One hundred years ago, 60 percent of the population was involved in agriculture. Today, that number is close to 1 percent. With so few people responsible for providing the food and clothing for so many, it’s vital that today’s agriculture professionals are well prepared.
At the University of Mount Olive (UMO), that preparation starts with a commitment to hands-on learning. And today, that means getting your hands on technology.
“Technology is changing the face of agriculture, with advances being made at an amazing speed,” says Dr. Sandra Maddox, chair of the Division of Agriculture at UMO and director of the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center. “While there’s no telling what advancements are around the exposing our students to today’s technology and preparing them to be ready for tomorrow’s.”
At Mount Olive, that preparation includes providing opportunities for students to utilize GPS and GIS systems, drones, and other tools of precision agriculture.
“We are fortunate to have ag businesses in the area who partner with us,” Maddox says. “They’re so generous in sharing their expertise and providing access to their top-of-the-line equipment so that our students can get hands on experience with the latest technology. They also provide internships, which allow our students to spend even more time observing and using the technology under the direction of experts.”
It’s all part of UMO’s growing bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture.
“When I started at Mount Olive 11 years ago, we offered an agribusiness degree and were working to establish an ag education degree,” Maddox says. “Since then, we have added a degree in agricultural production systems, which is a comprehensive curriculum that prepares graduates for multiple career pathways in agriculture.”
Students can choose from concentrations in animal science, business, environmental and natural resources, and outreach and extension. These pathways provide them with an opportunity to tailor their program to meet their interests.
Another addition to the Mount Olive program also expands opportunities for students. Maddox describes the benefits of a 63-acre farm, donated by the George R. Kornegay Jr. family, which serves as a hands-on learning laboratory for students.
“There are areas of the farm dedicated to advancing specific learning objectives,” she says. “We have 15 acres for wildlife management, which benefits our environmental and natural resources students. There are 4 acres dedicated to horticulture, 1 acre to organic farming, 6 acres for raising sheep and goats, and 12 acres for undergraduate research plots to develop row crop production.” That’s all on top of an on-site training facility. UMO also offers students the chance to learn, develop and test their ag mechanics skills through the Goodson-Wells Agricultural Mechanics Shop on campus. The 8,400-square-foot facility contains welding booths, a woodworking shop, a small engine repair area and HVAC testing area.
Through these programs and facilities, UMO faculty are training the ag industry’s next generation. And they’re having great success, with a 100 percent placement rate for their graduates, the majority of whom remain in North Carolina contributing to the state’s ag community.
The program’s reputation for preparing students through hands-on experience is attracting even more students. Nearly 25 percent of those enrolled at UMO are in the agriculture programs.
“Our faculty is committed to preparing students for a bright future in agriculture, and that benefits North Carolina and the world,” Maddox says.