Committee established to improve ag education

Michael Westerman, IV Leader Editor-in-chief

IVCC and the University of Illinois Extension have formed a committee of professionals in the area of agriculture to formulate a plan to expand agriculture education at IVCC.

IVCC president Dr. Jerry Corcoran is in the forefront in looking to expand ag education. “We take pride in responding to the needs of the community we serve; thus, if there is an unmet need, the college should be ready to respond. Over the years we’ve seen quite a trend in terms of in-district students attending other community colleges because of our limited ag offerings—the time has come to address this issue.”

IVCC currently offers soil science in the fall semester and ag mechanics in the spring. There are also on-line classes on a rotating basis administered by the University of Illinois College of Agriculture (ACES); these courses consist of Consumer and Environmental Science like introduction to animal science or introductory horticulture.

IVCC’s partnership with the College of ACES allows students to complete their general education at IVCC and seamlessly transfer to the College of ACES, thus saving the student thousands of dollars by avoiding the high tuition costs at the U of I, Corcoran said.

These online courses are at the standard tuition rate of IVCC rather than the U of I’s rate and can also be taken by high school students for dual credit. Despite these classes being offered, enrollment is declining and for some classes, is non-existent, Corcoran said.

“The committee was assembled by working collaboratively with the University of Illinois Extension on identifying a group of individuals across the district in the agriculture industry. Considerable care was taken to find people from all aspects of agriculture – farming, ag finance, agribusiness, small farming, ag education, sustainable agriculture and so on,” said Dr. Corcoran.

Jared Olesen, a socioloy professor and adviser to IV sustainability, is one of the members of the committee. Olsen considers his expertise to be in sustainable food systems.

“The research I’ve done pertains to the cultural, political, and economic conditions within which food production and consumption can re-localized. Examples include farm-to-school programs, local slaughter facilities, and farmers’ markets,“ said Olesen.

Olesen may be best known for his work with IV sustainability and IVCC’s greenhouse, which are the two main extracurriculars that support IVCC ag program.
“Student organizations are vital on any campus; most importantly they offer a chance to engage more fully with their academic areas. Universities and employers love to accept and hire those students who cared enough about what they were doing to make a voluntary commitment to it,” said Olesen. IVCC’s greenhouse, run by horticulture teacher Lauri Carey, supports IV sustainability and many of their projects. “The greenhouse has been a blessing for IV Sustainability. We start our field crop seedlings in there, and we’ve built an aquaponics system in one corner of the greenhouse. Working in there year round is a joy, and students love it,” said Olesen. The many projects in the greenhouse show just howlarge of a field agriculture is and how many facets could be emphasized here at IVCC.
“The goals of this committee are to make a recommendation to IVCC administration regarding any unmet need for our district and if expanding our ag program is fiscally responsible … it is our hope that fiscally-sustainable means can be found to expand the program in a number of ways, ranging from possible short-term certificates to new degree programs,” said Corcoran.
After plans are created and reviewed by the committee, they will be presented to IVCC board of trustees which will choose whether to commit financial resources to the plan.
“I’d like to see a path forward for those in the Illinois Valley who want to grow food for  living, but may not know how or where to start .. something like an entrepreneurial small farm program. Second, given the increasingly important role of technology in agriculture, students might benefit a great deal from training in things like GPS, drones, precision ag, or ag software,” said  Olesen. The first steps of this process will be gathering information and opinions about the ag sector within the community. After that, common themes will be drawn out of the information to refine new programming.
“Given the high caliber of the men and women serving on the committee and their in-depth knowledge of virtually all aspects of  the IVCC agriculture community, we are expecting invaluable results from the committee deliberations. It will be the responsibility of the IVCC administration to develop ag education programming capable of meeting these challenges and fulfilling these opportunities. This responsibility will clearly feature the need to make any new programming both fiscally sound and also attractive to a considerable number of local students who now must attend other community colleges in order to benefit from agriculture education programs,” said Corcoran.
Committee Members:
Dr. Deborah Anderson, Curt
Bedei, Laurie Bonucci, Gary
Bruch, Jack Cantlin, Dr. Jerry
Corcoran, Mark Corrigan,
Scott Fairfield, Bob Fecht,
Ron Groleau, Jill Guynn, John
Heiser, Russ Higgins, Linda
Hildebrand, Ty Holland, David
Horras, David Isermann, Sue
Isermann, Joy Kauffman,
Andy Larson, Ryan Leifheit,
Brad Lindstrom, Larry Magnuson,
Brian Oester, Jared
Olesen, Jill Ross, Paul Salander,
Steve Sondgeroth, Greg
Steele, Doug Stockley, Kent
Weber, Monty Whipple, Malcolm
Whipple, Reed Wilson,
Daryle Wragge, Todd Wright,
and Ariel Zimmerlein.