Northeast Agriculture Faculty Present Project, Gain Insight at Brazilian Conference

Published on: December 13, 2016


Members of Northeast Community College’s faculty and staff had the opportunity to gain a global perspective on agricultural issues and present a special project at an international conference held recently. Pictured (from left) are John Blaylock, vice president of Educational Services; Tara Smydra, associate dean of Agriculture, Math and Science; Chris Burbach, agriculture instructor; and Dr. Michael Chipps, president. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)

Tara Smydra, associate dean of Agriculture, Math and Science, and Chris Burbach, agriculture instructor, attended and presented at the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics’ (WFCP) 8th biannual World Congress held in Vitόria, Brazil. The Northeast applied research project, Conserving Resources while Optimizing Production with Innovative Technology (CROP-IT) was presented to an international audience.

A solution to monitor and regulate soil moisture, CROP-IT is a multi-year effort that collects and compares data on water management from Northeast’s farm to optimize crop yield while minimizing water and energy usage. Northeast agriculture faculty and students have researched alternatives to traditional irrigation patterns found on thousands of farms today. They have discovered a better, more efficient process using technology that will maximize irrigation efficiency while optimizing crop yields.

Earlier this year, CROP-IT was named one of ten finalists in the nation for the second annual Community College Innovation Challenge by the National Science Foundation and American Association of Community Colleges. The event was held in Washington DC.

At the WFCP conference in Brazil, Smydra and Burbach had the opportunity to present the CROP-IT initiative to an international audience, while also gaining insight into agricultural practices around the world.

“The biggest takeaway from the trip was seeing how similar so many of (the world’s) problems are, but how differently they must approach them and the obstacles they must overcome to fix them,” said Burbach. “For example, in the US, if we need irrigation water, it’s easy to dig a well and have it. In other countries, they don’t have those kinds of options so they have altogether different obstacles to deal with.”

Smydra said the opportunity to exchange information and ideas at the conference gave her a new perspective of Northeast.

“It was a very interesting experience to share the work our group has done on a global stage as well as learn from other progressive institutions throughout the world. We often take for granted the great things we do because it is just how awesome the (Northeast) faculty are.”

John Blaylock, vice president of Educational Services, said the WFCP conference provided an outstanding venue for faculty to connect with those interested in applied research projects.

“The Congress was rich in diversity, giving us all an opportunity to learn the issues related to the education and training of a skilled workforce across the world,” he said. “Advances in agriculture in the United States are far superior to many of the other countries based on conversations with others who were intrigued with the work of Northeast.”

Also at the conference, Northeast Community College was presented a Silver Award of Excellence in the category of Student Support Services. The College was honored for its work in redesigning its academic advising model.

“Our Strengthening Student Advising Initiative is a model that could be implemented at any WFCP institution from Australia to Zimbabwe,” said Dr. Michael Chipps, Northeast president, who accepted the award on behalf of the College. “The critical first step for us was to identify our institutional deficits by looking at our student satisfaction survey results. We found that the survey results were valuable as changes were made to Northeast’s advising system.”

The World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics is an international network of colleges and national and regional associations of colleges. WFCP provides leadership in delivering workforce education for the global economy. The Federation provides an opportunity for colleges to link with other key stakeholders in the skills landscape such as employers, sector skills councils, industry, and government.