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Building Community through Cooperation in Wilmington
by Chip Nelson
“Non-Saltu sed Multis Gradibus - Not by a leap but by many steps.” -- This is the motto of a small liberal arts college in southwest Ohio where I am proud to say I earned my bachelor’s degree. Wilmington College was founded in 1870 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It is one of only two colleges in Ohio to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture, the other being Ohio State University.
I grew up on a 10 acre farm near the town of Blanchester, where my family raised large gardens and sometimes a steer or a hog for our freezer. I took agriculture classes in high school and was involved in FFA. It was during this time that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. However with very little experience in various fields of agriculture, I felt Wilmington College provided me with the best opportunity to achieve my goal. Because Wilmington is a small college, I was able to develop close professional relationships with my professors. I received an education in the classrooms and laboratories, plus I obtained valuable work experience on the college’s farms. I left there not only with knowledge of terms and figures, but with experience and a work ethic that still drives me to improve daily in everything I do.
Growth and Recovery
I earned my degree in 1983 and at that time there might have been 20 students on campus majoring in agriculture and probably another 30 majoring in science and math. My fellow ag, math and science majors and I spent most of our time in Kettering Hall, built in 1960. I had the opportunity to visit my alma mater recently and I took some time to revisit Kettering Hall. I enjoyed talking with a few of my professors who are still teaching and influencing young leaders. But I did notice a few things have changed. Kettering Hall is one of the busiest buildings on campus. This year there are more than 250 students on campus majoring in agriculture, math and science. In fact, agriculture is now the largest discipline on campus, but Kettering Hall has not been upgraded to meet the needs of today’s students.
My visit to Wilmington College was prompted by an invitation to attend a ceremony announcing the college had been approved for a $19.7 million USDA Community Facilities loan. Tammye Travino, USDA’s Rural Housing and Community Facilities administrator was on hand to make the announcement. After all these years, Kettering Hall is going to get a facelift. In fact it is going to grow by 15,000 square feet, adding classrooms, laboratories, offices and study areas. Not a major leap, but again taking the steps to keep up with today’s needs. With these upgrades the college will be able to better prepare young men and women for careers in agriculture and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Plus, it is estimated the construction and renovation of Kettering Hall could infuse $2.25 million into the local economy, an economy that was shaken to its core when DHL pulled out of the area in 2009, eliminating nearly 8,000 jobs. No the area is not yet what it used to be, but Wilmington College and the community are taking steps toward recovery.
Cooperating toward a positive future
Another step toward the future is expanding communications and building outreach opportunities between the college and the community. Wilmington College and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) are discussing possibilities to expand cooperative efforts in offering students the chance to take advantage of what Farm Bureau has to offer them as they prepare to enter the workforce or extend their studies through graduate programs. It is also a great opportunity for Farm Bureau to build relationships with the young men and women who will soon be driving agriculture in Ohio. The agriculture faculty recently conducted a poll of their students pertaining to the value of Farm Bureau to them and their families. What they found: two-thirds of the students and/or their family are current Farm Bureau members. And one half of the students currently enrolled in agriculture classes at Wilmington College are planning to return to their home farm. These are the young people that soon will be filling county Farm Bureau board positions and making the decisions as to where this organization is headed.
I have been meeting with Wilmington College staff and administrators to find ways that we can work together to build a stronger agricultural community. I am happy that I am being given the chance to take a few steps with them and be a part of developing these relationships. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet with the students as we move ahead, and discuss what they see as the future of agriculture in Ohio. The dialogue between Farm Bureau and Wilmington College is another step to a positive future.
Chip Nelson is a communications specialist with Ohio Farm Bureau.