Ag students to study in South Africa
By Stewart MacInnis
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 28 - April 16, 1998
The South African high-veld country will provide the backdrop for as many as 10 Virginia Tech undergraduate students during their studies in the spring 1999 semester.
They will be the first students from Virginia Tech to participate in a student-exchange program with the University of Orange Free State, or UFS. Students from that institution will pioneer the exchange by trekking to Blacksburg for the coming fall semester. Each group will be accompanied by one faculty member from their institution.
"This will be a different experience for our students," said John Crunkilton, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, (CALS). "They will be exposed to a different agriculture, as well as a different culture."
Izak Groenewald, head of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Free State university, said the South African students participating in the exchange will gain priceless international experience.
"In general, any student-exchange program is about developing people," Groenewald said. "Exposure to the global village is becoming increasingly more important, and the output of any university is supplying a person to the arena of future employers who is balanced, properly trained and schooled to perform laid-down tasks."
Virginia Tech students participating in the exchange program will pay tuition, fees and housing costs to Virginia Tech. They will have to pay for a meal plan at UFS. The major additional cost to students, however, is the estimated $1,500 round-trip air fare.
Crunkilton said the exchange program is open to juniors and seniors. Students will enroll full-time in selected courses at UFS. All courses will be pre-approved for credit transfer to Virginia Tech pending satisfactory academic performance.
The idea for an exchange between the agriculture programs of the two institutions was initiated by the University of Orange Free State, which was looking for a U.S. partner. At the same time, CALS was looking for an opportunity to establish a formal exchange program with an overseas university, Crunkilton said.
Piet Gous, president of the Free State Agricultural Union--roughly equivalent to the Virginia Agribusiness Council--urged the UFS administrators to explore establishing a partnership with Virginia Tech. Gous earned his doctorate in agronomy at Virginia Tech in 1969.
The dean of agriculture from UFS made an initial visit to Blacksburg in the fall of 1996. The following semester a delegation from the Free State came here to investigate the matter more fully. That was followed by a delegation from CALS visiting the Free State campus in Bloemfontein in the fall of 1997.
"We spent a week visiting the area," said Crunkilton. "We were treated like royalty. We were taken on two excursions, one to the east, which is mountainous, and one to the west, which is more like plains, not unlike our Midwest."
The exposure to agricultural production in the diverse climatic and agricultural zones will benefit students, Crunkilton said. Equally beneficial will be their exposure to another culture, which is experiencing its own social and economic evolution.
"We all felt very comfortable while we were there," Crunkilton said. "The university as a whole is making an effort to integrate, to meet the challenges facing their society."
The university adjoins Bloemfontein, a city of about 400,000. The campus is smaller than Virginia Tech's, with an enrollment of about 10,500. Students will have plenty of opportunity to mingle with South Africans and sample their various cultures.
Crunkilton said three courses of study offered at UFS especially caught the eye of CALS officials: grassland science, irrigation, and agro-meteorology. The UFS faculty members were excited about Virginia Tech's program in food science and technology, among others.
"We see the program at the University of Free State as complimentary in many ways to ours, especially for students with an eye on the future," Crunkilton said. "In this day and age, any college graduate with experience in an international setting is making himself or herself more competitive."