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MARSHALL, Minn. – For the first time, students can stay in southwest Minnesota and earn their four year Ag Education degree.

Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) began offering courses toward an Ag Education major last fall. The Division II college is in the process of getting their Minnesota Board of Teaching accreditation.

“Although we have not got the official word yet, we do have students that are currently in the program,” said Grant Will, SMSU director of Marketing, Recruitment and Outreach for Agriculture Programs.

“We are just waiting for the paperwork and the Board to say they will certify the program.”

Will expects the new Ag Education program will serve as a cornerstone for the college’s Agriculture programs. The Ag Education program came about as advocates for SMSU recognized that ag teachers were in short supply across the region.

“Given that we are in the heart of the ag industry here in Southwest Minnesota, and combine that with a strong tradition of education programming at SMSU, it was a natural fit for us to be part of the solution to help not only our state, but the region and possibly beyond,” Will said.

One aspect of the SMSU program that sets it apart is getting into the classroom right away.

In their first year, a freshman can expect to be in the classroom observing the teacher, and also getting the chance to teach a couple of lessons.

Getting students into the classroom right away helps them experience what it might be like to be a teacher.

“You find out – at the end of the day – if you walk away thinking, ‘I made a difference today, and I could see myself doing this’ – or if you walk away thinking, ‘The apocalypse is upon us.’ It has always been a staple of the education program to get our students out into the field early on,” said Will.

He also says that SMSU is known for its individualized attention.

“Right now, we have eight students in the program, so you can imagine with one Ag Education-specific professor, those eight students are getting a lot of attention,” he said.

Dr. Kristin Kovar, Ph.D. is the first Ag Education professor, although she does teach other education courses as well.

Will added that many students at SMSU are from the region with family or connections nearby.

He encourages students to call the college and set up a tour and a visit with himself and Dr. Kovar to learn more.

“Our ag industry has a demographic shift where a lot of the current employees are getting closer to that retirement age,” Will said. “The pipeline (for Ag Educators) is trickling, and it needs to be going full force.”