Pete Poppert, assistant professor of practice in agribusiness and Sydney Erickson, junior business administration major, stand at the front of a yellow-painted classroom to answer questions from guests.
Pete Poppert, assistant professor of practice in agribusiness and chair of the Agribusiness Department, and Sydney Erickson, a Doane junior majoring in business administration and minoring in agribusiness, answer questions after presenting research about the university's online courses in agribusiness at the 2022 Great Plains Economics and Business Conference in November. Poppert, Erickson and Kate Bruns, a Doane junior studying agribusiness, have created an online competition for Nebraska FFA chapters to help high school students explore ag-related careers and learn skills in entrepreneurship.

Starting in February, students in six Nebraska high school FFA chapters will build lemonade stands. Then they’ll create a sales kiosk. And then they’ll open an auto repair shop.

The students will run these businesses in a three-part online simulation, as part of a competition held by Doane University’s Agribusiness degree program. But they’ll build real skills, in learning to open and manage businesses in ag-related fields.

The idea for the competition began back in spring 2022. Pete Poppert, assistant professor of practice in agribusiness and chair of the Agribusiness Department at Doane, wanted to create an activity that would help Nebraska high school students discover the benefits of studying agribusiness and the career opportunities that come with it.

“One in four jobs in Nebraska is related to agriculture,” Poppert said, citing stats from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “But we’re not graduating 25% of our students in ag-related degree programs.”

In fall 2022, he requested help from Doane juniors Kate Bruns and Sydney Erickson to bring the competition to life. They play-tested each simulation, figuring out where students may have questions, what might cause confusion and how they can measure and judge the work of each team. They helped coordinate the schedule for the competition, created training instructions for participants and will do much of the day-to-day work as the competition begins.

Bruns was in FFA herself during high school in Bloomfield, Nebraska — and competitions were her favorite part. She preferred the hands-on events to lectures, and a competition like this, where you could gain skills through practice? It would have been her jam.

“It’s a great learning opportunity,” she said. “It will be exciting to see how it all turns out. Hopefully the students will enjoy it and learn something from it.”

Erickson, who grew up in Pierce, Nebraska, didn’t participate in FFA, and actually didn’t plan to study agribusiness. Her grandpa was a farmer, but she didn’t see herself taking that route for her career.

However, in learning about agribusiness while working toward her business administration degree, she learned there was a lot more to it than she thought in high school. She has since added an agribusiness minor.

“There are so many options,” Erickson said, for careers in agriculture beyond farming. “I think that would have been really eye-opening for me [as a high school student].”

The FFA chapters participating include Arthur Public Schools, Bryan High School in Omaha, and Norris Public Schools. Teams of three students will work together and will be judged in each segment of the competition — running the lemonade stand, then the kiosk, then the auto repair shop — for how they meet a wide range of goals.

Just like in a real business, they have to manage inventory and customer service, meet sales targets and open new franchises, hire employees and conduct marketing campaigns. But they get a week of practice before each new segment of the competition, to get a feel for the simulation program and plan strategy.

The competition will wrap up in late April, with a banquet held at Doane for all participants. That’s the only time the competition will be in person.

Poppert is Doane’s A.R. Kinney Endowed Chair of Business and Economics, which comes with a stipend to support research and projects. Part of that stipend has gone toward preparing the FFA competition, which has additionally received $2000 grants from both Farm Credit Services and First State Bank in Lincoln. The funds pay for licensing and use of GoVenture, the online simulation platform that will be used for the competition.

Poppert hopes that, with the success of this initial competition, it can be continued and expanded to include additional high school organizations in the future.