The Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) at Michigan State University offers 13 two-year programs designed to provide students with the knowledge and experience necessary to graduate and enter into the agricultural workforce. Nine of these programs are offered on the MSU campus in East Lansing and four at 10 partner community colleges. Upon completion of the program, students receive a certificate from MSU and, if at a partner community college, an associate’s degree.
“MSU is a land-grant institution,” IAT Director Randy Showerman explains. “One of the philosophies behind the land-grant mission is to take education out to the public, which is one of the reasons we created the partnership programs for students attending Michigan community colleges.”
When MSU discovered many place-bound individuals were unable to leave their hometowns to attend classes on MSU’s campus, they decided to bring the programs to various community colleges throughout the state.
IAT programs include everything from dairy management to fruit, vegetable and organic horticulture management, to livestock industries and viticulture, among others. The opportunities available to graduates from these programs range from farm management and licensed irrigators to vineyard owners and artificial insemination technicians.
Solving Real-World Problems
Each partnership program has an advisory committee made up of local businesses, Extension educators and members of agricultural organizations, which allows IAT to adjust the programs to address the needs of employers in the area. This provides students with the edge they need to enter directly into Michigan’s job market and begin solving industry problems.
Mike Hansen, regional supervisor at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is a member of the IAT advisory committee in southwest Michigan.
“These programs put students in a great position to graduate and get a job in their field of interest,” Hansen says. “For example, a young woman with a bachelor’s degree in biology looked to the program to better identify her interest in agriculture. Her internship matched her with a nursery, where laboratory skills learned through her biology degree, coupled with the skills learned in this program, gave her the tools needed to grow that internship into a full-time position. She was able to use her college career and this program to set herself up for success in the field.”
Students from All Walks of Life
The programs also provide wonderful career opportunities for students who aren’t interested in pursuing a traditional four-year degree. Dave Lang heard about the two-year certification programs from his dad.
“We had been talking about what I was going to do after high school,” Lang explains. “School wasn’t one of my strong points, so I thought I wanted to go into the trades.”
After learning more about the programs, Lang decided to pursue the certificate path. He graduated from the electrical technology program in 2012 and used his training to become a journeyman electrician for Techmark, Inc.
Preparing Career-Ready Graduates
With many employers in the area struggling to find good employees, IAT students have a great chance to launch a career in their industry upon graduation.
“We don’t have the same workforce we used to have a few decades ago,” says Stacey Rocklin, IAT program coordinator at Southwestern Michigan College. “To put the gap into perspective, there are four open jobs available for each student in the program.”
By preparing graduates to launch their careers and connecting them to eager employers in the area, IAT strives to close the workforce gap and build a powerful agricultural foundation that Michigan residents can be proud of.