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ASU-Beebe Agri program ranks among top in nation

By Lisa Burnett

This article was published January 30, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

chuck-wisdom-left-and-jerry-sites-are-both-assistant-professors-of-agriculture-at-arkansas-state-university-beebe-which-was-recently-recognized-as-one-of-only-six-programs-nationwide-to-receive-the-national-association-of-agricultural-educators-outstanding-postsecondaryadult-agricultural-education-program-award-at-the-naae-annual-convention-in-las-vegas

Chuck Wisdom, left, and Jerry Sites are both assistant professors of agriculture at Arkansas State University-Beebe, which was recently recognized as one of only six programs nationwide to receive the National Association of Agricultural Educators Outstanding Postsecondary/Adult Agricultural Education program award at the NAAE annual convention in Las Vegas.

BEEBE — Agriculture students at Arkansas State University-Beebe now have something to brag about. The agriculture program was one of only six nationwide recently recognized by receiving the National Association of Agricultural Educators Outstanding Postsecondary/Adult Education program award at the NAAE convention in Las Vegas.

Jerry Sites, assistant professor of agriculture at Arkansas State University-Beebe, attended the convention and accepted the award for the department.

“They give out six national awards — one for each region, and we’re in Region 2,” Sites said.

In addition to an award to add to the trophy case, the department will get a Toyota Tundra truck to use for a year from the NAAE.

“We submitted a 30-page portfolio describing our programs, and that’s what they base the award on,” Sites said.

ASU-Beebe’s agriculture department has one of the few working farms at community colleges in the state. The 150-acre farm features pastures, livestock working facilities, an orchard, an arena, a greenhouse and a mechanic’s shop.

Sites and Chuck Wisdom, assistant professor of agriculture at ASU-Beebe, said the facilities the department has also played a big role in earning the award.

“Our facilities played a big role in that and the classes we teach. There’s a lot of hands-on experiences that we give them here,” Wisdom said.

The college has a herd of registered Angus cattle and a herd of registered Hereford cattle.

“We use those cattle in our animal science labs, but we also show those cattle at the county fair, and every once in a while at the state fair, but mostly county,” Wisdom said. “That way, our students have the opportunity to get that show experience.”

With a cattle herd on the school’s farm, Wisdom and Sites have the opportunity to teach their students about rotational grazing and pasture management.

“In my soils class, we’ll go out and take samples from the farm,” Sites said. “We’ll come up with prescriptions for the farm’s land. It’s really hands-on for the students.”

Wisdom has been at ASU-Beebe since 1995 and has seen the school grow immensely since he started working there.

“Probably the biggest change I’ve seen is on Jan. 21, 1999, a big tornado came through here, and at the time, we had a dairy barn,” Wisdom said. “We had a chicken house, we had a few swine, and that tornado came through and just wiped it out. With that, we got to build these facilities. It was probably one of the best things that has happened to us.”

Though Sites has only been at the school since 2002, he has also seen a lot of things change at the community college.

“We’ve got an underground irrigation system now,” he said.

In addition to the top-notch facilities on campus, Wisdom and Sites said the student/teacher relationships they have are something that some colleges can’t reproduce.

“I think we do a good job advising our students because we’re a small department. We get to know our students really well,” Sites said. “We have a lot of contacts in the ag industry; we try to map out their future.”

Wisdom and Sites, who were extension agents before taking jobs at ASU-Beebe, use their background in the field to help educate their students.

“Very seldom do we have students that go to work from here,” Wisdom said. “They usually go on to get their bachelor’s degree, and even though they didn’t finish [their classes] with us, they still lean on us to help them find jobs out there.”

Students who enroll in agriculture classes at ASU-Beebe usually transfer to a four-year school to get a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s not just book work. I’ve got a lot of experience in the field that I teach on, and I get to expand on not only what’s in the book but a lot of the things I’ve come across in the field,” Wisdom said.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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