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Copyright © 2014
Angus Journal


New three-year agreement focused on teaching, research excellence

author Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575

COLLEGE STATION - The Texas A&M System has entered into a three-year cooperative agreement with Peru's primary agricultural institution, the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina and its agriculture ministry's Instituto Nacional de Innovacion Agraria, INIA.

The agreement will be implemented through Texas A&M University's (TAMU's) Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"This is not the first time our universities have worked together, but it is a significant expansion and broadening of efforts regarding agricultural teaching and research enhancement and innovation," said Mike McWhorter, assistant director for academics and training at the Borlaug Institute in College Station.

McWhorter said Borlaug Institute and other TAMU staff have been collaborating with Peru's agricultural university professors and administrators on a one-to-one basis since the mid-1990s.

"This agreement, however, represents the first concentrated effort to train groups of Peruvian agricultural academics and researchers toward a consistent goal using a specific plan of action," he said.

"The primary objective of this agreement is to strengthen the teaching and research capacity of UNALM and move toward a curriculum that will enhance technical knowledge and improve agricultural competitiveness," said Glen Shinn, a professor in the agricultural education department of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Shinn and Gary Wingenbach, another professor in that department, will be providing oversight for agreement implementation.

Shinn said this came about from a broader three-year participating agency service agreement formulated between the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA-FAS) for the purpose of supporting the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. The three main objectives of that project are to improve Peru's regulatory framework to increase market access, improve agricultural education and research capacity, and strengthen public-private sector interaction.

The goal of this broader agreement is to "strengthen the capacity of Peru's agricultural institutions and private sector through the use of targeted technical assistance, exchanges and training activities," according to documentation. This will include assisting and partnering with key institutions in Peru's agricultural and food sectors, the agriculture ministry and many of its agencies, regional governments and the private sector.

Activities under that broader agreement are expected to improve the Peruvian government's ability to develop and enforce plant and animal health standards, improve food safety, conduct more advanced agricultural research, manage resources, and identify and implement specific trade promotion strategies.

"We're being funded as a result of that USDA-FAS and USAID participating agency agreement, and our efforts will primarily be directed at the objective related to improving Peru's agricultural education and research capacity," Shinn said.

He explained that needs assessment done by the USDA-FAS earlier this year resulted in recommendations for "increasing the capacity to carry out research, teach and modernize instruction systems."

"For our part, we will focus on engaging key UNALM professors in training and experiences which will lead to certificates of excellence in teaching, especially in the areas of agricultural innovation and competitiveness." Shinn said. "We also will engage key university and agricultural innovation institute staff in training and experiences which will lead to certificates of excellence in research, also emphasizing agricultural innovation and competitiveness."

He said he and his team also would assist in acquiring and sharing important knowledge about competitive agricultural education programs and work with both agricultural university and institute staff to collaborate and enhance their technical skills.

"We'll also be serving as instructors for the professors at the university and will be conducting five face-to-face workshops over the next three years with university faculty," Wingenbach said. "Initially, we will begin working with 32 teaching 'cohorts' and 32 research 'cohorts' at the university."

Wingenbach said after an in-person assessment of current faculty competencies at the university by himself and other TAMU system personnel, the first basic workshop will be conducted, to be followed by intermediate and advanced workshops. They also will begin establishing a web-based repository of resource and reference materials for participants and other university staff.

"Our goal is to ensure the participants are confident enough with their teaching and research skills that they will want to collaborate with other universities, especially in research projects, or conduct their own research," he said. "We also believe in the 'multiplier effect' and believe the cohorts who participate will transfer this learning to others to help increase their skills and competencies."

Shinn and Wingenbach said some of the other ways TAMU System staff will be involved include course development and redesign and online conferences and teleconferences. Research-enhancement activities will include technology transfer, technical assistance and coaching on research methodology, technology workshops, modernizing technical knowledge systems, improving access to agricultural science and technology journals, and offering research-related university scholarships.

"The faculties of the university which will be directly involved in this agreement are those of the departments of agronomy, sciences, forestry, economics, food industry, agricultural engineering, fisheries and animal husbandry," said J. Abel Mejia, UNALM rector, during a recent visit to the TAMU campus in College Station.

"Our faculty members look forward to working together with the faculty members of Texas A&M University," he said. "This type of collaboration improves the capacity of each university and adds to the agricultural economy of Peru and Texas."

Mejia, who was previously on the university's agricultural engineering faculty, has postgraduate degrees earned in Brazil and specializes in soil and water resources management.

"Peru, like Texas, is very concerned about the sustainability of our food production and our natural resources," he noted. "Faculty members from Texas A&M University will add to our technical knowledge."

Contact(s): Glen Shinn, 979-862-3012, Gary Wingenbach, 979-862-1507,
Mike McWhorter, 979-845-7697

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