Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is launching a new office for student professional development, where all undergraduate and professional graduate students may enrich their education and competitiveness in the marketplace through unique and targeted academic programming. The office will focus on providing an easily accessible way to enhance niche-area professional skill sets and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Classroom setting with two students and a teacher standing
Texas A&M University students will have an opportunity for advanced professional development. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)

“I’m pleased to announce this new academic initiative to enhance student and professional learning opportunities within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University,” said Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D., vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “By tapping into the college’s course offerings, the office will capitalize on curricular and co-curricular activities tailored to a student’s individualized interests and needs, while fostering an environment conducive to experiential learning for young professionals and entrepreneurs.”

To lead this initiative, Stover appointed Ed Rister, Ph.D., as associate dean for student professional development. Rister has served as associate department head in the Department of Agricultural Economics since 2002 and is a recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence for Teaching. Rister has also received a Distinguished Individual Student Relations Award and Distinguished Teaching Award from The Association of Former Students at Texas A&M.

Rister joined Texas A&M in 1981 and holds a research appointment with AgriLife Research. He will continue to carry out teaching, research and service in the Department of Agricultural Economics. 

Ed Rister, Ph.D.

“One outstanding accomplishment of Dr. Rister’s has been to spearhead the creation of the highly successful Rural Entrepreneurship capstone program,” Stover said. “The program has built a strong, long-standing student and alumni community and has received unparalleled support from hundreds of former students in agricultural economics as well as other departments and majors across the university.”

More than 100 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other professional mentors are annually involved in the capstone program’s end-of-year, two-day symposium at which students present their business plans. Former students and other donors contribute annual scholarship support of more than $50,000. 

An emphasis on student professional development

While offerings will expand and adjust in the future to continue meeting the needs of students and demands of a competitive and evolving workforce, current and planned program areas include: a minor in sales, a certificate in cultural competency and a financial planning program.

These opportunities will be available to all Texas A&M students, with prior classes taken applicable for credit to appropriate programming.

Weston AgriFood Sales Program

The Weston AgriFood Sales Program, a pillar in the Department of Agricultural Economics, is another component that will be marketed by the office. As the only sales minor offered atTexas A&M, this program provides an opportunity for all College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to get comfortable with all aspects of sales and prepare them for both an exciting and successful profession in business-to-business sales.

Certificate in Cultural Competency

The Certificate in Cultural Competency, created through a partnership between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Texas A&M, will be led by Craig Coates, Ph.D., associate dean for inclusive excellence in the college. The certificate will focus on understanding and navigating different real-world cultures including institutional, religious and ethnic differences to increase awareness, competency and effectiveness in working across diverse organizations and within a diverse workforce.

“Companies have identified that they are spending millions of dollars per year on cultural competency training for their employees and don’t understand why students aren’t getting that at their university,” Coates said. “We want to give students an advantage through this exposure to cultural competency.”

This program will challenge students to think proactively about global competency, systemic racism and cultural differences. Coates explained that with this skill set and others provided through the new office, students will be better prepared to interview for jobs, respond to conflict they might encounter in the workplace and better address global societal problems.

Financial Planning Program

Through the Financial Planning Program, students will have the opportunity to take introductory courses in financial education in an effort to learn effective money management and help them be successful during college and into adulthood. The program will be led by Nathan Harness, Ph.D., instructional associate professor and TD Ameritrade director of financial planning in the Department of Agricultural Economics.

The Financial Planning Program will be offered to all College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students as both a certificate and a minor, with a major in financial planning in development. Through this program, students will become familiar with providing solutions to agricultural, applied business and household financial issues while also becoming increasingly productive in this niche area of a service-oriented profession.

Harness said the Financial Planning Program and its success is in large part due to Bill and Fran Carter, who have been essential in financial planning since the inception of the program at Texas A&M.

“Bill, who is class of ’69, has been instrumental in the profession ever since,” he said. “He would be considered one of the founders in this area. He has helped promote the financial planning services profession worldwide by serving as president and chairman of the board of the International Association for Financial Planning, the industry’s largest professional association, among his many other leadership roles.”

A $5 million planned gift from Bill and Fran Carter will support the growth of the financial planning program in several areas. The gift will benefit the general growth of the program through an endowment and assist in the advancement of students beyond traditional classroom settings through high impact learning. This will include visiting financial planning practices, conferences, competitions and speakers, and scholarships to help recruit technically skilled students for the program.

“We want to prepare students for a career in holistic financial planning,” Harness said. “We train them in communication, emotional intelligence and how to develop financial goals in order to cultivate solutions to put them in a better financial future.”

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