#onthefarm with Don Stotts

For Thursday’s #onthefarm, I chatted with Don Stotts of Oklahoma State’s agricultural communications department. Don is one of the few university ag folks that I’ve found on Twitter (please direct me to more if you have suggestions), and I was interested to get his perspective as a member of a land-grant institution—what’s happening at Oklahoma State, trends the school is seeing in program popularity, and what the future may hold for ag schools.

While the conversation tilted heavily toward Oklahoma State, I think there were a couple interesting items to pop out of the chat that are worth watching.

Ag Econ majors, focusing on rural and economic development, are popular at OSU. I know this area is very important to many farmers: keeping and bringing more jobs to rural areas.

The ag school awards $600,000 more in scholarships than the next closest school. That’s amazing. I’ll have to look at the other land-grants for comparison. But the takeway from that is that the schools and the alumni recognize the role ag plays in the United States and globally.

Finally, as Don mentions below, the future for land grants looks like more collaboration among schools and states to address societal and economic issues.

Hope you enjoy reading. And as always, let me know if you feel there are ways to improve it.

Thanks for reading,


n_web: Hey Don! Thanks for joining me today. Let’s get started. Q1: Tell me about what you do at Oklahoma State. Take a couple tweets.   

osuextensionguy: I’ve been at #okstate since 1987 overall. In that time, my work has encompassed print, broadcast, more. My work in News and Media Relations encompasses local, state, regional, national and international efforts. I’ve been printed about everywhere, publications large and small, et al. I’ve worked with all facets of the land-grant system. Call me writer, editor, marketer, with broadcast thrown in at different times. Former Ag Comm Services director (the dark side!).

n_web: Q2: Give me a little background on OK State and then its ag school. 

osuextensionguy:  #okstate has 5 branch campuses, with the main one located in Stillwater, halfway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. College town! OSU has about 32,000 students, overall. It’s a Truman Honor Institution, one of only about 15 in the US. Ag played a major role. One of the highest totals of Truman Scholars in nation. Quite a few are from Ag Econ; at one point, for several years in a row. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has 2,041 undergrads and 461 graduate students. There are actually more graduate students than the official #. They multidisciplinary and so are counted differently. Big college emphasis on advisement and working with students to attain their personal goals. Huge Student Academic Mentor program. 41% of OSU ag students engage in study abroad. President of Ag Careers was up the other day, called it “critical” to do this.

n_web: Q3: what’s the most popular program in the ag school right now? Any trends you see?   

osuextensionguy: Animal science is always popular, and is the largest department. They are seeing more and more non-traditional students. Big spike in natural resources: Wildlife ecology and fire ecology, in particular, along with traditional forestry. Ag Economics is quite popular. A lot of students interested in the rural development and economic development options. Have one of the largest and most decorated ag communications major programs in the US. Very popular. Plant and soil sciences continues to draw. Students enjoy the cutting-edge science in the classroom, and many opportunities. Horticulture has always been big. We’re a big gardening and turfgrass state, with ties to industry, homeowners and sports.

n_web: Q4: Has OSU seen any good success stories from grads in the rural and econ. development area? Maybe the better Q is: “what are some good OSU grad success stories, no mater the area?” But part in rural dev, for me. :)

osuextensionguy:   Academics receives great public support. We give out nearly $1 million in scholarships to OSU ag students every year. The next closest college on campus trails by more than $600,000 in terms of scholarships awarded. Generous support of ag donors. Tons of alumni successes. Many of Oklahoma’s industry leaders are alumni, in both ag and other endeavors. Many state and national legislative leaders are OSU ag graduates. Longtime leader of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. Many others. My sister is an ag ed graduate. She is the vice president of a bank. (No booing; her bank is one of the good ones). We’ve got OSU ag alumni working w/ Oklahoma’s 39 tribal nations. Some of the nation’s leading researchers have an OSU ag tie.

n_web: Q5 from @rebeccahannam: what’s unique about OK State? To the audience: Please, no jokes from OU or Big 12ers out there!  

osuextensionguy The college part does very well, as do our two state agencies: Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and Oklahoma Coop Ext. Given what is going on nationwide, it might be the level of support re: the land-grant mission, esp. county based Extension. Our county based Extension educators and area, district and state specialists are generally very well received. The Division of Ag Sciences and Natural Resources accounts for 37% of the research expenditures at OSU, all of it practical. We host a number of national website, such as Breeds of Livestock. We are home to the National Institute for Microbial Forensics and Food and Agricultural Biosecurity (NIMFFAB). Thinks CSI- Ag. NIMFFAB works closely with FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, state and local law enforcement, et al. Important work. NIMFFAB helps train law enforcement scientists who to determine what is natural or manmade, ag-related crime scene mgmt, et al.

n_web: Q6: You mentioned 41% of ag students study abroad. Is it encouraged? Why does OSU believe this “critical?” Follow-up: Do you know if other ag schools are encouraging study abroad?

osuextensionguy:   Very critical. Ag is very much part of a global marketplace. What happens abroad has an effect in US. Excellent training. In terms of research, shared studies abroad give heads-up to solving problems here in US. Ex: Parts of Africa = Southern Plains. A number of Colleges of Agriculture are striving to turn out graduates who can help industry compete globally.  Here is tidbit: Grab your school-age child and go to OSU’s digital diagnostics webpage for entomology. Educational and fun. Agriculture is becoming increasingly complex, with as many social considerations as technical. More and more laws as well.

n_web: Q7: from @Fastline: “what do you say to ppl who say I don’t need an #ag degree to farm? I hear that a lot”

osuextensionguy: If you don’t get a degree, at least frequent Extension meetings, where science-based info is turned into practical programs. It’s possible to farm without a degree. But education gives one a leg up in dealing with new technology and other pressures. Example: Cattle that have 3 or more bouts of disease produce lower-quality meat. That’s recent OSU ag science at work.

n_web: Q8: I really like the SUNUP pieces. Can you talk about those and, really, OK State’s overall ag presence on the web and in SM?

osuextensionguy SUNUP is our ag TV show. It was on the air originally for 16 years, off for several and now has come back. Available on the Web. SUNUP topics are ag specific, practical, with an emphasis on helping producers w/ key decisions. Latest info, easy to access. SUNUP has feature stories, seasonal emphases, markets, and even shop talk where “on-the-farm engineers” can pick up hints. You can view it on the Web at http://www.dasnr.okstate.edu I tweet direct links every Monday after weekend show on TV. On average, more than 1.05 million people attend 22,500 Ext. educational meetings, demos, and conferences in Oklahoma annually.

n_web: Q9: Do you see more schools taking to the Web to reach farmers?

osuextensionguy: The Web is used to enhance traditional Ext. face-to-face meetings, w/ more and more happening online all the time. Interactivity is the key. People can ask questions directly, view relevant publications, watch videos, sign up for meetings… It’s like peeling the layers of an onion: You go as deep as you need to go online. It’s individualized to person.

  n_web: which means the school and the Ext. will be producing more and more content . . . funding needs to stay up then, right? 

osuextensionguy Always a challenge, the funding issue. The goal is to provide useful programs during good times and bad. Content is the key. Basically, Division of Ag Sciences and Natural Resources looks to add value to people’s lives. Land-grant mission, right there.

n_web: Q10: We were very specific to OSU ag here, but what are your thoughts on the future of ag schools/Ext. in general? do you see more collaboration among schools and states? More study abroad? More specialized programs?

osuextensionguy Live the land-grant mission. Schools must remain true to self and work on concerns/issues of residents, statewide & regionally. More and more. It’s as much a funding issue as anything. It takes a multidisciplinary approach given today’s complex issues. Ex: OSU Biofuels Team is made up of scientists and engineers from several OSU colleges, as well as OU, Brigham Young, others. Ag leads the biofuels charge. OSU’s efforts have led to programs provided for U.S. Legislature, others, by direct request. Okla. Gov. created a bioenergy center that brings together OK State, OU, and The Noble Foundation. Lots of interest and support.

n_web: Q11: Last one: anything you’d like to cover that I didn’t?  

osuextensionguy If you want to see some of our crop research results? Visit http://croptrials.okstate.edu/ Interested in entomology, for production and/or fun? Visit http://www.ento.okstate.edu/ SUNUP has 6,114 new viewers in last six months. Doesn’t include youtube, just direct to the OSU website. Watch. It’s pretty good.  

n_web: Don, thanks so much for the time today! Great to learn more about what’s happening at one of our fine land-grant institutions. 

osuextensionguy Thanks, Nick. It was fun. Now if I can just take care of my digitlexia and do away with typos. And, of course, “Go Redbirds!”

n_web: Thanks to those who followed. Hope you found it enjoyable. I’ll have the transcript on the blog tonight or tomorrow morning.  

n_web: If I can keep this going long enough, maybe I’ll be able to hit all of the land grants . . . I’m aim for the Big 12 for now :)  


One Response to #onthefarm with Don Stotts

  1. Nick,

    I really like these onthefarm pieces you do. I am glad to see that 41% of students engage in study abroad. The world marketplace is too important to focus on one geographic locality.


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