What’s Growing On at WU?

Warner University Event Showcases Potential of Agriculture Studies Program


Seventy-five middle school and high school agriculture students converged on the campus of Warner University on April 12 to learn “What’s Growing On at WU.”

The first-time, one-day event was created as a way to get students on campus to see and experience some of the career possibilities that are available in agriculture, says Justin Sharpless, the chair of Warner’s Agriculture Studies program.

“We wanted to give students who are already interested in agriculture an idea of Warner’s program as well as all the job opportunities that they could pursue if they continue in ag studies,” he says. “We obviously wanted to highlight our program with these students, but it goes beyond just recruitment — we want to promote interest in all facets of the agriculture industry and the opportunities it presents.”

The event was made possible in large part by a grant from the Florida’s Natural Growers Foundation, according to Abby Crawford, Coordinator of Advancement and Ag Planning at Warner University. The foundation provides support for various local nonprofit organizations that focus on health, education, or youth. 

“We were so honored to receive the grant from the Florida’s Natural Growers Foundation,” says Crawford, who planned the event. “I wanted to put on a program for students in our area that was different from our four-day summer program, but still be able to get students to experience Central Florida agriculture and many of the endeavors that are available for the students if they continue to study in their Ag programs.”

The event was organized around various “rotations,” which gave students hands-on experiences with various aspects of professional agricultural life. 

One of the rotations, which Crawford called “Have You Herd About That?” was hosted by Warner professor Dr. Lujean Waters and focused on animal science. In one part, Dr. Waters showed students how to identify and examine various parts of a horse’s musculature, while another part of the rotation used life-size models to show students how artificial insemination works in animal breeding. 

For Mary-Grace Durrance, a seventh-grader from Bok Academy South in Lake Wales, the horses were the best part of the day. “It was really neat to be so close to them and learn more about them.”

Clayton Keene, a junior at Lake Wales High School, also enjoyed the animal science aspect. 

“I want to be in beef production, and I’ve artificially inseminated cows before, but I had never physically seen the actual reproductive tract,” he says. “The way Dr. Waters helped to show me and it was interesting. It solidified my desire to go into beef production.”

Another rotation took place in the university’s greenhouse and beyond, as students had the opportunity to experience a robotic GPS system that automatically adjusted spray types, amount of fertilizer, and water as it rode through the university’s planted and cut flower gardens. In addition, Everglades Equipment brought one of its drones to demonstrate how they can spray groves quicker and more efficiently.

One of the more impactful rotations was the “Your Future After WU” showcase, which allowed students to interact firsthand with various industries — both big and small — and to speak to employers about the opportunities each company offered and the future of agriculture. The companies that were represented included AgAmerica Lending, Alico Citrus, Corteva Agriscience, the Everglades Equipment Group, Hardee Fresh, PalletOne, and the Polk County Public School Agriculture programs.

“We are always on the lookout for opportunities for our students to experience things outside of the classroom environment,” says Jennifer Williams, the agriculture teacher at Bok Academy North. “This event, especially since Warner is so close to our school, is an excellent way for my students to learn about careers in agriculture.”

Other Central Florida schools that had students at the event included Zephyrhills High School, Durant, Citrus, Haines City, East Ridge, Frostproof, Taylor-Pierson, George Jenkins, and Parrish Community.

For Jessie Whitehead, a junior from the Lake Gibson Senior FFA Chapter, the event helped her see herself in the business side of agriculture.

“We got to see a lot of aspects that you can’t see in a regular class,” she says. “I especially liked learning about AgAmerica Lending. I never knew there was something like that out there and I can definitely see myself doing that in the future.”

For Crawford, comments like that make the event even more special.

“I think events like this highlight the relationship between Warner and our partners in the Central Florida ag community and beyond. They have really supported us, and we strive to produce graduates who can go out and support them.”

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