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Ag Education at Miner Institute

By Rachel Dutil | Photos Supplied

William Miner valued education. He built one of the country’s first rural centralized school districts in Chazy in 1916 and laid the groundwork in his will for the establishment of the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, which was founded in 1951.

Miner famously stated in 1915 that “no other occupation is so vitally important to the human race, nor requires such a wide range of practical and technical knowledge, as farming.” He recognized the importance of educating the next generation of farmers and wanted to provide a facility where agricultural programs could be taught.

Miner Institute operated a free one-year post-secondary agricultural school from 1957 through 1966. Since then, education continues to be an important part of Miner Institute’s mission, along with research and demonstration.

Although the educational programs offered at Miner Institute have changed in its 70-year history, the core objective of helping to support agriculture through educating young people continues.

From Students to Mentors Three Miner Institute employees who help to mentor and supervise students in undergraduate, year-long post-undergraduate internships and graduate programs got their start at Miner Institute as students themselves.

Katie Ballard and Wanda Emerich were students in the Summer Experience in Farm Management – a paid summer internship for college undergraduates in 1983, the second year the program was offered. The program provides experience working around the farm – from crops, to milking, managing and caring for calves, and herd health.

Today Ballard is Miner Institute’s Director of Research and Emerich is the Dairy Outreach Coordinator. Both have been employed at Miner for more than 35 years.

The Institute’s Equine Manager, Karen Lassell, first came to Miner to participate in the Summer Experience in Equine Management program in 1989. That program helps students understand the day-to-day management of an equine facility and aims to improve students’ horse handling and training skills. Ballard was offered a graduate assistantship at the end of her summer internship. “There were Plattsburgh State graduate students in environmental science and cell biology, but I was the first ag graduate student,” Ballard recalled. The collaboration between Miner Institute and the University of Vermont was initiated with her graduate assistantship and has been ongoing since. Ballard was interested in reproductive physiology, so she chose to also participate in the in-vitro cell biology and biotechnology program offered at Miner Institute in collaboration with SUNY Plattsburgh in the spring of 1985. Emerich started a graduate assistantship in 1985 to earn a Master’s degree in extension education through the University of Vermont. Lassell returned to Miner for a year-long equine internship in 1991 after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of New Hampshire.

Each of them was in the right place at the right time to not only find full-time employment, but to become integral in the growth and development of the Institute. Ballard helped to find the Miner Morgan – Tia Bel Morita – who she said “built the current Morgan horse program from that one mare.” From her position as Equine Program Coordinator, Ballard later moved into the Director of Research role as the program was being built in the early 1990s.

When Ballard shifted from managing the equine program to research, Lassell was wrapping up her year-long internship and became the manager of the equine program. Emerich worked with a goat herd while completing her graduate assistantship and later managed the dairy program for four years before settling into her current dairy outreach position.

All three women are integral to the Institute’s current education programs. Lassell manages and oversees the Summer Experience in Equine Management students. Emerich coordinates the spring semester’s Advanced Dairy Management program and helps recruit students for the Summer Experience in Farm Management program.

Ballard is part of a team who selects the students from the applicant pool for the Summer Experience in Agricultural Research program and helps mentor summer students and Advanced Dairy Management students with research proposals and projects.

Applied Environmental Science Program Since 1972, Miner Institute has collaborated with SUNY Plattsburgh to host the Applied Environmental Science Program that was known as “Man and the Environment” in the early days. Full-day courses are now offered at the Institute during fall semester.

Faculty from SUNY’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science teach courses that integrate lectures with hands-on learning in the field and labs in and around Miner Institute. Students can choose to take courses such as forest ecology, wetlands ecology, wildlife ecology, soil science, water quality and modeling, as well as agriculture and the environment, which is taught by Miner staff. The Altona Flat Rock property – where William Miner built the famed “Million Dollar Dam” in 1911 – provides students and faculty a 6,800-acre site with unique research and learning opportunities because of its ecological and geological attributes. A 500-acre wildfire at the property in 2018 has given SUNY Plattsburgh ecologists and students the ability to study how the forest and the wildlife have adapted since the fire.

Advanced Dairy Management In the early 1990s, the SUNY Plattsburgh cell biology and biotechnology program that was offered at Miner Institute was moved back to campus. That left the spring semester open for a new educational offering. Conversations with the University of Vermont led to the creation of the Advanced Dairy Management program, a 15-credit residential course, which began in 2000.

The Advanced Dairy Management program consists of five individual courses: Dairy Management Practicum, Dairy Cattle Nutrition, Crops Production, Experience in Agricultural Research, and Agriculture Seminar. Students learn about farm management, facility design, feeding and breeding management, and the use of on-farm records and business management. Students also learn about field crop production and nutrient management and work with a research team mentor to develop a research question and proposal that addresses an on-farm problem.

Students also work weekly shifts with Miner staff in the dairy barn. They visit area farms and evaluate those farms and prepare presentations with suggestions for the farm to improve its management and profitability.

Summer Experience Programs and Year-Long Internships In addition to the farm management program and the equine management program, Miner Institute also offers a Summer Experience in Agricultural Research and a Summer Experience in Water Quality Research. A scholarship set up by the family of Dr. Joseph Burke, the longtime former chair of Miner Institute’s Board of Trustees, helps to support a history-focused intern each summer that is shared between Miner Institute and The Alice T. Miner Museum.

The Summer Experience programs are paid internships with a competitive application process. Students come to Miner from animal science, dairy science and equine science departments across the country. The programs offer students an immersive work experience that prepares them for graduate school, vet school and jobs in the agriculture industry.

Year-long internships in dairy farm management, equine management and agricultural research are offered for students who have completed their undergraduate degree. A donation from the late Stephen Flanagan established a scholarship fund that supports two students in Miner Institute’s agriculture education programs each year in honor of his parents, Stephen S. and Frances B. Flanagan.

Vast Network of Alumni “We hope to instill in our students a sense of drive and ownership, and a sense of place – that they are part of the wheels in the whole cog and they’re making it go,” Lassell said of how Miner Institute views its students.

Alumni from Miner’s education programs go on to careers in academia, veterinary medicine, allied industries, regulatory agencies such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, and some are employed on farms or run their own farms.

“There are student alumni involved in the equine industry in many ways – some as trainers, instructors, some in the breeding business and others in extension,” Lassell explained. “Some are employed outside the industry, but are better overall equestrians for having been at Miner.”

“For me, an important part of educating students in animal agriculture is to help them to build and strengthen their network. We take them to a lot of meetings and events. Through these experiences they are given the opportunity to develop their skills in public speaking, travel with confidence and get to know people from across the country and around the world,” Emerich added.

“I am humbled by the impact of William Miner’s vision for the place he called Heart’s Delight Farm over 100 years ago,” reflected Ballard. “The students who have passed through its doors, gates, barns, and classrooms have taken a piece of Mr. Miner’s farm with them when they left and are using that knowledge and understanding to build the future of the ag industry.”

The William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute 1034 Miner Farm Road Chazy, NY 12921 518 846-7121

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