HUNTINGTON, Ind. — Huntington University is set to launch Indiana’s first faith-based agriculture program, thanks to a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor. The recent matching gift initiates the creation of HU’s Institute for Agricultural Studies for fall of 2014, with a goal of offering its first program in agribusiness in fall 2015.
“Congratulations to everyone at Huntington University for launching our state’s first new agriculture program in many, many years,” said Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. “Recent studies confirm that the agriculture industry is growing as an important part of Indiana’s economy. We need future leaders for all parts of the agriculture industry, and the new Huntington University program will prepare young men and women for those positions.”
As one of the largest sectors of Indiana’s economy, agriculture results in more than $37 billion in revenue annually, and 83 percent of the state’s acreage is devoted to farms or forests, according to the Indiana Business Research Center.
Huntington University hopes to collaborate with the state’s public agriculture program at Purdue University. “We have been privileged to meet with the academic administration of Purdue’s agriculture program on multiple occasions to look for ways to build strong connections as we move forward,” said Huntington University President Sherilyn Emberton. “Some options we have discussed involve shared faculty, joint undergraduate research opportunities and service-learning international trips for both Purdue and Huntington students. The possibilities are endless.”
For several months, Huntington University has explored the possibility of an agriculture program. Emberton first felt compelled to consider the opportunity when she looked out an airplane window as she arrived in Indiana for the first time.
“I was so struck by the beauty of the cornfields,” recalled Emberton who is beginning her second year as president. “After meeting the people of this region and seeing the overwhelming connection to everything agriculture, I began to sense a strong conviction that Huntington University was being called to launch a faith-based program in agriculture.”
HU’s Institute for Agriculture Studies will be based on three core values: faith, family and farming, Emberton said. The institute will seek to provide innovative, agriculture-based solutions to meet challenges in Indiana, the nation and the world as well as address a growing need for agriculture professionals. The average age of an Indiana farmer is 55 years-old, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Despite industry expansion, Change the Equation reported that in 2013, fewer than 12 percent of college degrees and certifications granted in Indiana were in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which encompass agriculture.
In December 2013, Emberton established the Agriculture Task Force, a group that has formally pursued an agriculture program. The task force includes Dr. Del Doughty, associate dean for academics at HU; Dr. Bruce Evans, HU professor of biology; Dr. Dale Haupert, member of HU’s Board of Trustees; Dr. Collin Hobbs, assistant professor of biology at HU; Joe Kessie, senior vice president at Lake City Bank in Warsaw; Jeff Mize, CEO of Ag Plus in South Whitley; Steve Platt, Huntington farmer and former HU men’s basketball coach; RD Schrader, partner at Schrader Real Estate and Auction; Terry Shively, President of Farmers Grain and Feed Company and parent of an HU alumnus; Kip Tom of Tom Farms and president of CereServ Inc.; Anita Wickersham, associate professor of accounting and business at HU; and Dr. Mike Wanous, vice president for academic affairs at HU.
Wanous, who began his role at the university in July, has a strong background in agriculture. He holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in plant breeding from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy and international agriculture from the University of Minnesota. Wanous spent a sabbatical in Norwich, United Kingdom, working at the John Innes Centre, an independent, international center focusing on plant science and microbiology.
On March 25, Emberton made the first public announcement about the possibility of an agriculture program at a Huntington University event called Feed A Farmer. The luncheon celebrated National Agriculture Day and provided a public forum not only to honor agriculture professionals but also to gather their impressions of an agriculture program at HU. More than 70 people attended, including FFA (Future Farmers of America) members and their advisors from five area high schools.
In addition, Feed A Farmer provided Huntington with an opportunity to announce the success of a student-led campaign to market agriculture in Indiana. The day before, on March 24, a team of seven Huntington University students took home the top prize, $25,000, for an entry in a statewide marketing competition called “Promoting the Good Works of Indiana Agriculture,” sponsored by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann’s office. The group’s work will be integrated into the state’s efforts to market agriculture to 18 to 35 year-olds. The campaign, “Hoosier Grown,” laid out a blended-media approach, recommending traditional advertising, movie theater spots, digital marketing, social media, strategic partnerships and events. HU’s proposal was selected out of 30 teams from 17 colleges and universities that competed from across the state.
“We have seen how Huntington University students understand marketing agriculture when they developed the winning program in our ‘Promoting the Good Works of Indiana Agriculture’ competition,” Ellspermann said. “This new program will expand their studies to other important dimensions of agriculture.”
Agriculture education is not new to Huntington University. Under the leadership of faculty member Dr. Fred A. Loew, the university had a thriving agriculture curriculum in the early 20th century. Loew served as the first Agricultural Agent for Huntington County and directed the Purdue Experiment Station north of the campus. According to university archives, he is credited with introducing soybeans to Northeast Indiana.
Fundraising and curriculum development continues for Huntington University’s Institute for Agricultural Studies. Those interested in supporting these efforts may contact the Office of University Advancement at (260) 359-4089.