Promoters of a summer study program on agriculture want families to know why their students should attend the program. Those who apply and are accepted will spend two weeks learning about the “wonderful, wide world of agriculture.”
Former Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen led the outreach effort for AgDiscovery 2020 at the annual agriculture fair in western St. Thomas. The University of the Virgin Islands is one of 20 colleges and universities, nationwide, offering students in grades 7 through 11 a chance to explore a wide range of studies in the field.
Promoters of the program – working through UVI’s Cooperative Extension Service – say they want to engage students and spark their interest in farming and related fields. If the effort succeeds, they hope to persuade decision makers at the university to reinstate the agriculture curriculum.
Petersen is assistant director at Extension Service. He said one of the things students who participate in the program will discover is how many different subjects other than farming make up the agriculture curriculum.
“We’re talking about two weeks of classroom activity, but more than that, it is a lot of hands-on activity. They get to go to the experiment station, where we do all our research. They get to work with farmers and help farmers to do what they do. Some of the big activities, for example, are helping farmers install their irrigation systems while learning about irrigation systems at the same time. They learn about the Senepol cattle and the research that’s being done about them at the same time,” Petersen said.
Other offerings at UVI, St. Croix, for the summer include animal science, veterinary medicine, aquaponics, horticulture, biotechnology and agribusiness. By the time the summer program’s done, promoters hope students will find a field they would like to study in depth as college students.
One local high school teacher spoke recently about his experience introducing students to one ag-related field – hydroponics.
Teacher Vincent Henley said the assignment for his students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School to build soil-free hydroponic crop beds was a source for inspiration.
”The hydroponics system is the 21st Century system right now,” he said.
Students were told to build the systems, based on classroom instruction. At the end of a day of assembling the systems, Henley said, one of his students approached him at lunchtime.
“She said, ‘Mr. Henley, I want to thank you, because up until now, I never held a saw, a drill – I never built anything,’” the teacher said. “They’re too excited about this hydroponic system.”
UVI has been partnering with sponsors at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service over AgDiscovery since 2016. Students chosen to attend will spend two weeks living as college students in the St. Croix campus dormitory.
The grant covers all associated costs, Petersen said. All parents and guardians have to take care of is the cost of getting their students to and from St. Croix.
Petersen said because UVI is a land-grant institution it has a curriculum that focuses on agriculture, which helps UVI meet its mandate. If the summer course offerings succeed, it may also help revitalize the school’s agriculture department and keep interested students from leaving the territory to study on the U.S. mainland.
Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Diana Collingwood was one of the students who graduated from UVI’s ag program several years ago.
“I graduated in 1985 and I always thought it was an amazing program. It set a great foundation for my entire career,” she said.
After getting an associates degree in agriculture science, Collingwood taught at Arthur Richards Junior High School. Years later, she returned to complete her bachelors degree, then a masters.
Two years ago, UVI President David Hall addressed the crowd at the 2018 Bordeaux Farmers Agricultural and Cultural Fair. At that time he said restoring the school’s ag program was one of his priorities.
AgDiscovery summer program is one step along the path to achieving that goal, Petersen said.