Virginia Western Community College announces a new scholarship for Agriculture students, designed to attract a more diverse group of farmers to the industry.
Shenandoah Valley Organic has established the $5,000 annual scholarship, which will provide funds for tuition, books and fees to one student per academic year pursuing an Associate Degree in Agriculture. The goal is to help boost the shrinking industry and draw a new generation of farmers from more diverse backgrounds, including females, minorities and urban residents.
Shenandoah Valley Organic is a farm collaborative founded in 2014 in Harrisonburg, Va., to promote and protect generational family farming. Shenandoah Valley is the parent company of Farmer Focus, an organic chicken brand available in groceries across the Commonwealth.
“With over 70 partner farms in the state, our mission is to inspire people to get excited about farming and its lifestyle,” said Lorenzo Bared, Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development of Shenandoah Valley Organic. “Virginia Western was a perfect fit, as their program is aligned with our mission of protecting and promoting generational family farms. Our hope is that younger people consider a future in farming and see it as a more sustainable, attractive profession.”
Classes within Virginia Western’s Associate of Agriculture degree program include animal and plant sciences, as well as forestry. Agribusiness classes prepare students to manage farm finances and work in the business side of agriculture.
The track for non-transfer students often includes welding and hydraulics classes, so they are prepared to operate major farm equipment. Students who finish with the associate degree can get jobs as a veterinary technician, farm hand, animal breeder or produce inspector.
The program is also designed as a foundation for those planning to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue jobs as veterinarians, or become animal, plant or food scientists or researchers. Ferrum College and Virginia Tech offer Agriculture and Veterinary studies.
Amy White, Dean of Virginia Western’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Department, said one of the advantages of the program is that it is flexible and customizable based on an individual student’s needs.
“Part of its charm is that we have an advisor dedicated to working with each of the ag students, and instructors really get to know their students and help support their goals and guide them along the path that they are interested in,” she said.
There are 52 students enrolled in the college’s Agriculture program, which started its first class in 2019. Five students plan to graduate this spring.
White is pleased with the expanding interest in the program, and confident that the new scholarship will help fuel its growth.
“This was a ‘Build it, and they will come’ type of program, but clearly the strong enrollment numbers, and students graduating at the earliest possible date, demonstrates demand for agricultural studies,” White said.
According to White, the partnership with Shenandoah Valley Organic is the ideal example of academics and industry coming together to create talent and promote an industry.
“It’s exciting to think about the opportunities this collaboration creates to attract and retain our own talent in an industry that is so important to our region,” White said. “It’s a classic example of how, when two entities merge, you can only have success. The missions of our College and SVO collided in a perfect way.”
The Shenandoah Valley Organic Annual Scholarship is one of more than 100 scholarships offered by the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation. Applications for the fall 2021 scholarship cycle are open through May 3, 2021. Apply online at www.virginiawestern.edu/scholarship.
The Shenandoah Valley Organic Annual Scholarship provides assistance for tuition, books and fees to one student per academic year (fall and spring). Applicants must be enrolled in at least six credits per semester, pursuing an Associate Degree in the Agriculture program and possess a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA. Preference will be given to underserved student populations, as defined by the Virginia Community College System.
For more information, contact Amanda Mansfield, the Educational Foundation’s Philanthropy Director, at (540) 857-6962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.