When did agriculture first start? The 30 secondary school students shadowing an undergraduate in Plant Sciences look at each other questioningly. ‘Two thousand years ago?’ hazards one of them. Five times that, reveals the teacher, Arjen Schots.
A full classroom during a Plant Sciences student-shadowing day. Sterre Brouns on the left and Joep Willems on the right. Photo Coretta Jongeling
In the next hour, Schots provides a whistlestop tour of the history of humans and agriculture, emphasizing that people started improving plants as soon as we planted them in order to eat them. There is a real challenge ahead for future students: ‘In the coming 50 years we shall have to produce as much food as we have in the whole of human history up to now,’ says Schots.
‘Shadow students’ Sterre Brouns and Joep Willems are not sure yet if they want to study Plant Sciences, but they certainly think the university is ‘very friendly’.
Wageningen’s small scale appeals to Joep. ‘I’m at a small secondary school now, so I think this university would suit me. And my brother is here too.’ But Sterre sees it as a drawback that Wageningen is on the small side. ‘I keep hearing that everybody knows everybody. I’m not sure I like that. I’m going to go to two other student-shadowing days too.’
Schots is happy with today’s turnout. The classroom is full and there will be another ‘shadowing day’ in February. ‘We get nearly 100 first-years every year these days. And we need to, because the plant-breeding sector has been growing by about 10 per cent per year for years now. We could even grow a bit more,’ says Schots. So is it important to provide an appealing class on the studentshadowing days? ‘Well, I don’t try and make it extra attractive. I usually just give a class from a first-year course. Of course I adapt it a little bit, but this was a realistic class.’