High Demand for Ag Grads, High Growth in CASNR Enrollment
By Doug Edlund, UTIA Marketing and Communications

Imagine that you’re a junior in high school and still undecided on a career. You want a job that pays well, is secure, and can make a difference in the world. You ask yourself where do these jobs exist in today’s economy? It seems like many careers are in a state of flux and employment prospects are dim. But there is a career out there where you can find a well-paying, secure job that will serve the greater good. That career is agriculture.

“The job market for agriculture students is hot,” says John Stier, associate dean for the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “There are essentially two jobs open for every graduate, and data published in 2015 indicates that agriculture is one of the top five highest-earning degrees.”

In fact, agriculture has become a hot program, as well. Recent enrollment data shows CASNR has experienced an 86 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment since 2003. “CASNR and other agricultural colleges tend to be the colleges that are most singularly focused on science, along with a strong focus on environmental resources, and the challenge of feeding a world population of 9 billion by 2050 is very appealing to prospective students,” Stier says.

According to enrollment data, CASNR’s fastest-growing majors over the past five years are agricultural leadership, education and communications; environmental and soil science; and food science and technology. Stier attributes growth in environmental and soil science to the environmental science and construction science concentrations.

The makeup of the student body is also undergoing a transformation from a generation ago. “Today’s agriculture students are most likely to be female, from suburban or urban areas, and with a much wider diversity of backgrounds,” Stier says.

CASNR is also very attractive as a transfer destination for students at UT Knoxville. According to Stier, for every one student who transfers out of CASNR, eight transfer in. With its long history of experience learning, service learning, undergraduate research, and internships, CASNR offers students significantly more and better hands-on learning and networking opportunities than students in other colleges.

For a prospective student, the deciding factor comes down to what drives them. Is it helping people? Improving the environment? Is it using science to solve applied or theoretical problems? For Stier, a career in agriculture is the best of all worlds wrapped up in a high-tech environment.

“Students who are in agriculture as college majors appear to stay in agriculture because they like what they do, lending credence to the saying, ‘If you like what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

We're Engaged, What Now?

By UT Extension Dean Tim Cross

Higher education institutions across the nation are discovering something that those of us in the Institute of Agriculture have known for years: engagement with external stakeholders leads to positive impacts and strong institutional support. Engagement also results in scholarly achievements, economic development, and experiential learning by students.

You can see the roots of our engagement all the way back to 1862, in the words of the Morrill Act. According to the Act, land-grant universities are to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes…” thus becoming the “people’s” universities. Education was initially focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts, emphasizing the importance of the application of education to real-world problems. The second Morrill Act, the Hatch Act, and the Smith-Lever Act went on to expand land-grant engagement with minority students, research, and Extension stakeholders.

Just what is engagement? In simplest terms, engagement involves a partnership between two or more parties to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Each party contributes their knowledge, skills, and abilities to the partnership to achieve or create a positive outcome. Scholarly achievements resulting from engagement may include publications, grant awards, reports describing impacts on public policy, diagnostic services, evidence of local impacts, or products such as software, videos, curriculum, etc. A model of engagement for UTIA is shown below, illustrating the ways in which all our units are engaged with stakeholders.

As we look to the future, there are increasing opportunities for community engagement throughout the UT system. Faculty and staff in colleges across the system are increasingly focused on experience learning, collaborative problem-solving, and multidisciplinary research. With pressing national issues such as food security, healthy living, and skilled workforce development, UTIA faculty will find many opportunities to engage with faculty in colleges of business, engineering, education, nursing, architecture, social work, and many others, along with community partners. We’ve earned the Carnegie Community Engagement classification in cooperation with UT Knoxville, and our teaching, research, and Extension missions will be well-served by building on our solid foundation of engagement to meet future challenges.

An example of a collaborative community engagement project is “Getting Fruved.” The project has involved students, research faculty, and extension specialists from thirteen universities working together in a five-year, USDA-funded, 4-H project designed to ultimately decrease the proportion of older adolescents/young adults who are overweight or obese. The project used an interactive, peer-led, social marketing environmental intervention designed by college students to aid older adolescents/young adults in effectively managing weight through improved dietary quality, increased physical activity, and improved stress management skills. Several abstracts or other publications also resulted from this project.1

So, what’s next for engagement activities at UTIA? A Kellogg Commission report made several recommendations in their report, “Returning to Our Roots,” and these recommendations are still pertinent today. They include making engagement a priority on every campus, developing an engagement plan, and encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship and research, including teaching and learning opportunities. From my perspective, we’re well on our way to implementing these recommendations and continuing our strong tradition of engagement.

1See, for example, Colby S., Kattelmann, K., Olfert, M., Mathews, A., Kidd, T., Brown, O., Horacek, T., & White, A. “Get Fruved”: A peer-led, trained the trainer social marketing intervention to increase fruit and vegetable intake and prevent childhood obesity. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47(4S), S109.

AgInnovations—Sizing Up Ideas, Speeding Their Flow to Society

Accelerating new technologies and ideas from the lab to the market is the goal of a groundbreaking new program launched this fall by AgResearch. Ambitious in scope, the program, called AgInnovations, has been several years in the making.

AgInnovations is a result of a convergence of factors, including UT’s desire to be an economic driver for Tennessee and a challenge from UT President Joe DiPietro for the university to become more entrepreneurial in finding revenue sources.

AgInnovations provides an early business perspective for ideas percolating in the labs and minds of employees at the Institute. Through the program, an experienced entrepreneur pairs with inventors at the start of the development process to identify the value an idea or technology may potentially hold for targeted customers, its possible financial viability, and its manufacturing and distribution options.

The initial assessment with the entrepreneur can determine an invention’s market potential before substantial time, money, and effort is spent on technological development. Or, it may provide a different direction for research that increases the probability of a commercial pathway. New resources can be brought in to help move promising opportunities forward, including students from the UT Haslam College of Business as well as external resources from the community.

“Research conducted by UTIA faculty is very mission-focused with the faculty wanting to see the results of their work available in the marketplace to enhance people’s lives,” says AgResearch Dean Bill Brown.

“We see AgInnovations as a way to incorporate a business approach into some of our programs to increase the number of ideas, products, and processes that make it to the marketplace and the speed at which they are released.”

The program’s three elements are:
  • Development of commercial products and services not based on intellectual property, such as All Vol Cheese. These opportunities increase the visibility of UTIA and advance its mission.
  • Commercialization plans to increase competitiveness of grant applications.
  • Early market assessment of emerging intellectual property to increase research productivity and the likelihood of products that improve people’s lives.
AgInnovations is also working on programs to increase connections between researchers with industry. Greater communication flow between them is expected to heighten market-directed research, with potential for new grant opportunities and commercial products.

Research consultant Joy Fisher is the entrepreneur who leads the AgInnovations program. Prior to joining UTIA, she spent five years with the UT Research Foundation commercializing technologies. Her background also includes experience with the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship in the Haslam College of Business and as CEO of a chemical start-up company.

“The Institute of Agriculture has always been one of the more application-driven centers at UT,” Fisher says. “Because of the Institute’s innovative nature and its commitment to solving real-life problems, I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with our researchers, faculty, and staff in launching new products, services, and companies based on their ideas.”

To explore how AgInnovations can assist you, contact Fisher at 865-243-7907 cell or Joy.fisher@tennessee.edu. Her office is in 114 McCord.