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Her face lit up as she talked about the projects and possibilities this new school year brings, as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Agriculture-Entrepreneurship program. Eva Martin, a sophomore from Ione, Oregon, expressed her passion for community outreach. “I grew up in FFA [Future Farmers of America]; I love being able to teach, inform, and inspire others about what agriculture is and means.”
The new Agriculture-Entrepreneurship degree at Eastern has already received widespread support from those recognizing the niche this program fills. Both Northwest Farm Credit Services and the Harry A. Merlo Foundation provided generous programmatic and scholarship donations to launch the program forward from the start.
“Our purpose at Northwest Farm Credit Services is to improve lives in the communities where we work and raise our families. The agriculture industry plays such a vital role in the U.S. economy – even globally – and this program directly impacts our local communities as a part of that global system. This new Agriculture-Entrepreneurship program broadens opportunities – and perspectives – for students in exciting ways,” said Brent Fetsch, Oregon President at Northwest Farm Credit Services. “This program is the opportunity for EOU to continue making education more accessible to more students. Someday these student will be our employees, customers, or informed voters, which is why we’re proud to invest in this program as well as directly investing in eastern Oregon. We’re excited to see the ongoing growth and hope our investment is followed by others, both from the agriculture industry and private sector in support of making education accessible.”
“These donations for the program truly meant everything to being able to start where we are. We are able to purchase lab equipment for hands-on field work. We are sending students on robust port tours. We awarded $30,000 of renewable scholarships. These are essential tools of the program to help convey the bigger picture of agriculture to our students,” Mueller said.
This program is experiential learning with hands-on activities in all of the classes and coursework. Students are scheduled to be in the field, working on tangible projects across campus, as well as throughout the community. But, in order to do so, resources are required. “We’ve already received so much support from Northwest Farm Credit Services and the Merlo Foundation – and we continue to apply for additional grant funding,” Mueller said. “We’re purchasing a mobile agriculture logistics unit – a self-contained field classroom with a variety of data collection tools and equipment. This will enable us to get students into the communities for real-world research. We’re also looking at hosting ‘boot camps’ for junior high and high school students. I’m excited for the possibility of hosting Ag academies for K-12 teachers to incorporate agriculture into their curriculums.”
“I’m so excited for this upcoming year,” Martin said of the start of the program, as a member of the first cohort. “We have the opportunity to really focus on our community outreach and giving back. I think it’s really important because there are so many people out there who are willing to donate. Donors see there are hardworking students who are willing to do what it takes – we’re working hard for them because of what they have already done for us.”
The Agriculture-Entrepreneurship degree is designed to meet the needs of the agriculture industry. Whether students return home to run their family’s farm or ranch, pursue work in public policy, find employment with a large-scale firm, or any other opportunity within the supply chain. “The feeling is absolutely incredible – we are providing a degree for students in agriculture which has the potential to help them find their long-term career path; even if they don’t come with a background in agriculture, they can still find so many great career opportunities,” Mueller said.
But, the program isn’t at full fruition yet. “Long-term, I would love to have an agriculture innovation-entrepreneurship center – maybe even a new facility on campus – where students will develop their own entrepreneurial projects,” Mueller envisioned. “For capstone projects or personal passions, students can give more meaning and feeling to their degree, while we bring in actual connections to outside entities as they pursue these real projects.”
“The community, our partners, and our stakeholders are excited about this program. They are supportive and really want to see it succeed,” Mueller said of his outreach efforts. “To me, the one thing which has truly warmed my heart is the amount of positive community feedback we’ve received – and that’s just the start.”
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