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Improving Agriculture at Home and Abroad: Hawkeye's Global Agriculture Learning Center is Focused on Collaboration, Results

posted on Friday, September 1, 2017 in  College News

Hawkeye Community College established the Global Agriculture Learning Center in 2013, and in the four years since its launch the center has built an international reputation that lives up to its name.

“We want to be the hub for global agriculture,” said Brad Kinsinger, director of the Global Agriculture Learning Center. Kinsinger has been with the center since its start, and is leading the charge to expand its impact in Iowa and around the world.

The center’s mission is to build awareness about agriculture worldwide through applied learning, analysis, shared innovation, and technology. Accomplishing this takes many forms. Some of the first initiatives were study abroad programs. Every January, Kinsinger leads a group to Haiti, where Hawkeye students and faculty collaborate with a local university to improve Haitian farming practices. The trip in 2018 will be Kinsinger’s fifth.

“The experience has a great impact on students and faculty in Haiti and at Hawkeye,” he said. “We continue to see growth and potential with Haitian agriculture.”

Every spring the center leads another group to Brazil, where they spend a week exploring South America’s growing farm economy. This summer Kinsinger and Animal Science student Kristi Mensen were part of a Sister States coalition in Kosovo.

Each trip has its own unique focus, whether it’s learning about a competitive grain market, viewing the latest in farm technology, or helping transform subsistence farms into sustainable operations. The common thread through each is the partnership, which is key to the center’s work.

“Any global connections we make have two main purposes,” Kinsinger said. “First, we want to see what other countries are doing. Second, we push ourselves to question why we do things the way we do. We may not bring back farming practices from Haiti, but we can see the struggles they have with soil quality and start to examine what we’re doing to protect our soil at home.”

Not all of the center’s programs require a passport. Hawkeye regularly hosts international visitors on campus to learn about innovative farm practices. There’s also a growing effort to engage high school students and educators.

“We want to strengthen connections with high school students,” Kinsinger said. “We want to get out more and visit high schools to share global agriculture lessons so they can see the connections and consider a career option they may not have before.”

The center’s blog is popular among ag educators. Kinsinger posts weekly about current trends, hot topics, and commentary on the center’s activities. Hawkeye students sometimes serve as guest authors, sharing their insights during study abroad trips or other activities like the World Food Prize.

“We have students from different states who communicate in the comment section every week,” Kinsinger said. “We have readers from all over the world.”

This is the third year Hawkeye will host the World Food Prize Lecture Series, and plans are underway for a 2018 trip to Malaysia for ag students

and educators. The trip, which is organized in partnership with Penn State University, showcases not just the reach of the Global Agriculture Learning Center, but also its growing reputation.

“We want this to be a place where people exchange ideas, have great discussions, and above all, have invaluable experiences,” Kinsinger said. “We want to do what community colleges do best, which is that hands-on learning. We want them to come here, get their hands dirty, go places, and really get knowledge through experience.”

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