Illinois College has expanded it’s agriculture program with the addition of new faculty and a new degree.
Professor Kevin Klein is heading up an expanded agri-business program that Klein says is one of the fastest growing degree programs at Illinois College: “We started up an ag business program 3 years ago, and have really found that it matches the needs for a lot of students in this area. A lot of students want to go to a smaller school for their ag business education and the only options they had available were the large public schools. This is a really nice fit for farm families that are used to smaller things. We’ve got the program going, but we are still expanding just a little bit – still developing some of the classes, and then, excitingly this year, we have added onto that with ag education.”
Klein says that the ag education department is fulfilling a local need for school districts in the region: “One of the issues that high school have is that alot of ag teachers are retiring, and there aren’t that many people coming back in to that field [to teach at the high school level.] It’s just a really nice fit. We’ve got a really excellent education department at the school. They do just a really good job of getting students prepared to teach in public schools. It adds really nicely. Many of our students are rural students, and it just works well for them.” Assistant Professor of Education Penny Haase Wittler is leading up the ag education program’s development. Wittler was recently asked to sit on the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education, a grassroots industry group that advocates for legislation, funding and promotion that support agriculture education in Illinois.
One of the faces in the agri-business field is a locally known individual from a prominent farm family. Lauren Hadden began teaching courses over the summer as an instructor in the program. Hadden is a local native who was the program assistant for Morgan-Scott Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom while still in college. Klein says she has been a great addition to the program’s online presence: “She’s got a really rich history in the agricultural industry along with her family in the Jacksonville area. Lauren was hired primarily to teach in our online program, and to help develop that. That’s our other expansion into agriculture education, it’s that we’re offering ag business online. She’s going to be doing some bridge building for us, getting connections with ag industry professionals where some of their employees want to get an ag degree online while they work full time. Lauren is just a fantastic and powerful young woman and is going to really well for us.”
The ag business program also has added Jeff Galle as an assistant professor. Galle previously served as director of agriculture programs at John Wood Community College, where he retired after more than 30 years with the college. He is a professor emeritus and continues to teach part time, in addition to his current role as founding president of Global Pork Production Enterprises, a full-service livestock consulting firm based in Pittsfield. A leader in the pork industry, Galle has also served on a number of state and national committees, including an appointment to the National Pork Board from 2006 to 2009.
Klein says that ag business is a very diverse field with multiple outlets. He says it’s a very versatile degree for graduates that can be useful beyond corn, soybeans, and livestock. Klein says that his economics class last year only had 3 traditional rural, farm students in a class of 30. According to the USDA, agriculture and its related industries provide 11 percent of U.S. Employment accounting for over 22 million jobs. This year, the ag business program had 12 graduates and there are now more than 50 students pursuing an agribusiness management major at Illinois College.