Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in Marshall was awarded a $25,000 Regional Impact Grant to develop curriculum for a new agricultural-related program at the college.
About a year ago, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), approached SMSU regarding the need for agricultural teachers at the high school level, Gerald Toland Jr., Professor of Economics at SMSU said.
Among the current agriculture teachers at the high school level, many are set to retire in the coming years and the newly hired ag teachers have the communication and technical skills to be attractive to other job fields, he added.
SWIF Community Impact Director Nancy Fasching indicated the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota and the Brookings campus of South Dakota State University both have agriculture education programs but SMSU did not.
SMSU’s education department is viewed as a strong department and centrally located in the southwest Minnesota region. Additionally, the agricultural companies in the region need employees who can communicate well, she added.
“This was an opportunity to affect our entire region,” she said. “It seemed like a natural fit.”
Student interest and enrollment for current agricultural related programs at SMSU have been strong in recent years, Toland said.
“And there’s a job after they graduate,” he added. Job placement for agriculture-related fields is near 100 percent.
A team formed last year and Toland began researching other ag educator programs across the state. Then the team reviewed classes to add the communication, marketing and leadership piece to the curriculum. Because SMSU doesn’t have some of the same program offerings as larger state schools, they are teaming up with two-year programs at technical schools in the area – South Central College, Minnesota West Community & Technical College and Ridgewater College – to offer classes such as animal science, building maintenance, welding and renewable fuels, to students.
They also applied for and received a grant from Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council to hire a marketing professional to promote the new program throughout the state.
The initial review process is successfully finished, Toland said. The team is now waiting to hear from MnSCU. Part of the final process is to demonstrate to the Minnesota Board of Teaching that the curriculum meets all the standards required for high school teaching licensure.
“The goal is to have everything turned in by the end of the semester,” Toland said.
The team is on track to open for enrollment by January 2015 with classes beginning in the fall. The college expects student enrollment to be about 25 at the end of the first year.
SWIF’s grant has helped the college cover expenses incurred while developing the new program and curriculum. Once students begin to enroll “the program will fund itself,” he said.