Agricultural Leadership: Oklahoma State University's New Major for Undergraduate Students
Pennington, Penny, Weeks, William G., NACTA Journal
On June 30, 2005, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved the creation of what is believed to be the first officially recognized undergraduate major in Agricultural Leadership in the nation. The major is housed in Oklahoma State University's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development. The Agricultural Leadership major provides an opportunity for students to prepare as generalists in the agricultural sciences while developing a strong understanding of leadership. Five core values guide the curriculum: commitment to agriculture, authentic leadership, open minds, critical thinking, and professionalism. Agricultural leadership faculty infuse these values throughout the coursework aligning course objectives, learning opportunities, and student experiences with the five core values. Program outcomes include approximately eighty students majoring in Agricultural Leadership, a growing number of students pursing minors in Leadership Education, support from College administration, development of a student organization, and national recognition.
In 2003, according to Fields, et al., ninety percent of colleges of agriculture were in the process of adding, deleting, or restructuring departments and/or majors. One of the newly established departments identified by Fields, et al. (2003) was agricultural leadership, education, and communication. Interest in leadership from an academic perspective continues to increase in colleges and universities across the nation, with classes being taught in a variety of disciplines (Vecchio, 1997). A study conducted in 2000 examined leadership offerings in departments of agricultural education and found that sixty-eight of the responding departments offered leadership coursework and cited eighty-two leadership courses. Additionally, all sixty-eight administrators reported students' attitudes toward leadership coursework as positive or extremely positive (Fritz, et al., 2003). Barrick (1992) conceptualized future departments of agricultural education as having four components or sub disciplines: Teaching and Learning, Human Resource Development and Management, Communications, and Research Methods and Data Analysis. Barrick acknowledges that although no degree programs existed in 1992 in the area of Human Resource Development (Agricultural Leadership), the area is a fit for agricultural education because it includes coursework that has been traditionally aligned with agricultural education departments; specifically student development, volunteerism, leadership development, and youth program management.
In 2004, the American Association of Agricultural Education determined that there were eight departments of agricultural education offering an area of study focused in leadership. Each offered not only leadership coursework, but options, minors, and/or majors in leadership. Although courses and/or programs in leadership existed, many did not contain the word leadership in their title (Fritz et al., 2003). Within agricultural education a growing trend has emerged in which programs are seeking recognition for a major in Agricultural Leadership from curriculum committees and university administration. However, recognition as a major, specifically in Agricultural Leadership, has eluded many of these programs. Programs seeking recognition of coursework and programs of study in leadership found a strong political atmosphere guarding against the use of the term leadership in courses and names of majors and minors specifically within the context of agriculture. Much of the politics surrounding this issue came from various colleges across campus, including business, education, and agriculture, wanting to own the term leadership (Pennington, 2005).
Agricultural Leadership at Oklahoma State University is an undergraduate major in the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development at Oklahoma State University. Originally created as a Professional Service option for Agricultural Education majors, the program was renamed the Leadership and Service option during 2000, again for Agricultural Education majors, and officially recognized as a major in Agricultural Leadership by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on June 30, 2005 (Table 1).
The Professional Service option originally served students interested in pursing careers in Cooperative Extension and offered a broad-based exploration of agriculture. In the mid-90s interest in the option began increasing, as did enrollment in leadership coursework. In 2000 the Professional Service option was renamed the Leadership and Service option. The Leadership and Service option continued to serve students preparing for careers in Cooperative Extension, but also began serving a broader population of students interested in a variety of agricultural career paths including politics, government agencies, non-profits, corporate agriculture, higher education, and small business.
Student enrollment in leadership courses has increased three-fold since the development of the Leadership and Service option generating close to 800 student credit hours annually in leadership coursework (Figure 1). As a result of student demand for leadership coursework, additional FTE was dedicated to the leadership program and additional leadership courses were developed. In 2002, a minor in leadership education was developed within the Department to serve students throughout the college interested in studying leadership while pursuing other majors. The minor includes twenty hours of coursework. Six of the minor's required courses (fourteen hours) are offered through the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development.
By 2004, students enrolled in the Leadership and Service option expressed strong interest in a program name that better represented their academic preparation. Agricultural Education's history of preparing students as agricultural teachers was very strong and students who choose the option in Leadership and Service believed they had difficulty marketing their degree in Agricultural Education without a teaching credential. The decision to modify the program by deleting the Leadership and Service option and creating a stand alone major in Agricultural Leadership proved to be a positive step. The decision has created higher visibility for the program and we believe it provides a stronger opportunity for students to market their degree. May 2006 will mark the graduation of the first class of undergraduate students majoring in Agricultural Leadership.
The Agricultural Leadership curriculum at Oklahoma State University is guided by five core values: commitment to agriculture, authentic leadership, open minds, critical thinking, and professionalism. The five core values were developed by the agricultural leadership faculty over a two year period. Agricultural leadership faculty infuse these values throughout the coursework aligning course objectives, learning opportunities, and student experiences with the five core values. Within the program students study leadership from an academic perspective as well as its application to the agricultural context.
Three leadership courses serve as the foundation for both the Agricultural Leadership major and the Leadership Education minor:
1. Introduction to Leadership in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources;
2. Personal Leadership Development; and
3. Leadership: Theory and Practice.
The focus of each of the courses is behavior-based leadership, values-based leadership (Pennington & Brungardt, 2004), and theory-based leadership, respectively. Agricultural Leadership majors and Leadership Education minors take advanced leadership courses in contemporary issues (Weeks & Pennington, 2003) and leadership program facilitation as well as a leadership education seminar in which topics rotate to represent the newest scholarship in the discipline (Table 2).
Unique to the major in Agricultural Leadership is a course in change and diffusion of innovation, and a series of courses designed specifically to provide professional development and to integrate leadership concepts with the agricultural context:
* Introduction to Agricultural Leadership;
* Professional Development in Agricultural Leadership; and
* Agricultural Leadership Internship.
Students are introduced to the major as well as the five core values underlying the curriculum in our introduction class. The professional development course (Pennington, 2004) focuses on teams, professionalism, and oral communication, as well as career opportunities for students majoring in Agricultural Leadership. Finally, the internship course serves as an experiential learning opportunity; an opportunity for students to practice what they have learned in the classroom. The course requires students to complete a full-time, 10-week internship, guided by a mentor in the field and a faculty advisor.
In addition to leadership coursework, the curriculum provides a broad introduction to the agricultural sciences and natural resources (30 hours of coursework) and requires students to take an additional nine hours of advanced agricultural coursework: international agriculture, rural economic development, and communicating agriculture to the public. To round out the program, students select, with their advisor, eighteen additional hours tailored to their individual needs with many of the students pursuing minors such as animal science, soil science, or agricultural economics.
Approximately 80 students are currently enrolled in the Agricultural Leadership major and a growing number of students are seeking a minor in Leadership Education. Organizations hosting agricultural leadership interns have included: Archer Daniel Midlands, Tyson Foods, Murphy Family Farms, John Deere, Farm Credit, USDA Office of Risk Management, Agricultural Research Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Oklahoma Water Resource Board, and Cooperative Extension Service. Locations of internships have included: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington DC, and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The college administration has demonstrated strong support for leadership offerings in the college which is demonstrated by the formal approval of both the minor in Leadership Education and the major in Agricultural Leadership, as well as dedicating additional FTE in the area of agricultural leadership. College administration has also demonstrated strong support for the introductory leadership course and implemented the course as a requirement for all freshmen participating in the agricultural learning/living community. Five sections of the introductory course are offered each spring semester to accommodate the college requirement. Approximately 100 students from across the college enroll in the course each spring semester.
Interest in leadership is also growing outside the classroom. Recently undergraduate students formed a new student organizationLeadership League. Leadership League is a student organization dedicated to the academic study of leadership and its application within agricultural sciences and natural resources. The organization has committed to selecting a leadership issue each year to guide their organization's activities. Leadership League is currently focusing on global hunger. The group has participated in Heifer International's Global Village program and organized a service project that attracted participation from fourteen of the College's student organizations collecting more than 1000 pounds of food donations in one evening.
Agricultural Leadership at Oklahoma State University was nationally recognized by the Association of Leadership Educators and the United States Department of Agriculture. At the 2005 national meeting of the Association of Leadership Educators, Agricultural Leadership at Oklahoma State University was named the 2005 Outstanding Leadership Program. The award recognizes leadership programs that impact individuals, organizations, and/ or communities, have a sustained program excellence, and have demonstrated durability of the program. Also, in cooperation with the University of Nebraska and the University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University was awarded a USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant to provide professional development training for faculty in colleges of agriculture teaching leadership courses. The project, Leadership Education Institute for Faculty in Colleges of Agriculture, has the following objectives:
* To provide professional development to faculty in colleges of agriculture responsible for delivering undergraduate leadership curriculum;
* To support faculty in aligning leadership instruction and curriculum with current research and best practices in leadership education;
* To develop a sustainable network of faculty in colleges of agriculture teaching leadership coursework; and,
* To disseminate contemporary models for leadership instruction and curriculum to colleges of agriculture.
During the spring 2006 semester, project collaborators selected a cohort of 10 faculty, representing 10 different universities, to participate in the two-year professional development program.
The new major at Oklahoma State University in Agricultural Leadership provides students the opportunity to study agriculture across various disciplines while learning about leadership. Integration of the programs core values throughout the curriculum provides opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills, as well as a global perspective and an appreciation for diversity. Fields et al. (2003) identified an interdisciplinary approach to the study of agriculture, as well as fostering global perspectives and an appreciation for diversity as key issues facing education in colleges of agriculture. Additionally, both critical thinking and experiential learning were identified as important competencies and learning opportunities for undergraduate agriculture students. Furthermore, students in colleges of agriculture across the country are our future leaders. They will become both decision-makers and politicians; they will impact our economy; and they will impact our environment (Watson, 2005). The purpose of Agricultural Leadership at Oklahoma State University is to better prepare our students for their future role in society.
American Association for Agricultural Education. 2004. Undergraduate degree programs in agricultural leadership: Majors/options and minors. Unpublished raw data.
Barrick, R.K. 1992. A conceptual model for a program of agricultural education in colleges and universities. In Don R. Herring (Facilitator), Developing Curriculum Options in Agricultural Education. Report of the 1992 Ad Hoc Work Group, presented at the meeting of the American Association for Agricultural Education, St. Louis, MO.
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Pennington, P, and C. Brungardt. 2004. Valuesbased leadership: Strategies for getting real in the collegiate classroom. Proceedings of the annual conference of the Association of Leadership Educators, Memphis TN. Available: http://www.leadershipeducators.org/2004
Vecchio, R.P. (ed.), 1997. Leadership: Understanding the dynamics of power and influence in organizations. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Watson, S. 2005. Future agricultural leaders' perceptions on their industry. NACTA Journal (49) 1.3943.
Weeks, W. and E Pennington. 2003. Teaching an undergraduate course in contemporary issues in leadership. Proceedings of the annual conference of the Association of Leadership Educators, Anchorage. Available: http://www.leadership educators.org/ 2003/weeks.pdf.
Penny Pennington1 and William G. Weeks2
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
1 Assistant Professor, 442 Agricultural Hall; Email: email@example.com