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A Message to the Institute from Chancellor Larry Arrington

We were so pleased to have 160 young people on campus last week for the 4-H Academic Conference. These 4-H’ers are in grades six through eight and earned their trip to 4-H Academic Conference through their project work. Sixteen project areas were represented including dog, cat, beef, dairy and citizenship. This was the conference’s 26th year.

Join me in congratulating Dr. David Golden on his appointment to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. Dr. Golden will serve as faculty representative to the board. We are proud to have David represent us in this important role.

Speaking of the UT Board of Trustees, they are on our campus this week for their June board meeting. Several events and agenda items relate to the Institute of Agriculture. Last night, our Veterinary Medical Center hosted the trustees for dinner in the new Farm Animal Hospital. They were able to tour the facility and interact with faculty, staff and students. Thanks to Dr. David Anderson and the entire CVM team for making this event successful.

The trustees’ agenda also included an update on our Extension “Masters” programs such as the Master Beef Producer Program. Dr. Cross provided this update to the Research and Outreach Committee and emphasized the number of participants and the economic impact of these programs. An update on the potential West Tennessee 4-H facility was provided to the Finance and Administration Committee. The BOT will also be approving faculty promotions and tenure at the June meeting.

You have probably read about some of the changes at the UT Foundation. These changes were a result of budget reallocation and a desire to be more effective and efficient. We are supportive of the changes from a UTIA perspective and appreciate the leadership that Interim Vice President and Foundation President Lofton Stuart has provided through this process.

The AgResearch team recently provided a tour of the Institute’s Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Lab for UT Medical Center leaders. They were amazed by the work that is accomplished in these facilities and the impact the program is having on invasive pests in Tennessee and surrounding states. We appreciate UT Medical Center’s cooperation with us on this program.

Thomas and Claudia Amidon of White Pine, Tennessee, recently established a new scholarship in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The Bandit Amidon Veterinary Medicine Endowed Scholarship for Rural Practice is named after their cat, Bandit, who survived brain surgery performed at the UT Veterinary Medical Center. The $125,000 commitment has been given to recognize the exemplary care Bandit received. It also establishes an endowment to support a $5,000 scholarship every year to a deserving student seeking to practice veterinary medicine in a rural setting. The first scholarship will be awarded this fall.

As a reminder, Ag Day will be on October 4, which is the Florida football game. We will hold our employee barbecue on October 3, and we will have the Ag Day displays available for preview. One of the things we will be doing at Ag Day this year is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and the Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center.

Thanks for all that you do for the Institute.

Partnering Prevents a Skills Gap for Agriculture Graduates
by Caula Beyl, Dean, UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Today many employers are facing increasing challenges finding skilled candidates to fill their workforce needs. In some discipline areas, this “skills gap” between what employers are looking for and what recent college graduates come equipped with is as large as a chasm. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) prepares students for careers in agriculture and environmental sciences, two broad areas that are predicted to grow in response to global challenges of feeding future world populations and safeguarding the environment against threats of global warming and diminishing essential resources, such as water. Already, the supply of graduates is failing the demand for employment in agricultural disciplines, and competition for those with the essential skills and abilities is fierce. How can CASNR make sure that its graduates have a complete took kit and are equipped for career readiness?  How can industry and other agricultural stakeholders partner with CASNR to ensure that the graduates are best prepared to enter the workforce with the necessary hard and soft skills to be successful?

One of the best ways to provide on-the-job training for a college student in the field is for agricultural industry to invest in internship opportunities. The student benefits from a real-life experience that builds confidence and at the same time amply allows the student to demonstrate his or her mastery of professional work-life skills, such as face-to-face communication, the ability to function as part of a team, dependability, critical thinking and problem solving. For students, participating in an internship is often the first time that they must function as part of a multi-generational unit, and they gain an appreciation for the various work styles, approaches and attitudes held by colleagues of different ages. Technical and discipline skills are extremely important, but it is often the people skills that are lacking and may prove to be a barrier to success for young people entering the workforce.

A second way to help prevent a skills gap in potential future employees while they are still in college is to partner in their education by providing scholarships that develop the relationship between the donor organization and the student recipient. Not only is this an opportunity to provide monetary support for the student, it could also be an opportunity for professional mentorship, as well.  As the relationship develops, the donor may have a better opportunity to hire the talented new graduate with the high demand skill set than industries that do not have the vision to develop that rapport.

A third way to ensure that graduates in agriculture do not suffer from a “skills gap” is for stakeholders and agricultural industry partners to provide advisory curricular support.  Employers and alumni are wonderful sources of information to help us determine how well we are preparing our students for the workforce. Both can be proactive about sharing their observations and telling us what we do well and what we need to do to strengthen our curriculum. This is as easy as a writing an email or picking up a phone.
The college belongs to the students, the alumni and the stakeholders in the state. Share your ideas, your thoughts and your input: We listen and those who will benefit from your suggestions are our students!