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Solving the Problems of Tomorrow

Texas A&M Works to Provide Expertise Through Education

by Jayci Bishop

Qualified, available labor – an issue that many industries and businesses across the country are facing. Fortunately for the cotton industry, Texas A&M University has been working to combat this with the Agricultural Systems Management undergraduate degree program.

“As our world, and especially agriculture, becomes increasingly dependent on technology, there will naturally be a growing demand for managers with technical systems capabilities,” said Russell McGee, Assistant Professor and Director of the Undergraduate Program for Agricultural Systems Management at Texas A&M. 

According to the website, graduates of the AGSM program “manage people, money, and machines in the food and agriculture industries.” McGee explained that AGSM graduates have a wide range of career opportunities. The most common are technical sales and service for equipment manufacturers; grain, food and fiber processing managers; financial, insurance, consulting services; and construction, logistics, utilities and energy industries. 

“AGSM is a combination technical and business degree,” McGee said. “It evolved from the Mechanized Agriculture degree in 1988. I like to describe it as an ‘Engineering-lite’ degree with a minor in business included. The ag engineers design the system; the ag systems graduates operate it using technical and business principles they learn in the AGSM degree.” 

With the knowledge they gain during college, graduates of the degree program can be the perfect fit for the cotton ginning industry. 

“Managing a gin is a complex operation, requiring fundamental knowledge of a diverse array of machinery, systems, a challenging workforce, risk management and business acumen,” McGee said. “As gin managers approach retirement age, they are wise to plan ahead and bring in a new talent who can learn at their elbow with a view toward filling their shoes in a few years. AGSM graduates are well suited to meet that challenge.” 

It is not just coursework that makes a qualified employee though. They must have hands-on experience. The Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association saw a need for this and filled the void. Aaron Nelsen, TCGA Director of Communications, said members of the organization recognized a need to bring young people into the cotton industry, which was the driving force behind them creating the summer internship program. 

“Our internship offers a good dress rehearsal for each side,” Nelsen said. “The student is able to experience what a career in cotton ginning might look like. The host manager is able to evaluate a prospective employee for a few weeks during the summer. Without the internship, it is very likely most that come through our program would never set foot in a cotton gin. Thirty-three interns have been through our program from various universities, and we currently have ten working in the industry full time. The partnership allows many AGSM students the chance to look at a career such as managing a cotton gin.” 

McGee said the networking of the students with those in the cotton industry has been beneficial for both parties. 

“We have a network of industries and employers who favor our AGSM graduates for their work ethic and technical capabilities, but none stands out like the cotton industry, McGee said. “TCGA has led the way in creating internship opportunities annually for AGSM students who are interested in cotton gins or the associated auxiliary industries. TCGA staff also provide guest lectures for classes and student club meetings and provide multiple projects for the students to work on for their senior projects. There are numerous ways that TCGA keeps the cotton industry visible and attractive for students to consider as a career path.” 

From shaping the future leaders in the agriculture industry to providing qualified managers, McGee is proud of the work of the AGSM program and its graduates. 

“Texas A&M has the only remaining academic department of Agricultural Engineering in the state,” McGee said. “The knowledge and skills we impart to graduates are vital in an agriculture industry that is growing more technically advanced, as well as maintaining core competencies that are necessary for emerging economies. AGSM graduates are attracted to our department because they enjoy the practical application, hands-on learning, and problem-solving. We take a student with this aptitude and provide a college education that helps them to see the horizon so they can anticipate and work toward solving the problems of tomorrow.”