UWP revamps agribusiness curriculum

December 30, 2002

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PLATTEVILLE-Catering the curriculum to what industry professionals and students are looking for, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville has updated its agribusiness program.

The program, which had not been updated for a number of years, previously combined aspects of agricultural economics and agricultural business. Over the years, the course curriculum has evolved to encompass more aspects of agribusiness, but no complete transfer had been made.

"All agribusiness programs across the country at one time were ag economics programs," said Kevin Bernhardt, associate professor and agribusiness and UW-Extension farm management specialist. "Agribusiness is the applied aspect of agriculture while ag economics is the science aspect of agriculture. As time progressed, these programs started to prepare students for the applications side of agriculture and schools started to rename their programs agribusiness.

"At many larger universities, both programs are still available, but at UWP, we felt we needed to go one way or the other. Because UWP is known for its hands-on teaching techniques, we decided to revamp our curriculum to strictly agribusiness."

The process of restructuring the curriculum began a couple of years ago with Bernhardt and several other school of agriculture faculty members researching ways to meet the needs of the industry, in turn making UWP students more marketable.

"We met with about 60 different professionals in the agricultural industry and asked 'What would you like to see in our students that would make you not just want to hire them, but seek them out to hire them?'," Bernhardt said. "The feedback we received ranged in areas such as improving communication skills and computer literacy to areas as expansive as biotechnology and globalization."

The group also spoke with roughly 20 UWP students and reviewed agribusiness programs at 23 other institutions. From there, they developed a set of competency standards, core values, a mission statement and discussed what should be taught and required for each class. Timing for the program revamp was ideal, Bernhardt said.

"We were able to hire new faculty members without increasing our budget because we had a few faculty members retire," Bernhardt said. "Restructuring the agribusiness program allowed the new faculty and me to educate ourselves about what the curriculum should be. It also enabled us to get out there and meet people in the industry throughout the state, which shows we are actively trying to be responsive to the needs of the industry."

Revamping the curriculum resulted in dropping some course requirements while adding several new requirements such as introduction to agribusiness, which replaced economic organizations of agriculture. Completing an internship in agriculture also became a requirement. Updating the program also resulted in developing new courses and revising the areas of emphasis to include commodities and price analysis in addition to communications and marketing.

"We began offering some of the new courses during fall 2001 semester to our freshman students," Bernhardt said. "As those students continue in the program, becoming juniors and seniors, other new courses will be added to fulfill their academic needs. So, it'll be another full year before the entire curriculum is underway."

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