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Western Students Head into Outback and See Ag Industry in Australia
May 7, 2009
MACOMB, IL -- The "trip of a lifetime" is how three Western Illinois University students described a recent trip to Australia offered through Western's agriculture department. Lindsey Hankes (Galesburg, IL), who is getting her MBA at WIU and earned a bachelor's degree in agribusiness resource management at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and Justin Sparrow (LaHarpe, IL) and Renae Goodwin (Algonquin, IL), both seniors majoring in agriculture science, traveled "down under" with 15 fellow WIU students in March. Agriculture department faculty members John Carlson, professor, and William Bailey, department chair, went along as well, providing the students with guidance and opportunities for learning throughout the almost two-week trip.
"One purpose of the trip was to expose the students to Australia's agriculture," explained Carlson. "While some of the crops the Australian agriculture industry produces are similar to what we produce in the United States, they go about it much differently than we do. We also wanted to expose the students to a different culture, as virtually every agricultural company is international. Many of our students will likely eventually be working with people in other countries as business partners, customers or suppliers," he added.
After their 14-hour flight from the U.S. into Sydney and seeing some of Australia's unique sites, Carlson, Bailey, Hankes, Sparrow, Goodwin and the rest of the students headed into the outback to get a look at some of the country's sheep and cattle operations and other agricultural industry facilities.
"We toured various agricultural businesses and industries in Australia," noted Goodwin. "We visited wineries, sheep stations -- a 'station' is what we in the U.S. call a ranch or farm -- cattle stations, a rice farm and an orchard. We also experienced some of the sites the country is famous for, like the Sydney Opera house and Aboriginal Cultural Center," she added.
Both Sparrow and Goodwin noted that one of the main reasons they decided to take advantage of the ag department's and study abroad office's offering was directly related to the mission for the trip -- to experience part of Australia's agriculture industry.
"I was interested learning about the different farming techniques, as well as experiencing the different views and lifestyles of those who live in Australia," Sparrow said.
"I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn about the agriculture industry there and the differences. I was interested in seeing the different types of farming methods practiced and how they ran their operations," Goodwin added.
"At the sheep station we toured, the number of sheep they raise was incomprehensible to me," said Hankes, whose family raises sheep, and at one time, operated a farm with around 30 head of sheep. "This farm had close to 15,000 sheep!"
The View from Down Under
Hankes noted the trip offered "a good mix" of familiar aspects of agriculture, and it introduced her and her fellow students to new aspects of the agriculture industry too. She also noted it was interesting to learn about the challenges those working in the Australian ag industry face, noting there are difficulties there as well as here.
"Like farming in the United States, the farmers have to figure out what combination will allow them to make the most profit. But farmers in Australia have another factor to consider -- they have been in a drought for a number of years. Because of this, farmers there are subject to restricted water usage. I learned one of the major ways those in the ag industry there make a profit is by selling their water to other farmers, businesses and/or municipalities," she added.
In addition to their time in the outback, Carlson said the group of students spent some time at Charles Sturt University, a national multi-campus university in Australia.
"We spent some time touring one of the campuses and meeting some students. Some of the Sturt faculty members presented information about Australian agriculture and campus life," he noted.
Hankes added that, for her, the trip was a resounding success and great learning experience.
"Every part of this trip was relevant to my education," she said. "It was very organized and well planned. As a person who likes to travel, it was nice not to have to worry about whether you were seeing parts of the city that you 'needed' to. The places we went to see were great, and we were also given time to experience places on our own. Dr. Carlson and Dr. Bailey did a great job, and I am very confident in saying that I don't think there is a single person that regrets going on this trip."
An added bonus for Hankes, Sparrow, Goodwin and their fellow students is they will receive course credit for their "trip of a lifetime."
Carlson noted this was the first time Western's agriculture department organized a short-term study abroad program to Australia, and the department has plans to go again in 2011.
"I'd really like to thank the faculty at Charles Sturt University for all of their help in working with us on organizing the agricultural visits," said Carlson. "Having a good relationship with schools in other countries makes experiences like this much easier. I also want to thank Kim McDaniel in WIU's study abroad program. She put a lot of time and effort into the trip planning, and her work helped make the trip a great success."
According to Carlson, in 2010 Western's agriculture department and WIU's study abroad program are planning a student study abroad trip to Costa Rica in January, as well as a fifth trip to Russia in March.
For more information about the trip to Australia or the 2010 trips to Costa Rica and Russia, contact Carlson at (309) 298-1611 or JP-Carlson@wiu.edu.
Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606