Regional Student Network Provides Model for Empowering Food System Leaders

By Nichols, Timothy J.; Gamble, Denise | NACTA Journal, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Regional Student Network Provides Model for Empowering Food System Leaders


Nichols, Timothy J., Gamble, Denise, NACTA Journal


Abstract

Cohorts of students from three Midwestern land-grant universities participated in an innovative leadership development program consisting of five off-campus food system leadership symposia. Through hands-on experiences, tours, service learning, interaction with diverse food systems leaders, daily de-briefing sessions and guided conversations, students moved through reflection and action, exhibiting extraordinary outcomes as a result of their participation. This article summarizes the history, major components, qualitative and quantitative feedback, results and lessons learned from the program. Theory emerges from these data, and is synthesized with existing learning/leadership theories into a new model for the development of future leaders for the food system. Program outcomes and implications for college teachers of agriculture are discussed.

Introduction

Educators, government, community and industry leaders are calling for the development of leadership skills among graduates from America's colleges of agriculture. The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities (1997) argued that today's colleges must "address the academic and personal development of students in a holistic way" (p. viii). The report continues, stating today's climate of sweeping economic and social change requires university students to develop "life skills and values...critical thinking and communication abilities...multicultural and global perspectives... respect for individuals and their sources of individuality...civic and individual responsibility...self esteem, self confidence...a sense of one's own competence...leadership and the ability to work well with others." (p. 26). The biggest educational challenge facing land grant universities today, the commission suggests, is developing students' "character, conscience, citizenship, tolerance, civility, and individual and social responsibility" (p. 27). These skills may not be addressed in current traditional agricultural curricula.

Others (Heifetz, 1994; Putnam, 2000) have cited issues such as global warming, religious and ethnic conflicts, maldistribution of wealth and opportunity, the decline of citizen engagement, the shift to a knowledge-based society, and from a national to global economy as evidence of the need for "creative solutions that will require a new kind of leadership" (Astin & Astin, 2000, p. 1). The secretary of Labor's Commission on the Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1991) highlights the importance of students' abilities to master complex systems, and develop affective skills and personal qualities such as integrity and teamwork. Wilson and Morren (1990) discuss environmental, economic, social and ethical issues at play in contemporary agriculture, underscoring the importance of developing "systems perspectives" and communication, people and leadership capacities among contemporary baccalaureate graduates in the food and agricultural sciences. The manifestation of this need for leadership education among collegiate agriculture instructors was apparent at the 49th annual conference of the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA), where the theme was "Developing Leadership in a Changing World" (NACTA, 2003).

Project Overview

Concerns about the development of future food systems leaders were articulated in a series of visioning sessions, facilitated by the Visions for Change (VFC) program, in diverse communities in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. During these discussions, which were a part of WK. Kellogg foundation's Food Systems Professions Education Initiative, stakeholders repeatedly stressed the need for land grant graduates to be prepared to face complex issues, have critical thinking skills, and a sense of responsibility to their communities. Students at participating institutions-University of Minnesota (UM), North Dakota State University (NDSU), and South Dakota State University (SDSU)suggested any new leadership development program should go beyond opportunities available through existing college organizations to include action-oriented learning and hands-on exposure to food systems diversity. …

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