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Joint affiliation strengthens agricultural communications program

4/4/2011  3:30 pm

URBANA – The University of Illinois’s 50-year agricultural communications program is stronger than ever as a result of its joint affiliation with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and the College of Media, approved recently at the colleges’ request by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. 

“This interdisciplinary effort is innovative and progressive. We are aware of no joint programs in this academic field or others that are so closely aligned,” said Jim Evans, U of I professor emeritus of agricultural communications and nationally recognized leader in the field.

The decision to make agricultural communications a dual college program has been about three years in the making with efforts from the faculty, alumni, students and deans of the two colleges.

Jan Slater, interim dean of the College of Media, said the University of Illinois has served as a model for many agricultural communications programs in the past.

“Through the dual college program, we are setting a higher standard for the educational component and, we believe, setting the bar for the needs of the industries we serve,” Slater said. “The College of Media is excited about what the future holds for this program.”

“With strengths in journalism, mass communications, and public relations, our ag communications program embraces not only traditional farm media outlets but also dynamic new media that are redefining the way people access information,” said Bob Siebrecht, the program’s interim director.

Opportunities for agriculture to meet global challenges and potentials are driving current efforts, and effective communication is key, he added.

The agricultural communications major, established in 1961, has become a flagship program of its kind. “Graduates are doing important work in the increasingly complex fields of food, feed, fiber, renewable energy, natural resource management, rural development, among others, both locally and globally,” said Laurie Kramer, associate dean of academic programs for the College of ACES.

The program will be considered its own major and program and will be led jointly by the deans of the two colleges. Although it is administratively based within the College of Media, the program has not moved from one college to the other, Siebrecht said.

The joint affiliation is good for both students and faculty, he noted.

“Our students will receive a bachelor of science degree in agricultural communications that includes a solid grounding in ACES subject matter combined with a choice of professional study in advertising, broadcasting or news-editorial sequences through Media,” he said.

Students’ education in agriculture will come from coursework in a minor in food and environmental systems from ACES that offers a flexible core of classes while allowing them to focus on a specific area of agriculture, he said.

Students will have full access to student organizations, scholarships, internships, courses, advising, study-abroad programs, placement services, and other help from both colleges. Upon graduation, they will become alumni of both colleges. And students throughout ACES will have access to an expanding selection of agricultural communications courses, so that non-majors also will become better communicators, he said.

“Faculty members benefit from holding appointments in the College of Media because they are able to work more closely with others in their communication fields. This connection helps them serve students better, strengthens their scholarly research and creative endeavors, and advances their professional growth,” Siebrecht said.

Their joint appointments in the College of ACES also enables agricultural communications faculty to work closely with activities and personnel in ACES to the advantage of all, he said.

Two additional faculty members will enhance the agricultural communications program through this initiative, he noted.

“Dr. Katie Abrams recently joined the faculty as a visiting assistant professor in agricultural communications with an appointment in the Department of Advertising. She has professional experience in newspaper reporting, magazine editing and design, and Web development and management, and was on the team that helped re-brand and market Florida Cooperative Extension. She’s an excellent teacher and has earned national honors for her research,” he said.

A senior faculty member will soon be hired to hold an endowed chair in agricultural communications, believed to be the first of its kind.

According to Siebrecht, the program is strongly supported by students, alumni and friends. A $2 million endowment campaign is currently under way. Firms and organizations that have a stake in effective communications related to agriculture are also providing important financial support.

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