Moving forward: UW College of Agriculture focuses on moving forward despite current challenges
“The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has had a great deal of support from the University of Wyoming (UW) administration, the Board of Trustees and the legislature,” notes Dr. Barbara Rasco, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UW.
In fact, Rasco notes the Legislative Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee has been instrumental in helping the College of Ag secure a number of new hires across multiple departments including animal science, veterinary science, plant science, molecular biology and family and consumer sciences.
“These new hires have helped the College of Ag get back on track to being functional again,” Rasco states. “However, there are budget cuts coming, and although we are in better shape than we were last year, I am still worried the college might take a step backwards if we lose some programs or some positions.”
Looking toward the future
For 2020, Rasco says her goal is for the College of Ag to come out of the budget cuts relatively unscathed.
“We are going to do what we can to ensure our programs for students across Wyoming are excellent and remain meaningful, relevant and meet our educational objectives,” she explains. “While looking at our programs, this year in particular, we are going to be focusing on meeting the needs of the broader Wyoming community.”
Rasco is concerned about retention, and the college is working to get students through their degree programs online and eventually get them back to campus.
“We are very concerned students will return to the university this fall, but then they won’t come back in the spring,” she says. “Therefore, we are working hard to ensure we can deliver high-quality education and keep students engaged.”
“The biggest issue we will face as a college this year is making sure our students remain successful at the university as well as in their personal lives,” continues Rasco. “For many students, the pandemic has turned their lives upside down. Some have lost work opportunities and some have families facing greater financial pressure. We want to stay in contact with them and help them find solutions so they can be successful in all aspects of life.”
Modernizing the College of Ag
In addition to Rasco’s goals for the current year, the College of Ag will also receive a facelift in light of President Ed Siedel’s vision for modernizing the university.
This vision is based on four pillars – digital, entrepreneurship, inclusivity and interdisciplinary. Rasco explains she has a clear plan on how to achieve all of these within the College of Ag.
“For the digital pillar, we are looking at data science applications, computer literacy and making sure students have experience with emerging technologies, whether that involves computer-based methods, artificial intelligence or using molecular methods for experimental work,” she explains.
When it comes to the pillar of entrepreneurship, Rasco believes the College of Ag has an advantage over other colleges because of UW Extension, which offers programs across the state to help small businesses be successful. Youth programming including agriculture, business development, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and robotics provide 4-H youth with the skills they need to build a new economy in Wyoming.
“The College of Ag is also well positioned to support the objectives of inclusivity,” Rasco says. “Again, we have the advantage of Extension. We have Extension personnel out in every county across the state supporting both youth and adults. Extension educational programming in community development, nutrition and financial wellness reach a diverse audience.”
She continues, “In 2019, we had 470,227 direct education contacts through Extension, so the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is in a better position than many other programs across the university when it comes to inclusivity.”
For the interdisciplinary pillar, Rasco says the College of Ag is working on building greater connections with other programs and colleges across the university to offer UW students and the university’s stakeholder community with the connections they need to be successful in today’s world.
“In today’s world we are not facing simple problems, so the solutions aren’t simple either,” Rasco states. “We need to make sure our students gain the skills they need to have the ability to answer these tough questions in our multi-disciplinary world.”
“In my first year as dean, I have been very happy with the support our college receives from the state and with the excellent, strong group of faculty I get to work with everyday,” she concludes. “The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will continue working to build programs in ways supportive of people across the entire state of Wyoming. Even though these last few months haven’t been easy, we are still focused on moving ahead.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.