Campus News

Cross-college cooperation

Ag and journalism colleges partner to train students in agricultural communication

The undergraduate program in agricultural communication, part of the department of agricultural leadership, education and communication, is building on cross-college cooperation. Columns spoke with Dick Hudson, who is coordinating the ag communication program as a public service associate in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Columns: What’s your mission?

Hudson: Our students are good in science and technology. They’re bright. What they need are abilities in leadership and communication as they move into agribusiness.

We’ve been working with companies to form internships and job placement. Students in agricultural communication across the country are getting good jobs.

In this age of e-mails and no punctuation or grammar or capitalization, we’re pushing communication, both written and oral, and trying to make it as practical as possible. We talk about business meetings, about interoffice memos, about meeting the media, résumés, interviewing, all those kinds of things. The students are really buying into it.

Columns: Certainly agriculture students aren’t being trained for a 19th-century family farm.

Hudson: No, and something like 85 percent of the students in agriculture now are from urban areas. They study environmental health science, horticulture, landscaping, turf management, agricultural business and economics, and of course leadership and communication. The students see these as great opportunities to move into corporate America-the horizons are expanding. One in six jobs relates to agriculture in some way. If students can take what they’ve learned in their science classes and augment it with leadership and communications training, there are great opportunities.

Columns: So these students are headed in the same general direction as students in the Grady College?

Hudson: Right. Our students take, of course, their core curriculum, and then they take 30 hours in related agricultural courses. The idea is that a student needs to have some background and concept of what agriculture is all about in order to communicate it. Then the students can go into one of four areas-either into journalism, public relations, advertising or telecommunications-and we work with the Grady College to make that possible.

Columns: So it’s a joint program?

Hudson: Yes. Our students take a sequence of courses there, and then they’ll take another 18 hours of electives in the journalism school. The idea is that they’re learning how to write, they’re learning PR and advertising, but they’re also learning about agriculture, putting those two together.

Columns: It must be a bit tricky to work this out between colleges.

Hudson: Yes. The program is mandated by the board of regents, so that’s an advantage and a reason to work it out.

But the journalism college doesn’t have room for all the students who want to enter, and their priorities obviously should be with their own students-but still they’re working very cooperatively with us to fit our students in.

Columns: What kind of ag classes do these students take?

Hudson: I’ve developed a new course called introduction to agricultural communication. Last fall, with Mike Adang in entomology, we offered a new course called ethics in biotechnology. These students are going to have to deal with sensitive and controversial issues-genome theory, cloning-and they need to be able to communicate with the public and the media.

Students can also earn a ­leadership certificate while they are majoring in ag communication.

Chris Langone, who heads up the program, helps the students identify their strengths and weaknesses in leadership so they can work on those that they need help on. She works very much on an individual basis with the students.

There’s beginning to be a waiting list for these classes, and I think that’s because of the interest in the advisers and the faculty in the college. They’re encouraging students to learn these skills. This seed has germinated and is growing well.

Columns: How many students in the major?

Hudson: We have about 35 majors. We’ve added seven new students this semester. It’s word-of-mouth growth.

Columns: Cooperation between colleges is always attractive.

Hudson: We’ve thought about eventually having our own ag communications unit here, as Oklahoma State and some other schools do. But resources are tight and we can’t possibly buy the equipment that would be needed, nor do we have the expertise. I was just at a meeting in the journalism college today, and it was very positive. They approach this with the idea that their students come first, as they should, but they’re being very cooperative. We just this morning worked out a system of early advising for our students, so we can let Grady know our needs in advance. We think this relationship with Grady is going to grow.

Columns: There are advantages to Grady students, too.

Hudson: I think it adds some ­perspective.

Columns: Given the role agriculture plays in our culture, it seems wise to train students both to understand the science and to explain it to the rest of us.

Hudson: And particularly in a world in which science can clash with cultural traditions. What’s the key? The key is not to stand here and yell at each other but to communicate.