The Hormel Foundation approved a grant of $263,200 to Riverland Community College to launch an innovative new program to create an agriculture technology "center of excellence" in Austin. The fund supports scholarships, equipment, program development and outreach to realize the college’s vision to create a global center for agriculture and food science innovation in Austin.
"The Hormel Foundation has a vision for the future and wants to be a part of making this a reality," said Gary Ray, Chair of The Hormel Foundation.
"We strongly affirm Riverland’s aspiration to become a regional - or even a national - center of excellence in the application of technology to agricultural operations. Such a goal is in keeping with our mission - to work directly for the benefit of Austin and its region - but it’s also in keeping with the spirit of the Hormel family. We are proud to play a role in making those aspirations a reality."
The vision started with Riverland Community College’s new president, Dr. Adenuga Atewologun, who was part of the inspirational leadership behind this vision, holds a doctorate in agricultural engineering. He and his team created Riverland’s 2013 strategic plan, "The Blueprint for Excellence," that identified agriculture as a top priority over the years ahead and identifies Austin campus as the anchor site for the programs that will serve students across the region. The Hormel Foundation collaborated with Riverland and conducted two Ag Summits in 2014 and 2015 to discuss possibilities through discussions with local business leaders, producers and educators.
Riverland recently acquired MnSCU approval for six new programs including Precision Agriculture, Food Science, Food Science Technology, Agricultural Sciences, Biotechnology, and Agribusiness. These programs join Riverland’s established Farm Business Management program, one of the college’s most popular programs.
Riverland also established baccalaureate degree pathways with Minnesota State University, Mankato for food science technology, biotechnology and agricultural science programs. A pathway for agronomy has been established with Southwest Minnesota State University and a pathway in Agriculture Teacher Education is under development.
"Riverland acknowledges that our area high schools have active FFA and Ag bioscience programming," said Dr. Atewologun. "Riverland has already begun to work with these schools to engage students and promote interest in these pathways with a goal to enroll these new students beginning August 2016."
Riverland further showed its commitment by hiring Dr. Uchenna Chukwu as Riverland Community College’s new Director of the Center for Agricultural and Food Science Technology.
"Dr. Chukwu brings private extensive agriculture and food science experience to her new position at Riverland," said Dr. Atewologun. "As an innovative food scientist, we’re counting on Dr. Chukwu to lead Riverland’s vision for a best in class program that educates students to create innovative solutions to the world’s food and energy needs."
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system recognizes the importance Agriculture plays in the state’s economy.
"The Hormel Foundation is a wonderful partner and we are grateful for their support. By establishing this initiative with Riverland College, we are together addressing the needs of the Austin area and beyond," said Steven Rosenstone, Chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. "This partnership will drive innovation in agriculture across the state of Minnesota and will give Riverland’s students real world expertise to lead that innovation."