SIU enrolls bumper crop of ag students

Carbondale campus regrouping from storm damage earlier this year.

Dean Gary Minish welcomes students to Southern Illinois Universitys College of Agricultural Sciences.
Dean Gary Minish welcomes students to Southern Illinois University's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Published on: Sep 11, 2009
Southern Illinois University (SIU) experienced an increase in agricultural students for a third consecutive year, while the College of Agricultural Sciences rebuilds from a May 8 storm that caused more than $1 million damage, primarily to its farm.

“That 2,000-acre university farm is the hub of our teaching. We had 23 buildings damaged and seven totally destroyed, including the feed mill and the beef barn,” said Dean Gary Minish.

“We’re doing well,” Minish added. “Our faculty, staff, and farm crew -- everybody’s adjusted and pitched in.”

With support from the university and possibly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Ag Sciences College is rebuilding, Minish said.
Sherri Wurtzel, right, president of Saluki Heritage Interpreters and a junior from Pecatonica, discusses her club with Jessica Smith, a senior from Chicago.
Sherri Wurtzel, right, president of Saluki Heritage Interpreters and a junior from Pecatonica, discusses her club with Jessica Smith, a senior from Chicago.

However, the storm didn’t slow the Ag Sciences College’s momentum in student recruitment. Fall enrollment increased 7.1 percent for a total of 880 undergraduates. Nearly all the college’s areas of study, except for agricultural systems, attracted more students.

Among new students, a greater number are freshmen and those who transferred from community colleges, which ran counter to SIU’s overall decrease in transfer students, said Charlotte Gibson, assistant dean of academic affairs.

Minish attributed the increases to his college’s “aggressive recruiting strategy” that locates high school and community college students through many sources. For example, ag administrators gathered some 500 names of prospective students at the recent Farm Progress Show and another 6,000 from college aptitude exams. Each student will be contacted, Minish said.

The Ag Sciences College also is attracting more minority students, especially in the nutrition and hospitality-tourism programs, Gibson said.

The college also is keeping more of its current students. The ag student retention rate is about 83 percent, which is the highest on campus, Minish said. He pointed out his college has implemented a program for mentoring of undergraduates as one means of helping keep students in school.