AmericanFarm.com

UMd.’s IAA program celebrates 50th anniversary

By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
Managing Editor

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Oct. 13, 2015) — In 1965, the University of Maryland established the Institute of Applied Agriculture as university officials and members of the farm community saw a need for a shorter, career-oriented post-secondary program giving students the skills to run farm operations, golf courses and other ag enterprises.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year, the institute, which has enrollment at a 10-year high, has seen some changes over the years, expanding its programs and becoming more integrated into the university, but has stayed focused on preparing students for agriculture careers, said Glori Hyman, institute director.
“I think we’re training the future agriculturists whether they’re going into the agriculture, ornamental horticulture or turf industries,” Hyman said.
For decades, the institutes’ leading program was in the turf industry, including the residential, sports and golf course arenas.
Support from industry, engaged faculty and good showings in turf competitions helped to program achieve national prominence.
Dr. Kevin Mathias, coordinator for the golf and turf majors at the institute, said on about 70 percent of golf courses in Maryland that either the assistant superintendant or the superindentant is an institute graduate.
“There are some (golf) courses where I have both the assistant and the superintendant who have gone through the program,” he said.
Under Mathias’ leadership, student teams won four national competitions in golf and sports turf associations in the last three years.
“It’s very competitive to where they get 80-90 schools to compete,” Mathias said.
The institute also boasts a high job placement rate of 92 percent of students completing the program.
Hyman and Mathias both  attribute that to the reputation the program has built with its faculty, the demand for well-trained students in the fields it serves and a 320-hour internship requirement for graduation.
“That gets them the real life experience and often times turns into a job with that employer,” Hyman said.
While the turf majors saw a “tremendous surge” in the 1990s and remains strong in the institute, the addition of the Sustainable Agriculture option to the Agricutlure Business Management major in 2009 has made it the institute’s largest.
“It’s really attracted a diverse group of people,” Hyman said.
Another move that’s brought more diversity to the institute came when its oral communication courses became approved as one of  general education courses required for graduation.
Now, any student university-wide can take the agriculture focused course and Hyman said more than 1,500 do annually.
They come from all different backgrounds and in many cases, it has led to the students taking other courses in agriculture, she added.
The most recent major change is the Agriculture Forward program that helps students access the four-year program in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“Ag Forward is great for students interested in pursuing ag-related degrees at Maryland. 
“They begin their academic careers with the IAA and then transition into degree programs. 
“At the end of four years, the students can be dually credentialed,” Hyman said.
The institute has scheduled several anniversary events through the school year, including open houses on Oct. 26 and Nov. 11, and special events at the AGNR college homecoming tailgate on Nov. 7 at the Campus farm and during Maryland Day on April 30.