Developing the next generation of agricultural industry leaders is the focus of a joint project between The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Oklahoma State University (OSU) and the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program (OALP).
Charles Rohla, Ph.D., horticultural consultant and researcher at the Noble Foundation, and Drs. William Weeks and Penny Pennington of OSU’s Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and Leadership, recognized a need to support agricultural leadership programs at two-year colleges. The trio became co-principal investigators on a project that received a $46,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to initiate or further fund programs at six, two-year colleges in Oklahoma and Kansas.
“As each generation passes, fewer and fewer people are directly related to agriculture,” Weeks said. “This distance causes a vacuum between the public and the agricultural industry. It is vital that we work to develop the next generation of agricultural leaders who can effectively communicate the successes, challenges and needs of those who dedicate their lives to feeding this country and the world.”
Through the USDA grant, Rohla, Weeks and Pennington will help develop agricultural leadership courses at junior colleges serving Oklahoma college students. Additionally, they will offer mini-grants (up to $2,500 each) to the colleges to provide funding for books and curriculum in leadership. The six colleges include Connors State College, Eastern Oklahoma State College, Murray State College, Redlands Community College and Western Oklahoma State College in Oklahoma, as well as Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
As an extension of the program, OALP alumni will serve as mentors for each college. “We’re attempting to provide them a solid foundation to build upon,” said Rohla, an alumni of OALP’s Class 14, who will oversee the mentors program. “The funding helps with the tangible aspects of setting up and supporting an agricultural leadership program, but the greatest benefit will come from interacting with the mentors and learning from their experience and guidance.”
Rohla, Weeks and Pennington hope the agricultural leadership programs at the two-year colleges also will prepare students who might be interested in a four-year degree. “This project is designed to build each of these agricultural leadership programs and keep them prosperous and active,” Pennington said. “It is our hope that each student will further their educational endeavors as they develop into leaders within the industry.”