from “Rural Futures” Summer 2016 issue, a magazine published by the NYS Legislative Commission on Rural Resources

Right Place – Right Time

An Education Experienced at SUNY Cobleskill

“SUNY Cobleskill is the right place, right time,” said Dr. Jason Evans, Associate Professor of Agricultural Business Management at SUNY Cobleskill.

It is a direct reflection of the location of SUNY Cobleskill, the nature of the agricultural and other educational programs offered at the college, and its importance within both the local community and New York State.

Historically, the Schoharie Valley was referred to as the “The Breadbasket of the Revolution.” It is a statement highlighting the area’s agricultural output and access to transportation routes, enabling the region to provide critical support for the American Revolutionary War effort.

In Dr. Evans’ view, the same traits hold true today. Schoharie County is still an area of rich agricultural production. It is centrally-located, with access to a wide range of markets within New York State, as well as larger markets such as Boston, New York City, and even Philadelphia.

SUNY Cobleskill is found right in the middle of this “breadbasket.” Its location provides unique opportunities to help food producers, along with developing future leaders within the agricultural industry who will provide locally-sourced food to an already large and continually growing market of potential consumers.

Schoharie County, along with much of Upstate New York, produces a large variety of agricultural products. Farms that grow and raise products as diverse as dairy, fruits, vegetables, maple, wool, and meat are found throughout New York State, many in close proximity to SUNY Cobleskill. Furthermore, with western portions of the United States facing drought conditions, New York State agriculture may see even greater opportunities in the years to come to produce an increasing amount and range of products that feed our country and the world.

It is a need that Dr. Evans and his colleagues at SUNY Cobleskill are working to meet by providing a practical approach to education.

The motto of SUNY Cobleskill is “Real life. Real learning.” This institution has established a reputation for a hands-on approach to education. Increasingly, Dr. Evans finds that students are not looking to college as just an interlude of self-introspection between high school and their entry into the workforce. Rather, students view their education and experiences at SUNY Cobleskill as a vital stepping stone in the process of becoming career-ready. Students do not simply sit in lecture halls. Instead, they obtain real-world life skills necessary to be successful and competitive throughout their careers.

To accomplish this, students are required to complete a 15-week internship where they gain at least 600 hours of work experience. Students intern at a variety of work places including the New York State Legislature, United States Department of Agriculture, Cornell Cooperative Extensions, or a range of companies – including agricultural corporations and farms. There are even international internships available, including an excellent dairy science program in New Zealand. Not only do these experiences expand the breadth of students’ experiences, but they often lead to employment after college. About three-quarters of all internships provide students with a full time job after graduation.

Students also apply their knowledge through local experiences. A new business incubator project is being established to allow the college to invest its facilities and expertise in local agricultural businesses. The project is being developed in cooperation with the Center for Agriculture Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE), a non-profit based in nearby Oneonta, New York. CADE’s mission is to increase the number of successful farm enterprises and related businesses. These two institutions are coming together to provide a mutually beneficial approach that will help businesses and provide hands-on learning experiences for SUNY Cobleskill students.

Part of the incubator project includes training and workshops. These are scheduled to begin during the summer. Additionally, a dairy processing center that will create value-added products such as cheese or ice cream is being built. It is expected to open in the spring of 2017. There will also be physical retail space on campus for these products to be sold to the public.

In conjunction with these plans, an organization called SCORE will have office space on campus. Through the efforts of volunteers, SCORE provides free guidance and counseling to small businesses in the area. Volunteers are active and retired business owners who share their depth of knowledge and experience with other business owners and entrepreneurs.

“It is an avenue for every student on campus,” said Dr. Evans, describing the involvement of students in this project. For example, students studying agriculture business, food systems, and animal science would benefit from the production aspect of the incubator. Students who are studying marketing or have a graphic design background will benefit from the advertising side of the business. Students will be there both to learn and to help.

Dr. Evans summarizes SUNY Cobleskill’s strategy as “applied education,” and he is confident that it will continue to benefit students, the local community, and the future of agriculture.