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Dordt planning new ag program

By Staff | Apr 27, 2015

By JOLENE STEVENS

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SIOUX CENTER – Howard Wilson, Dordt College’s vice president and chief administrative officer, said he sees a proposed new two-year agricultural program benefiting prospective students as well as the Sioux Center agriculture community.

It’s a curriculum that he said is exciting to consider especially as he grew up on a still-existing family farm near Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“Dordt, with its soundly established four-year agriculture program, is one of the few Christian colleges to offer agriculture degrees to its students,” Wilson said.

HOWARD WILSON, right, vice president and chief administrative officer for Dordt College, and Janna Hulstein, assistant director of admissions, talk about Dordt’s new two-year agricultural program.

The new program, he said, will likely incorporate both existing ag programming and new sequence and teaching modes.

Numerous and ongoing internships are part of the plans.

“Educators told us there are prospective students simply not interested in a four-year program,” Wilson said, “due to their uncertainty of taking on the debt of a four-year college degree with others admitting they want to continue as part of a family farm operation.

“Those in the second group have indicated they foresee the possible need for off-farm agricultural employment in addition to their farming responsibilities or desire to do both.”

There is, Wilson said, an equally important need for the new program expressed by 38 leaders of Sioux Center, northwest Iowa and Minnesota agri-business employers and farmers.

“What we’re hearing from these individuals, in finance, feed services and the livestock industry, is there’s a significant need for people with two-year degrees and technical skills in agriculture,” he said. “I’d say what we heard pretty consistently was that they see a current labor shortage in agriculture with approximately 100 job openings.”

Employers, he said, indicate they’re looking for individuals who have technical skills, as well as the ability to be leaders, build teamwork, be problem-solvers and communicate by preparing documents or power-point demonstrations.

Gord Blom, of Sioux Center, a 1971 Dordt graduate and now regional sales manager for the Canadian-based Walinga.USA, is a member of focus group discussions.

“This (the 2-year program) is a very positive thing for our community,” Blom said. “I feel even those students foregoing a four-year degree needs a faith-based education such as that provided by Dordt.

“The new program can provide this education in addition to the opportunity to learn agriculture technical skills.

“More specifically, graduates of the new program will, I believe, become good potential candidates within our Walinga USA operations, such as for our semi-trailer repair operation in Sioux Center.”

“We feel this is where our program can add some value and help to fill a niche,” Wilson said.

He said he sees Dordt’s two-year option as supporting existing agriculture programs offered by other northwest community colleges or universities.

Among an expanding range of job opportunities are farm finance for liaison-type positions to make on-farm observations of a customer’s operation, possible on-farm high technology equipment services, feed lot or hog confinement managers and soil testing and analysis employees.

Another goal is for Dordt ag graduates to have sufficient language skills to communicate with the region’s growing number of Latino ag workers.

Consultants familiar with existing state university agricultural programs are working with Dordt representatives preparing a survey of “thousands of prospective students and hundreds of employers” to determine interests of both groups, Wilson said.

“We believe that when God calls on us to care for every square inch of creation and the humans, animals and resources that are in it,” Wilson said, “that this is part of our mission and our vision to be achieved in a hopefully insightful process

The goal is to present the proposal to the college’s board of governors at its October meeting with the new program getting underway in late 2016 or early 2017.

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