Pavli Mykerezi, director of the Ag Tech Program, said the program aims to give students the skills needed to run a business in the agricultural or green industries. It was established 23 years ago at the request of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation to provide qualified graduates to fill mid-management and technical positions in the agriculture industry.
Graduates earn an associate of agriculture degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Students can pursue an option in applied agricultural management or landscape and turf management.
James Agee of Bland County, Va., said the Ag Tech Program is training him for a new career. The Army veteran was wounded during his second tour in Iraq and unable to continue his military service. Agee grew up on a beef cattle farm and enrolled in the program to gain more extensive knowledge of agriculture.
Some students choose to continue their education after completing the program. Agee said he sees Ag Tech as the first step to his education. “I want to continue on to get my undergraduate degree in agricultural sciences and then possibly go on to law school and specialize in agriculture law,” he said.
“There is an articulation agreement with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that allows students to automatically be accepted into a four-year program in the college if they meet certain conditions,” said Joe Guthrie, the program’s business instructor. “We have some students working on their bachelor’s degrees and are doing quite well.”
Ag Tech students are on campus for two years, so instructors are selective with their course content. “We give them the information that we think is most important and practical for them in their career,” Guthrie said. “Most all of the classes the students take directly relate to their major or their specific field of interest.”
Education isn’t limited to the classroom. “Everything that we learn in class is applied to what we’re doing outside of the classroom,” said Gage Hagen, a second-year student from Centreville, Va.
The hands-on learning makes Ag Tech different from a traditional four-year program, Mykerezi said.
“I really love how hands-on the program is,” said Morgan Roberts of Somerset, Va. “Last year, in the Intro to Animal Science lab, every week it was something different. One week we were processing baby piglets, and the next week we were at the beef barn, freeze-branding cattle.”
Students are also required to participate in a 10-week, 400-hour internship before they can graduate.
“After Ag Tech, there are so many options,” said Zach Gaskins of Carrsville, Va. “You have to take an internship with a company in the industry. This can possibly lead to a full-time job.”
Mark Cote, a 1996 graduate, knows first-hand how valuable the internship experience can be. While completing his associate degree in turf management, Cote interned with The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. After graduation, he spent a year at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., then returned to The Homestead to become its golf course superintendent.
“My internship paved the way for me getting the job at The Homestead and every job after that,” Cote said.
Today, he is director of golf maintenance at the Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech in Fairlawn, Va., where he provides students with internship experiences similar to his own. In spring 2011, six students earned course credit for helping to prepare the golf course for the NCAA Men’s Regional Championship.
“It feels like a small family atmosphere; your instructors know you by name,” Agee said. “They are very encouraging and try to get you to apply what you are learning to your own situation.”
With only 120 students in the program at any given time, it doesn’t take long to get to know your classmates and instructors.
“It is really the best of both worlds, with all the advantages and opportunities that a large university has to offer, while with the small college feel,” Guthrie said.
Ag Tech students share pictures from their 10-week, 400-hour internships, required before they can graduate from the program.
Virginia Tech faculty, including representatives from the Ag Tech Program, recently traveled to South Sudan to launch a project called Rebuilding Higher Education in Agriculture for South Sudan. One component of this project is to develop a short-term “diploma” program similar to the Ag Tech Program at the University of Juba.
Turfgrass Management instructor Sam Doak of the Ag Tech Program offers tips on fall lawn fertilization in this video.
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