One of the largest undergraduate majors at Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences is getting a new team member. Tadd Wheeler, a teacher and scientist, is joining WSU’s Agricultural Technology and Production Management Program, which helps prepare students for careers that blend tech know-how with modern ag.
Wheeler came on board July 15, and will serve as a teaching assistant professor, taking over from James Durfey, who has been with the program 28 years and is nearing retirement. Wheeler will transition to lead the program once Durfey retires.
The AgTM program focuses on readying students for careers in precision agriculture, farming and forestry, nursery management, animal breeding, seed production and food quality. AgTM combines physical and biological sciences with technology, mathematics, business and practical subjects. Graduates from the program leave prepared to own, operate and manage their own business, or serve private and government organizations.
Rich Koenig, chair of WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and managing faculty member for AgTM's parent Agricultural and Food Systems degree program, says the team is looking forward to working with Wheeler “to evolve the program, and to ensure it continues to meet industry needs for a prepared workforce.”
Wheeler acknowledges that Durfey has devoted years of hard work to create an effective program. “The opportunity to take the wheel of AgTM and help guide its future is something I couldn’t pass up,” he adds.
About the new staffer
Wheeler comes to WSU from the University of Idaho’s Soil and Water Systems Department. For the last six years, he served as a senior instructor in the Agricultural Systems Management program. He has a broad background that joins trade skills such as welding and mechanical repair with a background in forestry and ecology.
He notes that he likes disciplines where a student “can get useful, hands-on experience that they want to take home and apply, whether that is learning how to rebuild and maintain an engine, creating mechanical drawings in [computer-aided design] software, or building [geographic information system] layers for their family farm.”
And he likes to challenge students: “My favorite activities are troubleshooting exercises, where I make something not work properly, and the students have to figure out what is wrong and fix it.” Students who are reading this should consider themselves warned.
Today's agriculture continues to evolve at a rapid pace. “Connecting industry with students, as well as progressive, pioneering students with other students creates the opportunity to combine foundational knowledge with cutting-edge technologies that are the future of agriculture,” Wheeler says.
Many AgTM courses are hands-on; Wheeler plans to conduct face-to-face courses this fall, and he seeks creative options including added space or multiple lab sessions to ensure safety. He is also preparing to adapt to a virtual model based on classroom capacity and health concerns. “If classes are unable to meet in person, I will do my best to come up with rewarding exercises that can be done remotely, such as virtual field trips and labs,” he says.
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