Advances in agricultural education


K-State is set to receive a $1 million grant to advance the education of rural communities and its adaptation to changing weather patterns.

The grant is part of The Central Great Plains Climate Change Education Partnership, which will allow several departments at K-State as well as personnel from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to work with those who have a direct interest in agricultural and rural education.

These stakeholders would include producers and representatives of interests groups, in addition to organizations such as the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

“For this grant, it’s funding two years of strategic planning,” said Ben Champion, director of sustainability and principle investigator for the grant application. “It gives us some money to build a partnership of both climate-science knowledge as well as people who are involved in agriculture.”

Champion was the point person for the grant application, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, a governmental organization supporting both education and research for science and engineering fields.

K-State was one of 15 applicants to receive the Phase-1 grant on Sept. 15, which funds two years of a strategic and developmental project. There is the possibility for five more years of funding in the future, which would provide means to create and implicate educational programs.

“What made us competitive is this is about the future of our food supply,” Champion said. “It shows the importance of the region to the nation’s and the world’s food supply.”

The partnership developed as a preventative measure, and is aimed to help rural communities deal with the future of climate variability.

“It’s likely we’ll see more extreme weather events, it’s likely there will be greater frequencies of droughts and of heat waves; those will affect water availability as well as put stress on plants and animals,” Champion said.

He also emphasized the importance of creating these education initiatives, and said practices of today’s farmers and agricultural workers may not be enough for the future.

“To make it possible to adapt they need more than basic knowledge,” he said. “We are interested in supporting the success of agriculture both now and in the future.”

Hilary Dees, senior in anthropology and natural resource and environmental science and administrative assistant in the partnership, said she thinks climate change education is essential for the future.

“There seems to be a gap between science and the public,” she said about dealing with the effects of climate variability. “Hopefully the grant gets something going that can change that and get everybody on the same page.”

Dees said so far they have organized a list of contacts that would want and need the help of the partnership. She said one of their main focuses are rural teachers who could incorporate climate change into their curriculum.

“How you get information out is through the education system,” she said

Champion said apart from the help of educational programs, those in rural communities will need support from outside sources as well. He said banks need to be willing to finance and lend money to rural workers, extension agencies will have to work hand in hand with them and communities may need to lend other forms of support.

For the partnership, Tim Steffensmeier, assistant professor in communications studies and one of the partners for the grant, works as the liaison between the communications department and the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy. The ICDD is as a non-partisan group at K-State that works toward research, education and facilitation of civic communication.

“I think this is a unique opportunity to create these spaces or places where different stakeholders on the issue of climate can discuss the issues,” Steffensmeier said.

He said he thinks it is great to have a variety of departments working together for the partnership, and said they can set an example on how different disciplines can work together toward the same goal.

“We’re all sort of learning together on how to make this work,” he said. “It’s the trend, it’s where things are headed in terms of these larger teams.”

The grant awarded to K-State is one that will help move the university toward President Kirk Schulz’s vision of being a top-50 public research university by 2025.

“I think from my perspective, this is exactly the kind of project that is an example of K-State playing a role as both a land-grant university and a research university,” Champion said. “This is a critical sustainability issue for our state.”

He said he believes the grant is a reflection of K-State acting on its motto: “rule by obeying nature’s laws.”

“This is about trying to understand nature’s laws, in terms of how our climate systems work and trying to help our state adapt to those laws.”