryan Horwath).

Dickinson State University junior Inga Larson wants to pursue a career in the agriculture industry, but that doesn't necessarily mean she'll be operating a combine or doing field work.

Like a handful of other DSU students, Larson is studying agriculture and natural sciences with a mix of communication courses in the hope of eventually getting into marketing, journalism or other public relations-types of work.

"Ag communications is kind of its own thing," said Larson, a junior agriculture business major and communications minor at DSU. "You don't necessarily get that communications side in just an ag business degree and you can't really get an agricultural side very much in straight communications. I really wanted to merge those two because I enjoy writing and photography and merging those two degrees is the best of both worlds for me."

Heidi Hintz, a DSU senior from Flasher majoring in communications with an ag business minor, said she decided to pursue a career path in ag communications after traveling around the state as the 2010 North Dakota Dairy Princess.

"I found out first-hand that people have very little knowledge about agriculture, farming and where their food comes from," Hintz said. "That sparked my interest in the communications aspect because I wanted to help get the message of agriculture out there. Some people really don't know how their milk gets to their refrigerator."

Raised on a dairy farm southwest of Bismarck, Hintz originally was a music major at DSU before changing her focus to a degree path centering on ag communications.

"I'd like to work for a newspaper or maybe in TV or radio," Hintz said. "Consumers hear a lot about the negative side of agriculture and from anti-ag groups, but they don't hear as much in the way of positive messages about raising beef cattle or milking cows or the poultry industry. I think we need more positive messages that reach the consumer's ear. Farming is a business just like any other business -- it's not easy."

DSU doesn't offer a specific ag communications bachelor's degree. However, Chip Poland, the school's Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies chair, said his department has received inquiries from a handful of students the past couple of years who have expressed a desire to merge the worlds of agriculture and communications, to which he said the department is happy to do.

"We don't have plans at the moment in terms of introducing an ag communications major," Poland said. "But we're certainly looking at how we can respond to a student who comes to DSU, wants to graduate from DSU, and has interest in ag communications."

A Saskatchewan native and a member of the DSU rodeo team, sophomore Shauna McNaughton is taking a slightly different path, majoring in natural resource management with a communications minor, but has the same goal of bringing a message to the masses while working in the private sector or for a government agency.

"I really want to work with people and that's what kind of drew me into communications," McNaughton said.

Larson, a Miles City, Mont., native, said she has enjoyed her time so far at DSU.

"DSU has given me a lot of opportunities," Larson said. "Especially since I've become more involved in the ag department, the ag club and public relations department here at DSU, I've had tremendous opportunities to get to know people in the community, as well as the faculty here. Everyone in the ag department is just great."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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