Chesapeake College will launch its new degree program in agriculture this fall with an introductory course that Dr. Nicole Fiorellino will use to bring the Eastern Shore’s agriculture future into focus.
“We’re really going to be talking about the future of agriculture – new technologies like precision agriculture along with the latest on topics like nutrient management and sustainability,” said Dr. Fiorellino, who will teach Introduction to Agriculture (AGR 101) Thursday nights from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m. at the college’s Wye Mills Campus.
The college’s Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in agriculture, with separate areas of concentration in production and sustainability, received final state approval in July. Chesapeake is the only community college in the state with an agriculture degree program.
“This program has the potential to touch so many aspects of a fundamental fact of life – agriculture – for all of us on the Shore, and provide our community with the skills to make a sustainable and competitive living in a global agricultural market,” said Dr. Clayton Railey III, Chesapeake’s vice president for academic affairs.
Dr. Fiorellino, hired this past spring by Chesapeake to be its instructor of agriculture, said she is excited to bring both academic and business perspectives to teaching the program’s initial course.
“I feel like I’m uniquely positioned between the professional scientific world of agriculture research and the practical, daily applications of the science,” said Dr. Fiorellino, who holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Technology from the University of Maryland College Park in addition to being involved in a family dairy farm in Kennedyville.
“I hope to be working with students who have real-world, hands-on experience but need help in understanding the scientific background to the industry,” added Dr. Fiorellino. “Conversely, I want to help take folks who may be well-versed in the scientific and regulatory side and give them some hands-on experience.”
Dr. Fiorellino said the course will also provide a focus on agriculture policy on a level that students need to understand.
“I want to introduce the topic of agriculture policy so we’re having more of a dialogue about how policy around agriculture is shaped so people can understand their role in how policy is developed,” she said.
Dr. Fiorellino, who recently completed post-doctoral studies through the University of Maryland, said she will use experts in their field to help present course content.
“We’re going to be featuring a lot of guest speakers who are topic experts, which will also allow us to provide students with immediate networking opportunities,” she said. “We want them to build networks with local producers, state specialists and other ‘go-to’ people on special topics.”
While the course will introduce students to the 60-credit program in agriculture, Dr. Fiorellino said she hopes to have both degree-seeking students and individuals specifically interested in this course mixed in the class.
“The course is not just for someone in the degree program,” she said. “It’s going to be pertinent for people who just want to learn more about agriculture in general.
“We’re going to provide a very broad range of topics in agriculture,” added Dr. Fiorellino. “It will include learning what’s going on around us, and what they see happening in fields. This will be a good class to spark some of that knowledge-building.”
Dr. Fiorellino said generational transitioning of family farms – “a topic near and dear to my heart” – will be a recurring theme throughout the course and the program.
“Transitioning farms from one generation to the next generation is very hard and very time-consuming,” said Dr. Fiorellino, “and takes years of planning. It’s not something you can do alone and it’s not an easy process. It’s a key topic that’s often overlooked –what happens when somebody dies and how will a farm transition to the next generation.”
While Dr. Fiorellino has an extensive academic background – including a Master’s of Science degree in Animal and Avian Sciences from the University of Maryland after double-majoring in animal sciences and biological sciences at Rutgers University – she also gets regular hands-on experience at Lepter Farms, a family dairy farm with 260 milking cows where husband Tim Bishton works full time.
“Every growing season I feel like I learn more about what’s going on,” said Dr. Fiorellino.
Dr. Fiorellino is the college’s program coordinator for agriculture in addition to being an instructor. She has already begun advising students in the agriculture major as well as connecting with local farm organizations and agriculture teachers in the region’s high schools.
“I’m really excited about working with the local high schools, their agriculture teachers and their ag students,” said Dr. Fiorellino. “We really want the school system’s input on how we refine and expand the program. There is so much we can do with this program moving forward and we want to do it in a way that offers a seamless route for agriculture students from high school through college.”
While AAS programs are not primarily built for transfer, Dr. Fiorellino said she will also be working with four-year institutions to help craft articulation agreements with Chesapeake in agriculture.
“Many students will want to go directly from our program into the workforce, but for those who want to continue on to four-year institutions we want to provide clear pathways,” said Dr. Fiorellino.