A Hidden Gem

January 27, 2011 03:10 AM

Growing up in a suburb of Phoenix, Ariz., Morgan Ostwinkle had two goals: to go to Texas and to be involved in agriculture. She was accepted by several universities in Texas, but the out-of-state tuition was expensive. Then she discovered Angelo State University (ASU), a small college in the West Texas city of San Angelo.

ASU, part of the Texas Tech University System, emphasizes liberal arts, the sciences and professional disciplines. What impressed Ostwinkle was its agricultural program and facilities, including a 6,000-acre working ranch. Sealing the deal, ASU offered her two scholarships and in-state tuition of around $3,000 per semester. Now a sophomore majoring in animal
science, she hopes to become a large-animal veterinarian.

Fewer "dirty boots." Ostwinkle was relieved not to find herself an "urban orphan" among farm-bred aggies much more knowledgeable about agriculture than she was. According to Gil Engdahl, head of ASU’s Department of Agriculture, more than two-thirds of the 400-plus students enrolled in agriculture hail from urban areas and small towns.

"That’s a big change," Engdahl reports. "When I first came here in 1976, nearly all of our students came from farms and ranches. Only a handful of graduates every year would get a job in industry. Most had no choice but to go back to the farm. Now only about 15% of our graduates go into production agriculture. Consequently, we attract many more students without strong farm backgrounds."

Engdahl says that has demanded some modifications in teaching methods. "You don’t automatically assume that everyone is familiar with agricultural terminology and standard farm practices. You need to be more basic," he says. "That doesn’t mean we dumb down our classes. Most of our kids are bright and pick up information in a hurry."

Ostwinkle concedes that she wasn’t up on all the terminology and knew little about animal diseases and marketing. "When I got to ASU, I told my professors I was excited about agriculture and was eager to learn, but that I would be asking a lot of questions," she says. "They appreciated my enthusiasm and were always ready to answer any questions."

Close to home. Brian Scott, a junior majoring in animal science with a minor in wildlife science, never had second thoughts about where to go to college. He grew up 13 miles outside of San Angelo. His father is an animal science professor at ASU. His stepmother is manager of a feed supply store, where Scott works after school and on weekends.

"My grandfather had a big ranch at Colorado City [Texas]. We would go up there on weekends to work cattle. I have always raised sheep," Scott says. "I was in vo-ag and FFA in high school. I decided on ASU because their ag program is equal to that of many large universities." He would like to work for the feedlot division of a large company, such as Cargill, in the area of ration development.

What he really likes about the ASU program, Scott says, is the research center. Officially called the Management, Instruction and Research Center, it is generally known as "The Ranch." The 6,000-acre center is home to all the beef cattle, sheep and goats that are used for labs, judging teams and research projects. It also includes 600 acres of cropland and plentiful habitat for deer, quail, turkey and javelina.

"We get to do a lot of hands-on stuff," Scott says. "I’m taking a range improvement class in which we will be doing actual spotlight counts of deer populations."

ASU offers bachelor’s degrees in animal science, animal business, food animal science and marketing, natural resources management, and agricultural science and leadership; a master’s degree in animal science; an integrated degree in animal science with an MBA; and a dual degree with Texas Tech in interdisciplinary agriculture.

"We have a strong emphasis on business in all our majors," Engdahl says. "We believe that gives our graduates a strong foundation for many different jobs in agriculture."

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