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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced today that South Central College is being awarded an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant. The $499,657 AFRI grant will be used to implement a new Advanced Ag Technology (AAT) certificate program. Students can begin enrolling in AAT courses for the fall 2020 semester, which starts in August. The college plans to have the full AAT certificate program available for the 2021 spring semester starting in January.

“South Central College created the AAT certificate to respond to the increasing technological needs of the agribusiness industry,” said Annette Parker, SCC president. “This new program will allow SCC to prepare students for rewarding careers in this high-tech field.”

The new AAT certificate program will be built based on SCC’s successful iMEC model for offering hands-on mechatronics instruction in remote locations, which began in 2009 with funding by the National Science Foundation. The program will combine agriculture and mechatronics curriculum in order to establish an industry-ready, advanced agricultural workforce and expand career pathways for graduates. It will be accessible to post-secondary and high school students, Veterans, and current Agribusiness employees who want to advance in their careers.

“Today’s advanced agricultural equipment utilizes increasingly sophisticated automation requiring more qualified technicians,” said Doug Laven, SCC mechatronics instructor and AAT project lead. “These technicians need knowledge and specialized skills to install, calibrate, and service electronics, fluid power, geographic information systems (GIS), automation systems, soil and chemical monitors, and grain storage equipment. “

The grant will run for three years, during which time, the college plans to deliver the entire AAT certificate program to 75 post-secondary students. The college is also partnering with area high schools to offer one of the certificate’s courses to 225 high school students through concurrent enrollment.