Group of people exploring Wyoming rangeland.

College of Agriculture & Natural Resources launches new Ranch Management & Ag Leadership Program

Information from Wyoming ranchers and other agricultural sectors molded a new ranch management and leadership program being launched this winter in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming.

The Ranch Management and Agricultural Leadership (RMAL) program has two approaches, one to meet the needs of students and another to meet the needs of community members already engaged in ranch management and agriculture.

Much of the community-based, non-formal learning opportunities in this program will involve UW Extension.

“I am very supportive of this program that has been developed based upon clearly defined needs from stakeholders and with their support and ideas,” said Barb Rasco, dean of the college, and who is co-teaching the for-credit course. RMAL information and registration is at http://www.uwyo.edu/uwag/rmal.

Program interim director Kelly Crane said the RMAL development flipped the usual process of creating an academic program. Most programs start by convening a campus committee and developing a curriculum based on existing courses and faculty expertise. The initial effort in developing this  program was listening to people across the state and region.

“We want the curriculum and educational experiences in RMAL to reflect the specific needs for the future workforce in ranch, natural resource, and agricultural management,” said Crane.

College personnel heard from ranchers, ag business leaders, elected officials  and ranch managers at a May 2018 summit convened by former UW president Lori Nichols at a ranch near Douglas. Another summit was held this fall in northern Wyoming.

“We asked that group what their workforce needs were for students coming out of our college and were we meeting their needs,” said Crane, who is the director of UW Extension.

What was heard was the college trains really good rangeland managers, agribusiness professionals and animal scientists.

“But their perspective is what was needed were students who could integrate all the disciplines of agriculture with a blend of soft skills, interpersonal communication, understanding of public policy and the ability to interact with diverse audiences,” he said. “We thought this was an opportunity to develop an integrated program in our college that really meets all those needs.”

College personnel spent the last year and a half traveling the state listening to workforce needs in addition to those received at the summits.

A gift from Farm Credit Services of America plus a state match from the Wyoming Legislature provided about $3 million to start the effort.

To encourage interaction between UW students and leaders in the fields of ranch management and agriculture, RMAL is offering an on-campus course that will be live-streamed with five different educational events held throughout Wyoming this winter.

Four three-hour workshops will be held this winter/spring in Sheridan, Riverton, Evanston and Laramie. These sessions are open to the public and can be attended in person or  via Zoom.

“We hope our students on campus benefit from this opportunity to interact with real issues and real people addressing natural resource, agricultural and leadership challenges in Wyoming,” said Crane.

Topics include rangeland ecosystems, beef production, managing through winter and new developments in technology, said Rasco.

Crane said the college’s aspirations for the program has resonated with ranchers and federal agencies.

“The needs for the workforce and for the kinds of students we turn out in natural resources have really evolved,” said Crane. “They’re embroiled in public policy and public lands issues. We still hope science provides the answers for everything, right? But it doesn’t.”

The issues are complex, and students need professional networks to work with complex issues, he said.

“We’ve had several people say this is exactly what needs to happen,” said Crane. “Recent alumni say they wish this program was here when they went to school.”

The RMAL has three planned aspects. An undergraduate program will offer an integrated bachelor’s degree in ranch management and an ag leadership that focuses on ag business, rangeland management,  animal science and leadership skills.

The second part is an RMAL institute for a select group of students. Up to 20 may be chosen to attend.

“Individuals accepted to the RMAL institute will get more intensive training, more expectations for internships and networking with professionals and more experiential learning opportunities,” said Crane.

RMAL institute graduates may obtain a master’s degree in ranch management or a certificate in ranch management and ag leadership.  Details of the RMAL program continue to develop.

“We are just initiating the program development stage on campus,” said Crane. “Many of the details regarding curriculum, degrees, program names, and timelines will reflect our future conversations with UW faculty and administrators.”

The third part has been created from discussions around the state, said Crane.

“And that is to deliver community-based, professional development educational opportunities for existing ag producers, ranchers, ranch managers and natural resource managers,” he said. “That’s were extension comes in because that’s our job.”

The public option and student option have a required one-day leadership session scheduled in Casper.

“One of the really resounding messages we get when we talk to people who hire our graduates is they need what is termed soft skills – interpersonal communication, writing and public speaking skills” said Crane.

“It’s not just about training how people manage ranches,” he said. “We hope we grow our next generation of leaders in ag business and in federal and state agencies, as well as ranchers.”

For more information about the program, contact Pepper Jo Six, College of Ag & Natural Resources, Director of Development, (307) 766-4133 or pepperjo@uwyo.edu.


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