Five years ago, the West Virginia UniversityDavis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design set as a priority providing students with value-added experiences -- outside the classroom internships, research opportunities and study abroad – to help with recruitment and retention.
With a recent gift of $500,000, Farm Credit of the Virginias will help to ensure students continue to have access to those opportunities that enhance their college experience.
The gift also allows the WVU Davis College to hire a Farm Credit of the Virginia’s Value-Added Experience Program Coordinator, whose salary will be paid entirely by the financial institution for two years.
“Farm Credit’s mission is to be an engaged partner in our rural communities. Supporting young agriculturalists helps us to ensure our industry’s future by encouraging these individuals to pursue what they are passionate about. Without experiences such as these, it is challenging to determine a specific area of interest in such a broad industry. Tomorrow's ag. leaders are today's ag. students and beginning farmers. Investing in today’s youth is one of the smartest decisions we can make. These experiences will help mold and develop them into well-rounded and experienced individuals which businesses look for when hiring,” commented Farm Credit’s CEO, Peery Heldreth.
In late July, Jacob Dolence, former director of Boundaryless at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, joined the college as its first value-added experience coordinator.
The Wyoming native earned his bachelor’s degree in natural resource recreation and tourism and a graduate certificate in environmental education from the University of Idaho. He then went on to receive a master’s degree in sustainable communities from Northern Arizona University.
Dolence credits the opportunities he had – and the inspirational professors he connected with – as a student at the University of Idaho, the state’s land grant institution, with shaping him as a person and propelling him into a career of helping students succeed.
On his journey to becoming a Mountaineer, Dolence won a business plan competition and founded an internet company to help college students buy and sell cheaper textbooks. Prior to joining Northern Arizona University, he served two terms as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching field-based science to K-12 students.
During his seven years at NAU, Dolence was a teaching faculty member in the first year student success program and, for the last three years of his tenure, directed the student innovation and entrepreneurship incubator, Boundaryless.
“I have a deep drive to help train the leaders of the future. It’s the potential I see in each student that motivates me the most,” he said. “I’m very excited about connecting Davis College students to value added experiences that fit their interests and majors. I want to make sure they have the ability to grow their leadership, get practical work, research and project experience, and get out into the state, region and world ready to lead our communities and economies toward a vibrant future.”
Dolence is responsible for bringing under one umbrella all value-added experience programs to create synergy and leverage resources. The Davis College now has more than 20 funds that support value-added experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. The programs and students Dolence works with range from fashion to forestry to farming.
“These funds help students to conduct ground-breaking undergraduate research, provide innovation and entrepreneurial experiences, enhance study abroad, and build quality students who will be the doers and thinkers who create solutions to the world’s agricultural, natural resources and design challenges,” said Davis College Dean Daniel J. Robison. “As a result, each year students in the college receive leadership training, business development experience and academic enhancement resources above and beyond their day-to-day college education.”
Robison said these kinds of experiences are transformational for students and will put them ahead as they start their careers and make them more effective members of the communities that Farm Credit serves.
The money provided by Farm Credit will also create a Farm Credit Value-Added Experience Fund which, when fully endowed, will provide approximately $14,000 a year to run the value-added experience program and provide additional funding for students.
The Young Innovator Fellowship program, supported by Farm Credit for the past three years, is an example of the types of programs that this position would coordinate. The program provides leadership and entrepreneurial training, as well as start-up funding for businesses. By providing students with outside the classroom experiences, they are able to grow leadership and thinking skills.
“By bringing these students together under one coordinated effort and as their own cohort, we are able to help them share in their experiences and develop relationships beyond the classroom,” said Todd Petty, associate dean for academic affairs. “By offering them internship and mentorship opportunities, scholarship and travel funding, we are able to create the margin of excellence that will propel these students through their careers.”
These coordinated efforts will also boost the college’s relationships with companies throughout the state, region and nation who are seeking valuable interns, help students create long-term mentorship relationships and provide them with leadership experiences that will enhance their performance in the workplace or developing their own entrepreneurial endeavors.
“The Farm Credit of the Virginias Value-Added Experience Program Coordinator will also assist us with marketing these programs to potential students through recruitment fairs and other venues, allowing us to use these programs as a draw to recruit the best and brightest students,” he said.
Farm Credit also supports an enhancement grant, funded in 2013, that provides travel funds, research grants and stipends to graduate students.
This gift has been made through the WVU Foundation, the non-profit corporation that generates and provides private support for West Virginia University.
Farm Credit of the Virginias, ACA is part of a nationwide network of cooperative lending institutions that provides financing for farm and country home loans; land purchase, home construction, and improvements; buildings, machinery, livestock and equipment; operating expenses and lines of credit; and much more
Farm Credit was established in 1916 and is now the largest single provider of agricultural credit in the United States. Farm Credit of the Virginias provides more than $1.8 billion in financing to rural homeowners, farmers and landowners in 96 counties in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.