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Western Ag
department sees growth through more degree options

Posted

Western Oklahoma State College’s Agriculture Department has grown significantly in the last few years, adding three new degree programs and seeing more students enroll in an agriculture-related program.

Jennifer Hammack, Division Director of Agriculture, Science, and Nursing at WOSC, says the options available to students has helped increase their numbers, but the thing that has really made a difference is the personalized atmosphere of the department.

Gone are the days of speedy enrollment. Her department is pushing toward more intensive advising that focuses on the individual student. She believes getting to know her students better helps her to understand their goals and lead them in the right direction.

“Giving students that personal attention lets them know they’re more than a number,” Hammack said. It also gives the adviser, usually a professor in the department, the chance to discuss their options. She said it’s frustrating for students when they aren’t aware of all of the options available. It’s even more frustrating when she realizes a little more attention to those students could have put them on the right path.

In addition to this more personal approach, Hammack says the department is incorporating other important skills into their classes, including interpersonal communication and resume-writing. Hammack says that aspect is important to her because she was an unprepared college student who needed help learning how to take good notes and develop studying habits as a freshman. Now she has a doctorate in Animal Sciences, but she recalls how challenging those first years of college can be.

Hammack said students should leave college prepared for the work in their chosen field and for life.

When Hammack started at Western four years ago, she formulated three new degree options for students interested in agriculture: Associates in Animal Science; Associates in Agriculture Education, Communications, and Leadership; and Associates in Pre-Veterinary. These are in addition to Associates in Agriculture Sciences and Associates in Agriculture Business that are also offered at Western.

Each degree program has been created based on her students. While many rodeo students have previously sought business degrees while taking a good number of agriculture classes as well, the Associates in Agriculture Business allows these students to earn a degree that is specific to their interests. Hammack said the Associates in Agriculture Education, Communications and Leadership is a degree that allows students to diverge into one of the three categories at a four-year university with a solid foundation in each, and the Pre-Veterinary degree requires students to take an internship with a veterinarian before applying to Veterinary School.

These degree plans can be pursued while students also pursue a Certification in Farm and Ranch Management.

“I have students who are just going for this certification and others who are going for it along with an associates degree,” Hammack said. “This was created for the students who don’t really want to get a four-year degree but want to learn the business side of running a family operation.”

Though a native of North Texas, Hammack says the draw of Southwest Oklahoma is that there are hands-on learning opportunities for her students. Whether they leave Western with a Certification in Farm and Ranch Management, go on to Oklahoma State University or Texas A&M to get a bachelor’s degree and enter the job market, or go on to graduate school, Hammack believes the skills they learn in actual fields are essential to their success.

Working with the Jackson County OSU Extension office, her students have tested bales of hay, interactively processed their samples and discovered why a high amount of nitrates is bad for a pregnant cow — “She’ll lose her pregnancy,” Hammack said, “So it’s important to know that if you’re running a cow-calf operation.

“Even students who go on to Veterinary School will need that hands-on experience,” Hammack said, “There’s no way to be prepared for the job market without it. Even students who go on to teach need those skills to be able to relate to their students.”

And Hammack says a degree in agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean the student will go on to be a farmer or rancher.

“The highest paid and most sought-after job in this field is in food science,” Hammack said, “because most of us don’t rely on hunting or gardening for our food and get it from a grocery store instead, where it’s already been processed.”

Hammack said the program has grown from 15 to 80 students, and with more options and advisers ready to help students succeed, she hopes that number will continue to grow.

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