August 29, 2007

CALS's New Agricultural Sciences Major Broadens Farm Education

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In an effort to keep the study of traditional farming progressive, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has instituted a new major, agricultural sciences, which will combine the study of agriculture with other disciplines, allowing some CALS students to broaden their undergraduate education.

“I think that sometimes studies in agricultures are though of as being somewhat narrow or focused on a certain job outcome or discipline,” said Associate Dean Jan Nyrop. “But this allows a broader mix of education background for people who may not be looking [to work] on a farm but instead in other industries with a broader agricultural base. In short, it’s agriculture with a liberal arts bent.”

According to Don Viands, associate CALS dean and chair of the committee to design the AS major, the program was developed a couple years ago by Dean Susan Henry, who assembled a task force largely in response to increased student requests for a new more integrated type of agricultural major.

“The major gives [agricultural] students some depth, and some more background in subject areas they are interested in, such as economics or animal science, without them having to go to those majors,” said Prof. Antonio DiTommaso, crop and soil sciences. “We had students really asking for something like this, they felt like in current majors this wasn’t possible,” he said.

CALS’s new major is also a response to a concern that there are fewer and fewer traditional agriculture students attending Cornell.

“For several years, our college, as well as other agricultural colleges across the USA, have seen a steady decrease in numbers of traditional agricultural students,” said Viands. “Therefore, we created this major to bring the traditional agricultural students together … We created a major that is flexible and broad in scope because these students need a broad education. It appears so far that we are attracting more traditional agricultural students into our college as a result of this major.”

According the Ditommaso, the major has five concentrations: animal science, crop production and management, applied economics and management, communication and sustainable agriculture. The latter has been attracting a great deal of attention as sustainable agriculture has become an increasingly prevalent issue in today’s global warming-crazed world.

“Sustainable agriculture is an integrated look at agricultural systems from multiple perspectives,” said program coordinator Julie Grossman. “That means healthy food, healthy people, healthy environment. And in order to get there we need people who are trained in an integrated interdisciplinary way. Challenges in agriculture today are environmental as much as they are social and economic.”

According to Grossman, students are also increasingly seeking training in sustainable agriculture. Ditommaso said that in addition to the 30 agriculture students currently enrolled in the major, there are already many students inquiring about transferring.

“Cornell is interesting because we had a lot of courses already that were looking at sustainable agriculture or had sustainable agriculture components to them,” Grossman said. “But this concentration within the major served to bring it together so a student can be immersed in sustainable agriculture.”

A new program like this one serves to keep CALS at the cutting edge of agriculture research and education.“[The major] puts us on the map again, especially in terms of sustainability,” Ditommaso said.