Athens Tech dedicates Tom McCall Agricultural Science Complex
Posted on Apr 04, 2023 at 20:00 PM
By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau
Since 2014 Athens Technical College (ATC) has offered an agricultural science program to prepare students in Northeast Georgia for jobs in agriculture that need education beyond high school but not a bachelor’s degree. The program began on ATC’s main Athens campus, but last year moved to the new Tom McCall Agricultural Science Complex that was dedicated in a ceremony March 31 on ATC’s Elberton campus.
“Tom has always supported Athens Technical College. He understands the importance of what we’re doing for workforce development and worked tirelessly to support Athens Tech during his 26 years in the General Assembly,” ATC President Andrea Daniels said.
The ag science complex includes a 10,320-square-foot classroom building and a 17,091-square-foot arena. A 5,400-square-foot greenhouse will be completed soon.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving to name this facility for,” said former Gov. Nathan Deal, who signed the state budget that allocated funds for construction of the complex. “I have an ag background and it makes me more appreciative of what I see here. This is a facility that will give students practical, hands-on training to secure jobs and make a living for their families.”
The classroom building includes four labs with lecture seating, four offices, one classroom, a conference room and a beautiful lobby and student workspace with windows that look out on a pre-existing pond that sits below an adjoining patio.
“People like Tom McCall, who from his 26 years of service in the General Assembly to him serving as president of Georgia Farm Bureau, have ensured that Georgia agriculture is successful. Tom understands that our state can’t be successful if agriculture isn’t successful and that providing our own food and fiber is a national security issue,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper said. “What better way to honor Tom’s legacy than with an arena and classroom building where new ag leaders’ minds will be shaped.”
The arena has a 5,841-square-foot show ring with bleacher seating for 274 people, a 4,725-square-foot tie-out, multipurpose area and a 1,876-square-foot ag mechanic/construction lab. The first livestock show was held in the arena in January.
“Thank you all for this today. It is a much, much undeserved honor, but I do appreciate it. Y’all are sitting on one of the most beautiful campuses in Georgia, and I’m looking forward to it turning out a bunch of agricultural graduates to go into the ag workforce,” McCall said. “I want to thank Gov. Deal for putting this facility in Elberton and Terry England, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, for allocating the money for it and everyone who supported it.”
Other guest speakers included former Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Commissioner Greg Dozier, Rep. Rob Leverett and Rep. Houston Gaines.
ATC ag science program prepares students for ag jobs
Students who enroll in Athens Tech’s agricultural science program can choose to get an associate degree in agricultural science by choosing from one of three tracks for the degree - animal science, poultry science or horticulture. Each track requires four courses in the track subject area be successfully completed. Students must also earn 22 credit hours of general education courses (English, math, a humanities, etc.), 18 credit hours of core agricultural science courses: Introduction to Agriculture, Leadership in Agribusiness, Agribusiness Management, Agricultural Finance and Credit, an internship, and either Agricultural Mechanics or Agricultural Structures. Students also take two elective agricultural courses. Some students can complete two subject tracks within their program.
ATC also offers students the option of earning a technical certificate of credit (TCC) in animal science, poultry science or horticulture. TCCs require only essential courses for the area of specialization. In addition to the program track TCCs, ATC also offers an Agricultural Systems & Mechanics TCC, which allows students to complete the Agricultural Mechanics course, an Agricultural Structures course, Applied Surveying, and Leadership in Agribusiness.
“For the high school graduate who isn’t certain what they want to do for a career, Athens Technical College is a great place to explore vocational options. We want students to succeed and will help you find your niche,” said ATC Agricultural Science Program Chair Dr. Chris Morgan. “Many of our students entered the workforce directly out of high school but quickly found that the jobs available to them did not have the pay nor the opportunities they had hoped for, and we are able to equip those students with the skills they need to live a successful lifestyle. Many of our students would prefer to work rather than sit in a classroom.”
Morgan says the animal science program is the most popular track students choose to study.
“The program allows for several electives, so many students will study animal science and take poultry or horticulture courses as electives, making them better prepared for entering this diverse industry,” Morgan said.
Morgan, who developed ATC’s ag science program, says many jobs in agriculture need employees with some background in agriculture and business, but probably not a four-year degree.
“I feel like we are filling this niche,” Morgan said.
Being able to enter the workforce without amassing student debt attracts many students to ATC’s programs, Morgan says.
“Many of our students juggle work and academics, so all our courses are currently streamed synchronously during each class meeting,” Morgan said. “So, if a student desired, they could join each class online watch the lecture and class activities, and just come to the Elberton campus for laboratory activities and exams.”
Graduates of the ag science program have gone on to obtain jobs in the poultry sector as managers at processing plants, feed mills and egg laying facilities, or working as field technicians, Morgan said. Others work at greenhouses, and some go back to their family farms.
“Several students are employed by Pilgrims, one at the Georgia Poultry Lab, some work for USDA or the Georgia Department of Agriculture,” Morgan said. “We have several graduates at James Greenhouse in Colbert.”
The ATC website lists Classic Groundcovers, Centurion Poultry and Country Charm Eggs as employers of past students. ATC says ag science program graduates typically have starting salaries in the $30,000-$45,000 range.
This semester the ag science program has 20 students enrolled, but fall enrollment is typically higher, Morgan said. Enrollment in the program has been as high as 40 and the new facility could easily accommodate up to 80 students, Morgan said.
ATC welcomes conservation law enforcement program
In addition to housing the agricultural science program, the McCall Agricultural Science Complex is also home to a new program ATC is offering –conservation law enforcement (CLE).
This program combines fisheries and wildlife management and criminal justice courses that prepares students for a career as game wardens, park rangers, conservation technicians, or environmental protection technicians, ATC CLE Program Chair Alexia Goodman said.
“This program gives students a good background in wildlife and lets them know what they’re getting themselves into,” Goodman said.
CLE courses include hands-on labs and outdoor field work including surveying campus for wildlife, equipment operation and research projects.
Goodman said CLE students are utilizing the six-acre pond behind the McCall Center and the track of hardwoods adjacent to the pond to study wildlife.
“Our students will be working in the woods, so this campus allows us to give our students the experience of being in the woods,” Goodman said. “We’ve seen white tail deer, racoons, turtles, squirrels, possums, armadillos, a breeding pair of hawks, a blue heron and an osprey. We’ve also got a beaver that has built two dams and taken down some trees that we’re observing.”
The CLE program requires an internship with a conservation law enforcement agency or related position for graduation. This internship is completed over the summer. In addition to internships, students have many opportunities to network with current and former conservation law enforcement professionals.
Graduates of the program will have an associate degree to meet the minimum education requirement to apply for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Game Warden Academy. The average starting salary for game wardens is $50,000.
“Graduates of this program can apply to attend the GA DNR Academy. If we hire them, we’ll pay for them to attend an 11-week peace officer training and then our 15-week game warden academy,” Ga. DNR Lt. Colonel Mike England explained.
Meagan Adkins is an ATC student pursuing the CLE degree.
“I knew I wanted to do something with animals. I wanted to be a vet but then realized it was a lot of school and money,” Adkins said. “My advisors told me about this program and it fit. I love this campus. I love the pond and the tree area we use for our studies.”
Adkins is also excited about not having student debt when she graduates.
“An advantage of attending a technical college is definitely the cost,” Adkins said. “Of all my friends who have gotten degrees, I’m the one coming out with no debt.”
The ATC CLE program is one of the two conservation law associate degree programs in Georgia. The other is offered at Ogeechee Tech in Statesboro.
For information about the agricultural science program visit https://gfb.ag/atcagscience . For information about the conservation law enforcement program visit https://gfb.ag/atcconservationlawenforcement . For reservations for the McCall Arena, call ATC Economic Development at 706-369-5875.
The Georgia Foundation for Agriculture annually offers scholarships to students attending any accredited Georgia technical college and majoring in an area of agriculture or an ag-related field of study, such as welding, mechanics, culinary arts, commercial truck driving and wildlife sciences/management. Visit https://gfb.ag/gfatechscholarshipmajors for a list of eligible schools and majors. Scholarships have already been awarded for this year, but information is available at www.gafoundationag.org/scholarships. Visit this website in October/November for information about the 2024 scholarships.