Richland Community College Expands Ag Programming
August 14, 2023
Just beyond the gates of the Farm Progress Show grounds in Decatur, Ill., lies Richland Community College and its growing ag program.
Jess Smithers, ag program director, says it has steadily grown over his tenure, with enrollment increasing 15% to 20% each year. He plans to continue to build the program and find new opportunities for students beyond classroom walls through student activities and internships.
“We’re uniquely positioned with Decatur identified as the agribusiness capital of the world,” Smithers says. “With the Farm Progress Show and ADM right outside our campus door, there are several opportunities for our students to get part-time jobs or internships in ag.”
Smithers touts that Richland ag students participated in both the Illinois and National Professional Ag Student Organization competition, with two students placing in the top five at the national competition. Students also attended the Agricultural Outlook Forum, hosted by USDA, in Washington, D.C.
To accommodate the program’s growth, Richland has a new building to house agriculture and horticulture courses. The building will be complete with classrooms, labs, student collaboration spaces and conference rooms for community events. A greenhouse will be connected to the main building, providing space for students to get hands-on experience with plants.
“We needed adequate space for the agriculture program to continue to grow,” Smithers says. “Now, we have the full capacity to train individuals going into our community’s No. 1 industry.”
“The building is really a testament to Richland’s commitment to agriculture and to the Decatur community,” says Greg Florian, special projects representative. “We’re in the heart of food country, and we’re here for the long haul.”
Richland also received several grants to develop its electric vehicle programming. According to Florian, Richland received a $15.3 million grant to build a facility at Decatur’s T/CCI Manufacturing as it expands a line of electric vehicle compressors.
“Richland can really become a hub to teach students about careers in the electric vehicle market,” Florian says. “We’ll be partnering and building pathways educationally for students who want to go into manufacturing or engineering in the electric vehicle field.
“Over the next year, Richland will be working with other educational entities as well as industry leaders to create an educational pathway for students who want to work in this challenging new field.”
Richland partners with the state universities to seamlessly transition students pursuing education beyond community college.
Florian adds that Richland’s culinary students will be working the Farm Progress Show at their food truck, as well as serving breakfast sandwiches for purchase and free coffee at Howard Brown Drive and Flag Road from 7 to 9 a.m., sponsored by Pivot Bio.
The 2023 Farm Progress Show is Aug. 29-31. Learn more at FarmProgressShow.com.