Classes are back in session for another academic year

Michelle Stangler
Students begin the school year with limited restrictions compared to a similar start to 2019.

Students heading back to classroom at high schools and colleges across Wisconsin will find things have returned to normal.

Hallways are filled with chatter and energy once again, a stark contrast to the early days of the pandemic that dictated a host of restrictions on the delivery of instruction and events - even lingering into 2021.

Many students and faculty members are relishing the fresh start to the school year, including high school senior Ally Loosen, who has already been accepted by a college and is looking forward to becoming an agriculture communicator in the future. Likewise, middle school agriscience teacher and FFA advisor Emma Huber who began at a new school district this year says the past two years has taught her that while technology is a valuable resource, hands on labs and activities cannot be replaced.

Dale Gallenberg

Even longtime faculty members like Dale Gallenberg who has served as Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) for the past 16 years appreciates the energy in the hallways in the days leading up to his retirement on Oct. 1.

Looking to impact agriculture

With graduation looming in spring, Loosen, a senior at Slinger High School, is preparing for experiences beyond high school. To reach that goal, she will spend most of her time acquiring real life skills while finishing up graduation requirements.

“I’m using my time off to work at Farmers’ Grain and Feed in Allenton,” Loosen said. “As far as my time in the classroom, I’m loving every minutes of the classes I am taking.”

Loosen says the agriculture communications class she’s enrolled in allows her to get a jumpstart on her career path. She's also eager to immerse herself in the ag community,  meeting new people with a similar agricultural interests and learning from them.

As Ally Loosen heads into her last year of high school, she’s looking forward to attending college next fall.

“I want to go to college to broaden my horizons, as well as further my education in areas I’m passionate about,” she said. "Agriculture-related Information in the real world is dwindling; people often don’t know where their food comes from or why we, as an industry, do what we do.”

A college degree will help her learn the skills to be successful and ultimately“educate the general population,” said Loosen.

Opportunities in and out of the classroom 

Beginning the school year teaching in a new school district, Emma Huber is optimistic about the year ahead.

She, too, serves as a communicator for the agriculture. The agriscience educator and FFA advisor at Wayne E. Bartels Middle School in Portage was recently named the Wisconsin Outstanding Early Career Teacher in 2022 by the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators (WAAE). She has also served as a resource for teachers in Wisconsin as a National FFA Teacher Ambassador for the past three years.

While teaching during a pandemic has been a challenge, Huber teaches using both technology and hands-on learning.

“I’ve found ways to engage students' minds through a computer screen, but I’ve also kept an emphasis on not having a computer teach my students,” she said, adding that technology is a useful resource in addition to hands-on learning.

“My students use their Chromebooks almost every single day, but they can also plant seeds, interact with live animals, spend time in nature and work collaboratively to explore agriscience,” said Huber.

With a new start, comes a learning curve. Although, Huber says students are students no matter the school district.

“It’s great to come to school every day and learn alongside my students,” said Huber. “This is our new normal and it will be as great as you want it to be.”

Teaching agriculture to students in grades sixth through eighth is important, regardless of their background.

“People of all ages need to understand how agriculture impacts their everyday lives,” said Huber. “Throughout the year, each of my classes will explore a little bit within each of the eight agriculture pathways before they head off to the high school and can take more specialized classes”

Beyond the classroom, there are already many opportunities students have been part of in Portage. From the FFA float in the homecoming parade to the Fall Leadership Workshop, students have much to look forward to this fall, including a visit from a state FFA officer visit, pumpkin decorating and attending the National FFA Convention.

“Students are excited about agriscience and FFA. There is a world of opportunities if they’re willing to take advantage of them,” said Huber.

Advocate for opportunities

During his time at UW-River Falls, Gallenberg says he has advocated for the many student opportunities. Building projects and new programs are some of his highlights during his 16-year term. Yet he hoped that students will have even more opportunities to study abroad.

“It’s easy to say agriculture operates in a global market. That much is true, but that oversimplifies it,” said Gallenberg. "These opportunities are valuable in helping to understand agriculture in the industry, production, marketing of products, and global trade."

A program starting this fall in collaboration with Aeres University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands is another way to connect students with global opportunities Gallenberg said.

"CAFES has a history of international agriculture and development through its faculty and staff,” he pointed out.

Gallenberg speaks passionately about the avenues open to students, especially to those attending the university for the first time. 

“There are tremendous opportunities in agriculture,” said Galleberg, urging students to get involved. “Yes, it takes some hard work and dedication, not every career is easy.”

Over the years, UW-River Falls has tries to fill the gap in the employment field for agriculture careers.

“We need high quality people in agriculture. It will be along time before we say we’ve got too many people involved in agriculture,” said Gallenberg.

Enrollment up

While enrollment has not reached pre-pandemic levels, new student numbers are trending upward, Gallenberg said. This fall, CAFES has approximately 1,350 students enrolled.

“It’s a pleasure to get back to more face to face, hands-on and group learning while also adopting certain practices that we benefited during the pandemic,” he said.

Before coming to UW-River Falls 16 years ago, Gallenberg worked as a plant pathologist in Extension at South Dakota State University. Gallenberg, who grew up on a dairy farm and potato operation near Antigo, says he’s thankful for his time at UW-River Falls and is looking forward to reflection once retired.

A search to fill his position is already underway with hopes of hiring a new dean by the start of the spring semester.