Montcalm Community College & Michigan State University Partnership:
An Interview with Merry Kim Meyers
Merry Kim Meyers is the MSU Regional Planning Coordinator at Montcalm Community College, working with students who are interested in agricultural careers.
The program she works with is one of seven offered throughout the state at regional colleges. In addition to the one at Montcalm Community College, there are programs at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Grand Rapids Community College, Muskegon Community College, Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Delta College in Saginaw and Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville.
“This creates a wonderful network of agriculture institute programs for students who are interested in an agricultural career,” says Meyers. “We’re seeing a huge jump of trained people in agriculture – and it’s no longer the old plows, cows and sows only but a wide variety of jobs that involve agriculture including landscaping, turf management, farms business management, precision agriculture and environmental jobs.”
“Many wonderful students in rural areas have the passion to study an area of agriculture, but the idea of going to a university the size of MSU may be daunting when you’ve grown up in a rural area and gone to a small school. It can also be financially out of reach,” says Meyers.
Instead, MSU partners with community colleges through the Institute of Ag Technology to offer an Associate in Applied Science Degree. Their curriculum includes college basics like English, math and social science, paired with agriculture education. In addition, the programs provide students opportunities to network with educators and agriculture professionals in their area.
Classes are provided in three different ways:
- In person, working with a professional
- Using interactive TV in the classroom (this is done remotely and the teacher may be at MSU’s campus, at Traverse City or another location). Students can talk to the professor – much like Facetime – and interact with other students in the class.
- Online, which is the typical way students who are coming into the career world now are used to learning. Online learning today is different then reading and taking a test and includes interactive chats, labs and group meetings.
“We’ve learned that people learn best when they have the technology, the information, and the right people to teach that course,” says Meyers. “We attract students from age 19 to those who are preparing for retirement.”
Programs offered include:
- Ag Operations, which focuses on basic agriculture techniques and the basics of managing a farm.
- Applied Horse Science, which is strictly an equine curriculum
- Fruit and Vegetable Crop Management, which Meyers says is much needed in Michigan because of the diversity of what is raised here (Michigan is second to California in the diversity of crops raised).
- Landscape management, which focuses on landscape plants and lawns.
- Viticulture, which is taught at Northwestern Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College.
“It’s a great way to reinvent yourself in two years,” she adds. “There really is a place in agriculture for everyone. What’s needed is the right education, the skills, and the enthusiasm to do it.”
Key to the program’s success is the affordability. Many students are able to complete two years while living at home, which eliminates the expense of living on campus and makes it possible for students to keep their local job while getting not just a horticulture education but a general studies education.
Another key to success is the program requirement of an internship where students learn to apply what they’ve learned and build a network of people to turn to at the next step in life. That’s one of the places where Meyers’ counseling of students comes in – helping students expand their vision for an internship. “It’s possible to have an internship at Disney or study abroad and do part of your education there. When I’m talking to students about their options I often think of the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote that ‘A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.’ That’s what I’m trying to help students experience.”
While the program Meyers works with is similar to the MSU Ag Institute of the past, today’s classes coordinate with the University itself. Those students who decide they want to go on for a four year degree can apply to MSU, and, as long as they have a 3.0 or better in their MSU courses, they will get a preferential admission.
It’s a win-win-win.