FVCC Adds Women in Agriculture Course

Program, funded by federal grant, will focus on jobs in agriculture and women's contributions in the past and now

By Molly Priddy
Heather Estrada, the head of FVCC’s agriculture program, has been involved with developing the school’s new women in agriculture course. Beacon File Photo

Flathead Valley Community College will add a new course focused on women in agriculture to its offerings this fall, thanks to a partnership with Montana State University and a federal grant.

The online course, which will run eight weeks, is called Women in the Agriculture Workforce in the 21st Century and is intended to give students a better idea of the breadth of jobs available in agriculture.

Heather Estrada, FVCC professor and director of the agriculture program, said she got involved with developing the women in ag program after it was initiated at MSU.

“I jumped at the chance,” Estrada said of building the course. “Most of the students I’ve seen in the (Integrated Agriculture and Food Systems) program have been female.”

Worth two credits, the course will explore the various jobs available in agriculture, as well as women’s roles on farms in the past and now. The goal is to help students feel confident in all areas of their chosen field, Estrada said.

Students will learn about five areas of agriculture: research, extension and education, production, marketing, and administration. The leadership team building the course — including Estrada, Bruna Irene Grimberg, Tracy Dougher, Jane Mangold, Lisa Rew, and Tracy Sterling — will survey women in these areas of agriculture about their experiences and challenges, about what works and what doesn’t.

The recorded videos of the interviews will be part of the online coursework, which Estrada, Mangold, and Rew will teach.

Students of any gender are invited to take the course — everyone benefits from learning about equal roles in agriculture, Estrada said — and those who complete it will be eligible for a paid summer internship in one of the five areas of study.

The course and the 160-hour internships are paid for thanks to a $94,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Estrada said there is money for about 10 internships. Hands-on experience is important when applying to agricultural jobs across the board, she said.

Grant funding also pays for about 60 percent of a student’s tuition for the class, Estrada said. It can be offered at this reduced rate until 2020, when the grant is scheduled to run out.

The course will be numbered to translate to credits in any Montana University System school, she said, though it will run through FVCC.

Estrada, whose background includes PhD work on wheat breeding, said she was often the only woman in her field or speaking at a conference. It’s important for students of any gender to have mentors to look up to, she said.

“It’s a little bit isolating sometimes,” Estrada said. “You just have nobody to relate to.”

This course hopes to educate and also create a network for these women in agriculture, so they can stay in touch and share their experiences. It will culminate in a “Women in Agriculture” summit at MSU.

Anyone with questions is invited to send them to Estrada at hestrada@fvcc.edu.

“I think it’s going to be a really good class,” Estrada said. “It’s a good opportunity.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.