By Robert Waggener, Editor
Office of Communications and Technology
This year's Legacy Award winner is a firmly planted name in Sheridan County, and its new ties with the University of Wyoming's College of Agriculture will expand those roots across Wyoming and beyond.
Whitney Benefits Inc., a private, non-profit educational foundation in Sheridan, last year gifted $1.25 million to create the E.A. Whitney Professorship in Agriculture.
The state of Wyoming matched the gift, bringing the total to $2.5 million.
Anne Leonard, director of the UW College of Agriculture's Ag Development and College Relations, says this is the largest cash gift ever received by the college.
"The generosity of Whitney Benefits, together with the vision of the state legislative match program, made this new faculty position possible," Leonard says. "It creates the second endowed professorship within the college."
The other is the Rochelle Chair of the Center for the Study of Fetal Programming in the Department of Animal Science.
Whitney Benefits Vice President Roy Garber and the foundation's executive director, Patrick Henderson, will accept the Legacy Award on behalf of the foundation during Ag Appreciation Weekend September 26-27 on the UW campus.
"Whitney Benefits is pleased to be recognized for this gift," Garber says. "It will greatly benefit college students, and it's a nice opportunity to get Sheridan College (SC) and UW together."
The endowed professor will implement at SC a three-year program within the College of Agriculture's agroecology curriculum. Recruiting for the position is underway, and the program is scheduled to start in 2009.
Once students complete three years of coursework at SC, they will transfer to UW to finish their bachelor's degree in agroecology with an emphasis in horticulture. The agroecology program is shared between the College of Agriculture's Department of Plant Sciences and Department of Renewable Resources.
"There is a lot of potential out there in agroecology and horticulture," says Garber, whose family runs a diversified agricultural operation in Sheridan County. "If you look at the job offerings, it's a very wide field. Agriculture is not just cows and plows anymore; agriculture is a very diverse field in the United States and throughout the world."
College of Agriculture Associate Professor Steve Herbert says, "This will give students more options for completing a degree that emphasizes horticulture, and it allows another opportunity for cooperation between UW and community colleges around the state."
Adds Herbert, who is head of the Department of Plant Sciences: "This also provides another chance to put distance learning to great use."
Herbert believes the new program will attract traditional college students from around the region (and likely beyond) interested in horticulture, and it will also draw non-traditional students from the Sheridan area because they can complete most of their coursework at SC.
Jim Bennage, dean of SC's Agriculture and Technical Career Programs, says, "This is a very unique cooperative agreement between Sheridan College and the UW College of Agriculture. It's very rare there is an endowed chair at a university outreach facility."
Bennage adds, "I am thrilled Whitney Benefits has chosen to continue its outstanding support and recognition of agriculture and the importance of agriculture in northeastern Wyoming by providing such a generous gift in support of the endowed chair."
The E.A. Whitney Professorship in Agriculture will oversee operations at the UW College of Agriculture's Sheridan Research and Extension Center (SREC) east of Sheridan (http://www.uwyo.edu/uwexpstn/centers/sheridan/index.html).
Among the services at SREC are crop and plant evaluation for their adaptability to northeastern Wyoming's climate and soils, turf grass and native plant research, and providing technical assistance to Sheridan County gardeners, ranchers, and agribusinesses.
The endowed professor will also teach two horticulture-related classes and advise students at SC, says College of Agriculture Associate Dean Stephen D. Miller, director of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station, which manages SREC.
Miller says a second faculty member will be hired to teach two additional horticulture-related classes and advise students at SC.
One of the faculty members will oversee turf grass research while the other will direct native plant studies at SREC.
"These two positions will allow us to provide the third-year agroecology curriculum at SC with a horticulture emphasis," Miller says.