University set to grow first agriculture program

By Christian Herrera

WEB BLURB: Last year’s Hoosier Grown victory propelled the idea for an agriculture program.

The university is set to launch its first Institute of Agricultural Studies by Fall 2015. The vision of the institute seeks to provide a faith-based approach to sustainable, responsible agriculture that responds to regional, national, and global economic and societal concerns.

President Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., said that faith-based organizations are the best at initiating positive change in most populations or countries.

“When you look at countries that have struggling economies,” she said, “many times, agriculture is the way they can change their economy. As a faith based institution, we already have a heart for people and countries that need help.”

Emberton said the three core values the agriculture institute established are faith, family, and farming because they resonate well in agricultural communities.

“Farming is a foundational structure for our country,” she said. “Many farmers in our area are family-run. We found that most of the people involved with this have a really strong commitment to their personal faith as well as to their family and farming.”

Initiation of the institute became possible when an anonymous donor stepped forward and offered a $100,000 matching grant opportunity. The university’s current goal is to match that and have $200,000 in place to begin the program. Currently, the university has approximately $130,000 toward their goal.

“We wanted to make sure that we would have the startup money to do [the program] and that it wouldn’t take away from our existing operating budget,” Emberton said. “And so far, the Lord has been really faithful to that.”

The anonymous donor will be revealed in October, as the university would like to name the institute after that particular person.

Although a director for the institute has not been hired, the program itself will report through the university’s vice-president of academic affairs and dean, Mike Wanous, Ph.D. Wanous has a masters degree in plant breeding and a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy and international agriculture.

“We had several people in our community and a couple of people on our board of trustees that have very strong backgrounds in agriculture who said they would be willing to help us as we move forward,” Emberton said.

Emberton said the idea for an agriculture program came about because of the Hoosier Grown student team’s victory in March. The seven students won first place and $25,000 in a statewide marketing competition with their campaign, beating out 30 teams from 17 colleges and universities.

“That’s really when we began to see ourselves as a player in that market,” Emberton said.

The university is currently working with Purdue University in hopes of a partnership with their state’s public agriculture program, which is ranked number one in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the fourth consecutive year in a row.

“They have some wonderful people of faith on their faculty, so we would love to have them come and teach for us,” Emberton said. “Then we hope our students and their students could do research together.”

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