Instructors bring industry insider knowledge

January 2, 2014

From thecountrytoday.com: “Broadening opportunities: New CVTC instructors bring industry insider knowledge” — EAU CLAIRE — With a few fresh faces on its agricultural staff, Chippewa Valley Technical College is looking forward to a bright future in 2014. In the past year, the college hired three new agriculture instructors. CVTC horticulture instructor Susan Frame said the new additions bring industry knowledge that will help students excel in their fields.

“One of the advantages Chippewa Valley Technical College students have is that the instructors have been in the industry,” Frame said.

Among the new arrivals are animal science instructor Adam Zwiefelhofer, agronomy instructor Jon Wantoch and farm business instructor Maria Bendixen. All three are UW-River Falls alumnus.

Zwiefelhofer, who majored in agricultural education, hails from the Eleva-Strum area.

The former Genex breeding specialist said teaching was a natural transition, noting, “I always knew I wanted to teach.”

Wantoch, a Mondovi native, majored in agricultural studies with minors in dairy science and biology and was previously employed by Lakeland Cooperative.

The switch to teaching was an easy one, he said, adding, “Helping others fits who I am.”

Bendixen taught high school agriculture in Colby and spent a year serving as UW-Extension agriculture agent for Taylor and Marathon counties before signing on as Clark County’s agent, a position she held for seven years.

Though she worked directly with producers as an ag agent, Bendixen said she was interested in being able to work with them on a more continual basis.

“I’m excited to be able to work with farmers for an extended period of time and to be able to follow up,” she said.

Bendixen joins veteran farm business instructor Mark Denk in aiding farmers in continuing education throughout western Wisconsin.

Continuing education

Zwiefelhofer said many people don’t realize the extent of continuing education CVTC offers.

The ag programs have 80 students on campus. Another 160, mainly farmers, are enrolled in the Farm Business and Production Management program, which offers resources to improve management skills. The program features part-time instruction with topics rotating over six years, versus the typical time-intensive 32-week school year.

Students range from high schoolers (enrolled in the youth option) to farmers in their 70s, Denk said, noting the broad variety of ages and backgrounds creates a unique peer setting not found at larger educational institutions.

“There’s a lot of knowledge transfer that comes into play there,” Bendixen said. “It leads to some lively discussions — which is fortunate, because in agriculture, there’s no one right way to do things.”

Zwiefelhofer said the school has adjusted its curriculum for the ever-diversifying niches of Wisconsin agriculture.

“I think we’ve flexed with the times,” he said. “If there aren’t jobs for our students, we’re not going to be around in the future.”

Though their three main program areas are agriscience technician; landscape, plant and turf management; and farm business and production management, Denk said the instructors have helped students branch out into other topics.

“We’ve had students interested in hops, for example,” he said. “In that case we end up working with them on a more individualized basis or connect them with an industry partner, but the backbone of what they need to learn remains the same.”

That backbone is rooted in ag-focused marketing, sales, equipment and facility courses. From there, students can branch out into the varying tracks.

Industry partners, such as Case IH and John Deere, have been instrumental in CVTC’s ag programs, Denk said.

“I personally feel like we touch on community more than the larger universities,” Zwiefelhofer said. “The labs we do are mostly on farms or businesses in our local community.”

The college has an active biofuels program in which students grow the crops used to generate biofuels. Students can also become certified in skills such as commercial pesticide application, skid-steer operation and performing animal ultrasounds.

Two greenhouses on campus allow students to grow produce, which this year was sold in an on-campus farmers market.

“We also do hydroponics and work closely with cooperating farms and the local farming population,” Frame said.

Students also benefit from a strong internship program, Zwiefelhofer said.

“The internships they take between their first and second year are really what separate us from the larger schools,” he said. “A lot of times it leads into employment.”

Those interested in learning more about the ag programs are welcome to shadow classes.

CVTC also has a transfer agreement that allows students to carry credits into the UW system.

Denk is eager to see how the ag programs develop with the influence of the new instructors.

“We’ve got a great staff here,” he said. “We’re committed to working together for the students’ success.”

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