Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Michael Compton
Dr. Michael Compton’s interest in agriculture began in part with a 99-cent cactus when he was 8 years old. Now in his 22nd year at UW-Platteville and his ninth year as director of the School of Agriculture, he has been honored with dozens of awards including the Thomas and Lee Ann Lindahl Teaching Excellence Award, American Association of State Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources, and UW-Platteville Outstanding Academic Advisor Award. Outside of work, he keeps busy with his family activities and 40-acre farm.
How did your interest in agriculture begin?
The story I like to tell is when I was 8 years old I was in K-Mart and I bought a little cactus for 99 cents. That was my first plant and it resided at my mother’s house until I was in my thirties. It had grown up to the ceiling and across the entire room. The other event was, I would go visit my grandparents every summer and stay with them for a week. My grandpa really liked to garden, and helping him out with that got me started as a gardener and where I am today.
What award means the most to you and why?
A teaching-related award that surprises me, yet is one I cherish the most, is the 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award from Phi Kappa Phi. I feel honored by that one because the upper 7 percent of graduates in the university are asked who the most influential instructor they have worked with on campus is. I don’t teach classes that have 40, 50, 60, 100 students in them. I teach classes that have somewhere between 12 and 20 students. That’s really why I’m surprised. Some of those comments come not only from the classroom, but from my advising and a little bit of everything I do.
What changes have occurred in the agriculture industry since you’ve been at UW-Platteville, and how have they influenced the curriculum?
The most significant thing, and one I preach is the need for workforce development. Agriculture is no different than most of the other areas in that we have an aging workforce. The thing that has made this unique is not only is the workforce aging, there is a lot of growth, but also a lot of demand. When you look at the need to feed a significantly growing population, there are daunting challenges.
One of the big curriculum changes we’ve made is that we have 12 credits of classes that all agriculture students take. In 2014, I looked at all the agriculture programs, and thought, “What are the common student learning outcomes they share?” The answer was professional development, so now we have two classes of professional development: one introductory course and one exit class preparing our students to enter the workforce. We also require four credits of professional engagement, which is like an internship experience, or for a student bound for graduate school it would be an undergraduate research project. The fourth credit in that area that has changed is the way we operate and communicate our internship program. UW-Platteville agriculture has had an internship program available since 1961, and for most of those years students would write a term paper when they finished, and the only people who would see that is the student and the faculty member grading it. Three years ago we started the School of Agriculture internship night, where students give a poster or oral presentation of their internship. We want not only the students who participate in the program to attend, but have the underclassmen come. We had 105 posters and over 40 oral presentations last September. We invite employers and also send out invitations to the local high school agriculture teachers to bring their students so they can see what jobs are available to them.
What are some of your job duties as director of the School of Agriculture?
I do a lot of approving as well as coordinating the internship program, dealing with personnel issues, and providing leadership for curriculum development. I am also president of an organization called the Non-Land Grant Agricultural Renewable Resources Universities. The organization is made up of department chairs, directors and deans of universities that have agricultural units like UW-Platteville. I provide leadership and strategic planning as well as a lot of advocating for federal funding for the 70 non-land grant universities in the country we represent. Every March, since 2011, I go to Washington D.C. for a week as part of the board of directors and visit with Congressman Ron Kind, Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senator Ron Johnson, as well as representatives from other places our students come from like the districts of northern Illinois and the Dubuque, Iowa and Quad Cities area.
What clubs or organizations do you advise?
I advise the School of Agriculture Student Executive Council, which is a departmental organization. These are representatives from all of the different student organizations in the School of Agriculture. Our main purpose in that group is communication with faculty. I communicate with the students as the faculty member and they come to me with concerns and issues they might want to communicate to all the faculty as well. In addition, we discuss things such as budget impacts in not only our department but to the student body as well.
Interview conducted by Lindsey Overby, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact email@example.com.