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Listening sessions highlight convergence of agriculture and engineering

A growing number of agricultural challenges require solutions based in engineering. To meet this need, administrators from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and the UGA College of Engineering (COE) recently met with agricultural leaders from across the state to discuss how the world-renowned scientists at Georgia’s land-grant university could tackle agricultural issues through engineering.

Two listening sessions, which were held on Aug. 2 in Tifton, Georgia, and on Aug. 14 in Gainesville, Georgia, highlighted the convergence of agriculture and engineering in what CAES Dean and Director Sam Pardue hopes will be the start of continued discussions.

“I’m convinced we are better when we communicate with each other,” Pardue said. “The day when companies, like those represented at our first meetings, stop talking to us, we’re in trouble. My hope is that this is the beginning of a longer dialogue on how CAES and the College of Engineering can work together for the betterment of people throughout the state.”

The Tifton meeting, held at the Tifton Campus Conference Center, covered crop production and was attended by respected producers and industry leaders. The Gainesville program, held at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory, focused on poultry production.

“I think it was a time for us to show how well we can work together as well as demonstrate that we want to be open and available to the overall community,” Pardue said.

Considered Georgia’s top industry, agriculture posted a farm gate value of $13.8 billion in 2015. The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and agricultural production needs to evolve in order to feed and clothe the growing population. Future agricultural engineers are critical in developing these agricultural solutions.

About 5 percent of COE students major in agricultural engineering. COE Dean Don Leo said his college must be ready to meet the needs of the agricultural industry, both now and in the future.

“What we need to do is make our connections better so that everybody in Georgia understands the opportunities that are available for them to engage with us and for us, as students and faculty, to engage with the communities,” Leo said.

More than 90 percent of UGA’s engineering students are from Georgia. Getting UGA graduates to accept jobs in rural Georgia is a challenge.

“When you get into the more rural areas of our state, when you get to the agribusiness side, attracting professionals is very difficult,” said Gary Evans, chief operating officer of Premium Peanut in Douglas, Georgia. “We work to develop homegrown professional talent, who we start recruiting in high school. The UGA Tifton campus is a big player in that for us.”

Leo points to COE’s efforts to develop internship and cooperative opportunities with rural Georgia companies that support students who return to their hometowns after graduation. As alumni, they have the education and training to make a difference.

“We are looking for geographic diversity in our student body to help us have students that will be well-matched to companies offering internships,” Pardue said. “We need to provide ag companies with the human resources that will help them grow their businesses.”

Both deans call on companies and educators in local communities across Georgia to identify middle and high school students who show interest and talent in agriculture and engineering.

“The University of Georgia has a home in south Georgia. We’re committed to south Georgia, and we wanted to make sure that consumers of our expertise — the businesses and ag community — understand the College of Engineering and what it can do for them,” said Griff Doyle, UGA’s vice president for government relations. “The same can be said for our business leaders in north Georgia. We want our agricultural leaders statewide to better understand the opportunities that the College of Engineering has to offer.”

Writer: Clint Thompson, news editor, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tifton

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