Morrill Act celebrated as part of N.C. State's 125th anniversary

As N.C. State University celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, all land-grants around the country are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act that led to the creation of land-grant institutions. Last month, N.C. State looked back at the Morrill Act and how it helped shape this institution.

Dr. Catherine Woteki, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research, education and economics mission area and chief scientist for USDA, and N.C. State University Provost Warwick Arden talked about the history and future of the land-grant system and answered questions.

Founded the same year as the Morrill Act, USDA is also celebrating a 150th birthday, Woteki said. Out of the Morrill Act, the land-grant system created a framework for partnerships between the federal government and the states in support of agricultural education, she said. That partnership was expanded in 189 when historically black college and universities joined the land-grant system and again in 1994 with the addition of Native American tribal colleges.

“A real focus of the land-grant system has been on problem-solving research and a dedication to lifelong education through extension education,” Woteki said. “The challenges today are different in scope, but no less daunting than in 1862.”

There are looming challenges on the horizon. By 2050, the world will have to feed a population of 9 billion, on land that is finite and degraded and with increasingly limited water supplies. “From now to mid-century, we have to raise as much food as we have raised in all history,” Woteki said. “What we need is sustainable intensification of agricultural production.”

The land-grant universities have a role to play. The 20 million students who graduate from land-grants each year are needed to help solve tomorrow’s problems. And yet, though agriculture supports 1 in 12 U.S. jobs, many of those jobs go unfilled. The challenges are great — feeding a growing population and helping agriculture adapt to climate change. “Students today will work on these issues for their entire career,” Woteki said.

Provost Arden reminded attendees that most of N.C. State’s colleges had grown out of only two original programs – agriculture and engineering. From what is now the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences came the colleges of Natural Resources, Design and Veterinary Medicine. In addition, some programs of CALS are now found in the colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences, Education and Management. In 2013, a new College of Sciences at N.C. State will be include several CALS programs.

N.C.  State was recently ranked 19th nationally by job recruiters for providing career-ready graduates, Arden said. The university strives to provide quality, accessible education to students that is grounded in real-world experience. Through student research, study abroad experiences, professional development, service and internships, N.C.  State students receive the education they need to become sought-after employees, he said.

Arden named Cooperative Extension as one of N.C.  State’s most important outreach initiatives, with 694 county employees, 391 working on campus and 36,000 program volunteers, Extension makes more than 5 million contacts per year. Other N.C. State outreach initiatives include the Industrial Extension Service, the first of its kind in the country, and Centennial Campus, one of the country’s most successful research campuses.

Arden also pointed out that the Watauga Club members who founded N.C. State envisioned a college of agriculture and mechanic arts that provided a “liberal education,” a charge that remains relevant today. The complex problems of the future will require the best thinking of many disciplines, broad skill sets and creative thinking.

As one of the great land-grants in the country, “the time for N.C. State is perfect,” Arden said. “We will balance excellence, accessibility and relevance, with our role as ‘the peoples’ university.’”

-N. Hampton

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