AMES, Iowa – Dave Serfling has been going to Iowa State University for almost 17 years, but Dec. 16 the full-time farmer completed his master’s degree just as his daughter, a college sophomore in Michigan, finished up her fall semester exams.
Serfling, 46, manages a 350-acre crop and livestock operation near Preston, Minn., with his wife, Diane, and two children.
No driving. Serfling is a student of the education technology revolution. He avoided the 187-mile drive to campus with the help of Iowa State’s distance education program.
After earning his on-campus undergraduate degree in farm operation in 1981, Serfling started earning his Master in Agriculture degree with a major in professional agriculture in the spring of 1989, just three years after daughter Hannah, now a sophomore at college in Grand Rapids, Mich., was born.
“If the class intrigued me, I’d take it. I wasn’t doing it for the degree then,” he said. “It was a way for me to learn and keep up.”
Technology changes. In the late 1980s, the distance education technology of choice was videotaped lectures and homework sent in by mail. Taking about one class each year, Serfling began to see technology shift. After the birth of his son Ethan in 1990, many distance education courses shifted to the Iowa Communication Network, which became Serfling’s favorite educational medium.
“You could see the professor, buzz in and interrupt him. Get feedback. I learn best from someone else in situations like that,” he said. “I only went to campus for one class, and that was a computer class were they taught us to use spreadsheets.”
Then, Serfling took a class on how to use the Internet.
Through his course work Serfling has worked with several Iowa State professors including professor of agricultural education and studies Wade Miller, a member of his master’s committee.
Flexible. Miller, who heads the Master of Agriculture distance education program, noted that online courses allow producers added flexibility so they can still manage their farm operations full time. That flexibility was key to Serfling’s success as he enrolled for about one course each semester.
“One fall I took three classes because I thought they all looked interesting,” he said. “I was really overwhelmed with that and harvest that year. But, spring classes go into planting and calving too.”
Serfling said the only break he took from his courses was when his father and farming partner died six years ago. He said this prompted him to take three years off from his studies to “learn how to farm without my partner.”
Being an example. According to Serfling, one of the best parts of continuing his education has been to offer Hannah and Ethan an important life lesson.
“I wanted to teach my kids that learning doesn’t end when you’re finished with high school,” he said.
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