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MCC partners with MSU to bring agricultural programs back to local students

Fifty years ago, agriculture was one of the first programs offered at Montcalm Community College. However, due to low enrollments, agricultural classes were cancelled during the college’s first year.

This fall, the state’s second largest industry is making its way back into the classroom through a unique partnership between MCC and Michigan State University (MSU).

A renewed focus on agriculture

MCC has partnered with MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) to help students earn an associate degree at MCC while at the same time earning a two-year certificate at MSU. This partnership allows students to access resources in academics, financial aid, career services and student life at both institutions.

Programs include agricultural operations, applied horse science, fruit and crop management, and landscape management.

“MSU is a pre-eminent provider of agricultural education,” says MCC President Bob Ferrentino. “We are fortunate to bring this high-quality programming to our students.”

Michigan’s agricultural sector has experienced steady growth in recent years, contributing more than $100 billion to the state’s economy in 2014, up from $71.3 billion in 2009.

MCC Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs Rob Spohr says that growth in the industry statewide, coupled with the need for skilled labor at local farms and agribusinesses has supported the collaborative effort between the two institutions.

“We are an agricultural area, and there is need for training to grow our own workforce,” Spohr says. “The programs we will be offering will help students gain the basic skills they need to be employable in a variety of agricultural professions.”

Students completing one of these programs may transfer to a four-year agricultural program at MSU when admission requirements are met.

MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology Director Randy Showerman says the university is “excited” about the opportunity. “This is a tremendous value added for students transferring from MCC to MSU.

“We’re going to grow our programs. As we’re looking toward the future, this is how we need to progress,” he adds.

Programs begin in the fall

Four programs will be available to students at MCC beginning fall semester 2015.

Students who select the Agricultural Operations program will learn basic agricultural techniques as well as the business of operating a farm. Coursework includes farm management, water resource management, application of precision agricultural technologies, crop science, agricultural regulation, compliance and safety, entomology, soil science, plant diseases and their pathogens and other topics. Students completing this program have an understanding of basic farm management and have the knowledge to operate a farm or work in a variety of entry-level agribusiness positions.

Landscape Management introduces students to the fundamentals of production, selection, use and management of landscape plants and lawns. The curriculum includes the understanding of plant growth, development and identification, as well as coursework in related sciences of soils, entomology and pathology. In addition, proper design, installation and management practices of the landscaped environment are taught and applied.

The Fruit and Vegetable Crop Management program provides students an opportunity to apply practical knowledge and training on the selection, use and management of fruit and vegetable crops. The program combines classroom instruction and theory with practical experience gained through field laboratories and a professional internship. Graduates of the program are prepared for careers in the fruit and vegetable industry.

The Applied Horse Science Certificate provides students the opportunity to study an in-depth horse science curriculum outside of the traditional classroom and provides learning experiences that improve the profitability, animal welfare, environmental stewardship and recreation by horse enthusiasts.

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Working together for future growth

Both institutions are committed to expanding opportunities in agricultural education locally.

A part-time coordinator is being hired to cultivate relationships with local schools and to work with recruiters to bring students into the programs. In addition to traditional college students, the partnership offers training opportunities for people who are underemployed or those seeking further education to advance their employment.

MCC officials are considering options for building a greenhouse and barn on the college’s Sidney campus to better serve students.

“We’re working together to make sure we’re providing students what they need to be successful,” Ferrentino says. “Two years ago, we added an animal science course to our curriculum. Enrollment in the second year was double that of the first year. That speaks to the need and interest among our students.”

In addition, MCC added an introductory crop sciences course to its curriculum last fall. Both courses meet the requirements to transfer to MSU.

During a recent planning meeting, more than 50 people connected with the local agricultural industry gathered at MCC to learn more about the programs. Officials from both institutions are working to grow relationships with these individuals to establish opportunities for professional internships, which are required in each program area.

“One of the benefits is that the curriculum is designed with a hands-on approach, so students are getting real-world experiences in addition to classroom instruction,” Spohr says.

According to Showerman, data shows that more than 90 percent of MSU’s IAT graduates return to their community upon completion of their program.

Ferrentino says he hopes that is true in MCC’s community, too.

“There are a lot of opportunities we are building here for students to come back and gain employment,” Ferrentino says.

- Shelly Strautz-Springborn

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