The Community and Technical College System (CTCS) of West Virginia has awarded West Virginia University at Parkersburg a workforce development initiative grant for a new diversified agriculture Learn and Earn program. With the $96,000 in grant funds, WVU Parkersburg and Bob’s Market will collaborate to offer this cooperative education program where students will be paid while they earn a 30-hour degree certificate in diversified agriculture.
The program will link classroom theories and instruction with practical work experience. The degree certificate offered through WVU Parkersburg is part of the college’s diversified agriculture program recently approved and funded by the CTCS.
WVU Parkersburg plans to enroll two cohorts of 15 students to begin the program in May 2014 and January 2015. A total of 30 students can be enrolled during the operational training year. Students will divide their time between the college site and Bob’s Market and Greenhouses Inc.’s Mason County location.
Students enrolled in the Learn and Earn program will earn $10 per hour while working. Tuition and course materials are estimated to be cost less than $4,000. At the conclusion of the program, Bob’s Market and Greenhouses, Inc. is committed to hiring up to 10 to 15 participants as craft growers.
“We are eagerly planning the launch of this new program made possible by this grant,” said Dr. Rhonda Tracy, senior vice president for academic affairs. “It’s been fantastic working with Bob’s Market, and the students will gain a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
WVU Parkersburg’s diversified agriculture program is the only of its kind in West Virginia, offering both a one-year certificate and a two-year associate degree. Program coordinator Hans Straight joined WVU Parkersburg in August and has many plans for enhancing courses and growing the program.
“We are working to revise and expand the program curriculum to include courses in animal production, pest and disease management, plant science and propagation, and landscape and turf,” said Straight. “This partnership is our first opportunity to allow our students to gain real work experience. We hope to offer additional opportunities like this in the future.”
Recently, WVU Parkersburg purchased a new tractor for the program and built two green houses on campus. Students who complete the certificate or associate program can enter the workforce with a specialized skill set and a wide range of agricultural experience. Students will graduate with the skills to start an agricultural-related business or profitable farm or increase revenue on existing farms.
Originally from Buckhannon, W.Va., Straight earned his undergraduate degree in animal and veterinary science with a minor in horticulture from WVU. He then earned his master’s degree in agriculture from WVU. He and his wife own a small farm in Ritchie County. Straight is currently president of the Ritchie
County Farmers Market Association and previously served as director of the Ritchie County Family Resource Network.
“I believe strongly in the local foods movement,” said Straight. “We want to train current and future food producers for our region. We also want to prepare students to enter the workforce and excel at agriculture-related jobs. I’m excited to have this opportunity.”
Students interested in the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about diversified agriculture at WVU Parkersburg, visit: http://www.wvup.edu/academics/academic-divisions/science-technology-engineering-and-math/diversified-agriculture/