The University of Lethbridge (U of L) has a unique approach to training the next generation of workers in just about every area related to farming. Students can aim for a B. Sc. or a BA in agricultural studies, a multidisciplinary program that allows students to focus on areas from economics to geography and biotechnology to politics, the environment and business.
“We didn’t want to duplicate what’s being done well elsewhere,” says Rene Barandregt, associate dean of arts and sciences. “So, we decided not to get into training professional agronomists. We saw a need for a different approach, combining each student’s sampling of a wide array of disciplines with the basics of agriculture.”
The university’s program combines the art and science of farming, looking at the social, economic, political and environmental factors that affect agriculture from farm production to international policy. Understanding policy development, the farm as a production unit and the environmental implications of land use as well as the latest developments in genetic engineering, precision farming and animal nutrition gives students a solid framework for their main area of interest.
Liberal arts component
Barandregt sees great value in combining liberal arts with the basics of agriculture.
“Students who combine the basics of agriculture with the people skills students gain through the humanities and social sciences find all sorts of careers, “ he says. “In business and many other parts of the agricultural value chain, those people skills are really valued.” Students also have the option of taking additional credits to add business administration to their qualifications.
The B. Sc. in Agricultural Studies option is somewhat less popular than the B.A. and some students take the science options as preparation for medical or veterinary school. Others aim for careers in veterinary science, lab work or plant breeding. The U of L has particular strength in research and teaching in the fields of agricultural economics, rural sociology and agriculture-related geography, as well as political science and biology. The new Environmental Sciences building houses faculty researching a wide range of aspects of environmental issues and fosters multidisciplinary approaches to environmental issues, making for a stimulating experiences for students.
Another field of study is geography in relation to agriculture. It includes soil science, environmental resources, hydrology (the study of water and its movement), watersheds and GIS (geographic information systems). Graduates from these fields can find work in land-use-related fields such as planning and regulation as well as many technical areas.
Other credits accepted
The U of L accepts credits students earn at various colleges, so students can use all their credits earned in a diploma program towards a four-year degree and transfer into the ag studies program without repeating courses or having their credits discounted. That allows students to combine a more hands-on training with university courses that match their skills and interests. It also cuts down the cost of a university degree and provides the security of already having a diploma or other qualification that can help with job searches.
The U of L also makes allowances for students who have difficulties or make poor choices when they first move to the university environment. A student can start over and have poor grades from their first semester wiped off their transcripts. As a relatively small university, Lethbridge offers smaller classes and more contact with faculty.
Undergraduates have opportunities to work with faculty in their research projects. Some students work in field studies with Agriculture Canada’s research centre, the Animal Disease Research Institute, Lethbridge College and various businesses in the region either as part of their studies or employment. Co-op work placements of three to 12 months can also be arranged to fit any study course either with local employers or anywhere in the world, as long as it’s pre-approved by the university.
Associate Dean Of Arts And Sciences