Crop and soil sciences prepares next generation of agriculture professionals

Recent grad reflects on how his time at MSU and various experiences prepared him for a future supporting land stewardship and crop profitability on his family’s farm.

Recent crop and soil science grad Hans Bierlein is holding a lettuce leaf in a field.
Recent MSU grad Hans Bierlein had an internship with Michigan Sugar Co. during his time as a crop and soil sciences undergrad.

Many of the people Hans Bierlein knows in the agricultural industry attended Michigan State University (MSU). So, when Bierlein decided to pursue an education in crop and soil sciences based on his family farm experiences, MSU’s reputation and location made it a clear standout.

“MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is known as one of the top agricultural schools in the U.S.,” Bierlein said. “I felt I had an incredible opportunity to attend a world-known school while still being close to home.”

Numerous academic and extracurricular experiences helped expand Bierlein’s understanding of agriculture, created opportunities to network with industry professionals, and helped solidify his interests in crop and soil sciences.

“While at MSU, I had an internship with Michigan Sugar Co., participated in CANR Student Senate, was a dedicated member of the Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity, was a member of the Agronomy Club, and worked in the MSU Sugarbeet Pathology Lab,” he said. “Overall, my college experiences were rewarding and I encourage other students to become as involved as possible.”

Name: Hans Bierlein

Hometown: Vassar, Michigan

Graduation date: December 2020

Academic programs: Major in crop and soil sciences through the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences; minor in agribusiness management through the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics

Why did you choose to study crop and soil sciences?

I chose to study crop and soil sciences because I grew up on a family cash crop farm [in Vassar] where we grew corn, dry edible beans and sugarbeets. I figured having more knowledge in agronomy could further my farm’s success in terms of both land conservation and crop profitability.

Who or what inspired your interest in crop and soil sciences?

Whenever I would meet with local agronomists, they would recall their experiences while pursuing their crop and soil sciences degree at MSU. I knew I wanted my career to be in the agricultural field, so I figured pursuing a crop and soil sciences degree would be best, even if I decided to work off-farm in the future, as an agronomist or ag input representative for example.

Hans-Bierlein-MSU Agronomy Club Picture
Hans Bierlein was part of the MSU Agronomy Club when he was a student. Bierlein graduated in December 2020.

What has been one of your best experiences within your academic program?

Going on the field trips to different parts of the state in the soil resources class was one of the most memorable class experiences I’ve had. It was interesting to compare different types of soil horizons in different areas of Michigan that formed under contrasting circumstances.

Have you had other experiences that have helped expand your skills?

Being a member of the Agronomy Club helped me obtain the internship with Michigan Sugar through the pre-career fair mixer, hosted by the club the night before the CANR holds its annual career fair. In addition to the internship, salespeople and other ag company representatives would attend Agronomy Club meetings where we discussed hot topics in the ag world, as well as listened to what their experiences in the ag industry were like.

Joining the Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity helped to hone in on both my social and professional skills through various enjoyable events. As a representative in the CANR Student Senate, I was able to represent Alpha Gamma Rho and listen to what other clubs and organizations were doing throughout the year, which also helped my formal professional skills.

I also had the opportunity to work on campus in the Sugarbeet Pathology Lab. This was very educational and enjoyable because I come from a farm that grows sugarbeets. The research was very relevant, and helped to tie in some knowledge learned in the classroom and apply it in a lab setting.

How has COVID-19 affected your experiences as a student?

COVID-19 cut short the in-person learning of the spring 2020 semester, and both students and professors were forced to quickly adapt to a fully online learning environment. I was comfortable taking online courses, as I already had experience in past semesters. Some professors had little experience with online teaching. From what I witnessed, though, both the professors and students persevered and made the best out of a tough situation.

The same is true with my graduating semester of fall 2020. The information was still taught at a reasonable pace to which all students could get a firm grasp of the material and succeed. I commend the university, faculty and staff for persevering through the challenges.

What were some of the best things about being an MSU student?

Some of the best things about being an MSU student are the sense of community, the great education and the extensive career network connected with being a part of MSU.

No matter what background you come from, you are sure to meet someone with similar interests at MSU through the different clubs and organizations, IM sports teams, or just common conversation in class. The MSU professors are leaders in their fields of expertise and learning from them is a great privilege.

There are many MSU alumni scattered throughout the globe in countless occupational fields, and that can help in trying to secure an internship during school or a full-time career afterwards.

Any thoughts or advice for current students?

Be sure to reach out to fellow classmates and your professors whenever you can. All of the CANR professors are deeply invested in how students learn the material and take valuable information away from their class.

Communicating with your professors and forming good relationships with them can also have a positive impact in obtaining good, sought-after internships with prospective employers, and can help with getting scholarships.

A lot of information I gained while at MSU was done outside of class as well, through communicating with my fellow peers about how farming is done in their part of the state, country, or even world. Become as involved in the CANR as possible through student clubs and organizations, as these can help provide a comfortable place to get acquainted with peers, as well as offer potential future career options.

What are your future plans?

My plans are to continue the family farming operation. I’ll be making informed and strategic business decisions along the way by implementing the knowledge gained from my crop and soil science major and agribusiness management minor to gain the highest return on investment, while maintaining good stewardship of the land I farm.

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