MISSISSIPPI STATE , Miss. — While Mississippi high school students enjoyed their recent summer vacation, many of their teachers themselves became students.

That was the case with eight high school agriculture teachers who trained at the new Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology Laboratory on the Mississippi State University campus.

The lab, funded by the state Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Technical Education through special funding from the Mississippi legislature, is the only one of its type on a university campus. It is a high-tech, octagonal environment that consists of a central project work area surrounded by state-of-the-art computer workstations. Because of its design, the lab has been dubbed “Agripod.”

The teachers in the three-week summer program gained the endorsement to their license required to teach the Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology curriculum.

Bill McGrew of the Mississippi Department of Education said the curriculum is designed to move students from a very basic knowledge of agriculture to what it takes to run an agribusiness.

“The first course of the curriculum introduces students to basic information about agriculture,” he said. “If they are interested, they can move into the more advanced courses in following years, including ones on managing an agricultural enterprise.”

The courses are geared to Mississippi agriculture.

“Mississippi teachers developed the curriculum with input from the agricultural business community,” McGrew said. “A similar computer-based instructional system had been developed by Applied Technologies of Calhoun, Ga. Our teachers presented the curriculum they developed and Applied Technologies made changes to their modules to meet the Mississippi curriculum.”

There are currently 154 agriculture programs in Mississippi, 48 of which have Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology labs, and more are planned. Magee Enterprises of Brandon, Miss., represents Applied Technologies in Mississippi and installed the 48 labs.

The teachers who trained on the MSU unit during the past summer included Karen Cook, a teacher at the Monroe County Vocational Complex. The curriculum, she said, uses technology her students are already comfortable with to introduce them to what, for many, are new aspects of agriculture.

“Many of my students think of agriculture as just driving tractors and things like that,” she said. “This shows them the technical and business opportunities available in agriculture.”

A second group of high school teachers will train at the lab during the fall, and MSU students in agricultural education also are using the facility.

“With this facility, we’ll be able to certify our students to teach agricultural science at the secondary level,” said Walter Taylor, head of the Department of Agricultural Education and Experimental Statistics. “In the past, they had to go through three weeks of training after graduation to become certified.”

Bob Ratliff is a science writer for University Relations at Mississippi State University.