Studying Agriculture in Ireland

With a university goal to increase the number of NC State students studying abroad, programs that fill a demand for students in an underserved academic area for travel are important. Karl Jicha, a lecturer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, led a program in Ireland this past May focused on global food systems and sustainable agriculture.

Students stop for a picture during a visit to Giants Causeway.

Recognizing the need for more overseas education experiences for students in CALS, Jicha and the co-director of the program, Erin Meachum, decided to expand on an original study abroad program in the United Kingdom to include Ireland. With an existing partnership in place between Harper Adams University and NC State as a result of the United Kingdom program, the Ireland program provides NC State the opportunity to expand not only its study abroad footprint but also its global partnerships.

Jicha and Meachum received an Internationalization Seed Grant in 2016 from the Office of Global Engagement, allowing the directors of the program to meet with industry leaders and universities throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to plan an enriching itinerary for future study abroad students.

Student Garrison Rountree looks through the microscope during a visit to Agrofood and Biosciences Institute in Ireland.

The Ireland program’s itinerary is packed with both academic and cultural activities, from visits to a food science research center, cattle farms, Blarney Castle, and if you join the future combined Ireland and Scotland trip, a ride on the Hogwarts Express. Jicha and graduate assistant and new co-director Alyssa Degreenia recently sat down to discuss the Ireland program and the impact of the Internationalization Seed Grant.

How did you get involved in the study abroad program?

The first year I was involved in the program, Melissa Hendrickson, from Agriculture and Resource Economics, had led the United Kingdom program for several years. She wanted to switch it up and take a group to Italy and Croatia. Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, our director, recommended me to Melissa, who helped me take over the program. All of my research has been in developing countries, so it’s been different to do something in Europe, but it’s been so much fun; the students just absolutely loved the Ireland trip.

Melissa, Alyssa, and I do things differently than many other faculty study abroad directors. Instead of using a travel agency, we do all of the contracts and the purchasing ourselves. My wife is an accountant here at NC State, so she handles the budget. We make all the phone calls overseas, speak to everyone in person, and book all of the cultural events. Every single aspect of the program is handled by us, so we can get the best deals and save the students money to keep costs low. It’s an incredibly affordable program.

How did the Internationalization Seed Grant impact the progress of establishing the program?

When we were working over in the United Kingdom, we had many people who were interested in connecting us with their contacts in Ireland. I had never been to Ireland, and we had this huge list of contacts in Ireland to set up a study abroad program with, but we needed to get on the ground and drive the route ourselves. We had twice as many people on our list as we actually had the time to meet. With additional funding from Dr. Wilson, the grant covered the bulk of our expenses.

The itinerary that we were able to create, with the cultural activities, was phenomenal. As great as the program was that we had previously offered in Scotland, England, and Wales, for a first-time program in Ireland, our program went really well. With this new trip, we were fulfilling an opportunity to students who wanted to go somewhere new, like Ireland, but still focused on agriculture. CALS is underserved in study abroad programs, and this program helped fill that gap.

Why Ireland?

The main reason we chose Ireland was the state of North Carolina. There are a lot of agribusiness ties with Ireland. The different areas of agribusiness are so similar to us here, and we can learn a lot from them; I think we could learn more from them than they can learn from us. The University College Dublin’s College of Health and Agriculture Sciences and NC State’s CALS are very similar in terms of academic programs offered. Also, so many of our students have Scots-Irish heritage, and at the time we only offered one study abroad program to Ireland.

How does the Ireland program work to support not only students studying abroad but also NC State faculty and university partnerships?

Through the grant money, when I was in Ireland I met with faculty members of the veterinarian school of University College Dublin. From that visit, Alan Fahey, the Associate Dean of Internationalisation at University College Dublin, in return visited NC State to work on creating a partnership to facilitate exchange between our universities, including faculty research collaborations and a formal agreement. 

Students pose at the Cliffs of Moher.

While we do promote research, our primary focus is on the students. The program has evolved. It used to be a spring break program. It was a three-credit course that would meet during the spring semester, and we would take students overseas for a week and a half. Now, the Study Abroad Office approved for us to do a four-credit course with one hour focused on the cultural aspects of the trip, where we have guest speakers come in and speak with the students to get them immersed in the travel.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your work? 

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The fact that every week that Alyssa and I sit here in the office, we have students from previous programs and students from the new program come in here to do work between classes, to have lunch with us, and to spend time with us. We had one student from the program spend Thanksgiving with my wife and our family. Any time we get back an evaluation from a student from the program with the words “life-altering experience” or “life-changing experience” is impactful. We enjoy having students who have never been out of the country before. We had one student that was thinking of transferring to another university who stayed at NC State after going on the program because of the friends that he made and the opportunities he saw here. It feels like one big family. Those moments are really rewarding.

 

Learn about the impact of other Internationalization Seed Grants from the Office of Global Engagement.