By Michael J. Martin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Agricultural Education, and Kellie Jo Enns, Ph.D., Association Professor in Agricultural Education, Colorado State University

The CoBank Center of Agricultural Education at Colorado State University (CSU) opened in 2015 on the Agricultural Research, Development and Educational Campus (ARDEC) in north Fort Collins. Two years later, the building has become a catalyst for an educational initiative to transform ARDEC into a learning campus for all College of Agricultural Sciences (CAS) freshmen.

Currently, hundreds of students are taking classes at ARDEC; courses include agricultural business, agricultural education, and agricultural history, mechanics, interdisciplinary agriculture courses and animal sciences. A fascinating aspect of this growth is how the development of this educational initiative at ARDEC revolves around the important premise of the CoBANK Center for Agricultural Education: tradition and innovation.

The central effort to fund the building originated from the Colorado FFA Foundation. The foundation worked with stakeholders across the state to fundraise for the building, which turned out to be a $3.3 million project. All told, the foundation raised $2.6 million of that project, with the remaining commitment from CSU.

A driving idea behind this fundraising campaign was that the building can be a place to honor the history of agriculture in Colorado and the Colorado FFA Association. First, the building would host the Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame. The inductees’ photos and biographies are featured prominently on the walls of the banquet area. Second, the building includes a room to host the Blue Jacket Society. The Blue Jacket Society is place where individuals provide a financial contribution and their FFA jacket to help fund agricultural education in Colorado. The money from the Blue Jacket Society supports scholarships for FFA members and signing bonuses for new Colorado agriculture teachers to assist in recruiting the top teachers from across Colorado. The tradition and history of agriculture and the FFA are elevated for all students and visitors to learn from.

The CoBANK Center for Agricultural Education is an innovative facility for preparing agriculture educators. The building features multiple classrooms, a technology laboratory and a mechanical laboratory. Few agricultural education programs in the United States have such building to train future educators. For example, CSU didn’t have a mechanics laboratory to prepare teachers to teach agricultural mechanics curriculum. Now future Colorado teachers can learn how to teach the latest techniques in welding, irrigation, woodworking and electricity. This is just one way this innovative building is better serving our students and the people of Colorado.

When the building doors opened and the lights came on two years ago, we celebrated this merger of innovation and traditions in agriculture. Now we are witnessing a new amazing development. The College of Agricultural Sciences believes that ARDEC (nicknamed Campus North) can serve as an experiential learning campus. In the past two years the college has facilitated four courses being offered at ARDEC for freshman. The aim of this initiative is to develop a freshman cohort, which develops a learning community that values agriculture and develops pride in being a CSU student. Additionally, the curriculum teaching innovation, common intellectual experiences and collaborative, experiential learning are research-proven practices, which can help not only improve the educational outcomes of students, but can also encourage a student to persist in their education through graduation, a primary goal of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

CAS and CSU are supporting this initiative by providing resources in the form of bus transportation, training and professional development of teachers, new teaching technology and furniture, and new equipment. Furthermore, there is a goal to build more facilities at ARDEC to increase the educational capacity of the campus and the number of classes and students impacted by this innovation.

As agricultural educators, we are often asked to reflect on our educational endeavors and make recommendations for other institutions. The lesson thus far from the development and construction of the CoBANK Center of Agricultural Education is that the union of tradition and innovation in agriculture can serve as an educational catalyst.