University of Wisconsin-River Falls, home to one of the three largest undergraduate dairy science programs in the United States, has inked an agreement with China Agricultural University in Beijing for faculty and students to travel between the two universities for study and research.
The agreement reflects a larger trend of universities expanding study and research opportunities abroad for undergrads to give them hands-on experience with a global perspective before they hit the world job market. The same thing is happening in other countries such as China, which is a major importer of Wisconsin dairy products.
UW-Madison, which has fewer undergraduate students in its dairy science program than UW-River Falls — but a higher profile for dairy research and global impact — has had partnerships in China since the early 1990s through its Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development. UW-Madison also has been collaborating with China International University since 2004, according to Bob Mitchell, spokesman for the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
As a research university, UW-Madison’s focus is generating knowledge and developing technologies taught in undergraduate programs around the world, Mitchell said.
“Our undergrads work with those researchers,” he said. “They also work with real cows — we have research and teaching herds at four locations around the state.”
UW-Madison has 66 undergraduates majoring in dairy science, while UW-River Falls has 166 undergrads either majoring or earning minors in dairy science this fall. UW-River Falls’ undergrad dairy science enrollment ranks at the top nationally with California Polytechnic University and Penn State University.
“Despite the difficult trends of UW campuses with shrinking numbers of Wisconsin students, enrollment in (dairy science) has been on the upswing at UW-River Falls,” said Carolyn Brady, coordinator for the campus’ international outreach.
That’s good news for Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
China International University is located in the heart of Beijing. Students there have access to dairy farms, but the farms are several miles away, Brady said.
UW-River Falls owns and maintains two nearby laboratory teaching farms totaling more than 600 acres. The farms include dairy, beef, swine, sheep, poultry and horses.
In addition, the River Falls campus has a student-run, on-campus dairy manufacturing plant and a fully equipped meat processing facility.
Five minutes from the main River Falls campus, the state-of-the-art Dairy Learning Center gives students access to technology they’ll see when they start jobs anywhere in the world, Brady said.
The new partnership for UW-River Falls is an outgrowth of meetings held in China in June as part of a Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection visit to promote Wisconsin’s dairy industry and related resources.
The Beijing university’s Elite Cattlemen Program will be the primary focus of the UW-River Falls collaboration. That program aims to prepare Chinese students for careers in the beef and dairy industries. Its primary enrollment is graduate students, while UW-River Falls has mostly undergraduate students, allowing them to tap each other’s strengths, Brady said.
Global partnerships and international education were key components of a new plan announced in August by UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen.