UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences can fulfill their language requirements with a series of introductory and intermediate-level Spanish for Agriculture language and culture courses designed to benefit both students and industry.
“Agriculture relies heavily on a Spanish-speaking workforce,” said Jaime García Prudencio, assistant teaching professor and lead faculty member in the Spanish for Agriculture program. “My students see this need in their internships, summer jobs and even on class trips.”
García Prudencio explained that across all sectors of agriculture, communication skills are critical to avoid job-related injuries, increase efficiency, improve the workplace environment and minimize employee turnover.
“Industry stakeholders are constantly looking for more bilingual managers, and we hope these courses will help match that need,” he said. “If you can do your job in two languages, you’re a double asset.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Latinos and Hispanics in Pennsylvania increased 38% between 2010 and 2019. García Prudencio said this trend is likely to continue as people relocate for opportunities in the food and natural resources industries.
“It’s difficult to retain the workforce if workers can’t understand instructions,” García Prudencio said. “Spanish-speaking workers could be trained and certified, but they won’t be able to complete tasks without clear instructions. We’ve observed that in facilities with bilingual managers, everything works seamlessly.”
Tailoring the courses to agriculture is more than just vocabulary words. García Prudencio, who is trained as a forester and agroecologist, teaches with the goal of giving students the ability to convey clear and simple ideas and commands at the farm or job site.
He also works to incorporate technology into his classes. His students use Duolingo, a language app, to earn participation points. With classes shifting online due to the pandemic, students from Penn State Commonwealth Campuses can take the classes, too.
“I give my students the basics,” García Prudencio said. “They practice, learn new vocabulary, cultivate personal connections, and finally engage in real and meaningful communication.”
García Prudencio noted that speaking another language has the added benefit of allowing students to understand issues in the ag industry on a broader scale and from a different perspective. He uses the examples of work he has done translating spotted lanternfly resources and translating COVID-related resources for the college and Penn State Extension.
Students Bennet Peloquin and Gillian Warner have taken three of the courses. Peloquin, a junior agribusiness management major from Bellbrook, Ohio, decided to fulfill his ROTC language requirements with the Spanish for Agriculture language series upon a friend’s recommendation.
“Professor García Prudencio was outstanding to work with,” said Peloquin. “He’s understanding, genuine and wants the best for everybody. He’s one of the best professors I’ve had, and it was a really fulfilling program.”
Warner, of State College, similarly enjoyed the class atmosphere García Prudencio created. She is a senior graduating in May with a degree in community, environment, and development.
“I knew Professor García Prudencio from the college, and I thought his classes would be a welcoming environment to learn a new language,” she said. “Having small classes with a relaxed teamwork environment was useful because, in the real world, we’re not going to be perfect. If I forgot a word in Spanish, one of my classmates or Professor García Prudencio was always willing to help.”
Peloquin is considering a job at the Chicago Board of Trade, in ag banking or environmental law. Warner will work in the equine industry after graduation, starting this summer as the head of an equestrian program for a summer camp in North Carolina. No matter where their professional careers take them, both students plan to continue improving and using their Spanish.
As the Spanish for Agriculture program has grown, it has expanded to include collaborations with the international agriculture minor and Penn State Extension. This Spanish4Ag initiative is centered on advising extension leaders on ways to serve the Latino community, identifying and understanding needs, and finding assets in the college to fulfill these needs.
“Understanding another language won’t remove all barriers, biases and social constructs,” García Prudencio said. “But it can help us recognize our differences and similarities — do not be surprised to find core values are universal. We build bridges by embracing diversity, and there’s no better way to recognize diversity than by working together.”