(Laramie, Wyo.) – Twenty years ago the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture rolled out a new interdisciplinary undergraduate major and put a new idea on the forefront – agroecology.

The program combines agronomy and ecology and focuses on the dynamic picture of today’s agriculture including plant and crop production, soil science and the link between agriculture and society.

“We were the first land-grant university to institute an agroecology undergraduate major,” said Robin Groose, associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences. “Idaho, Penn State and West Virginia have followed.  Florida, LSU, Minnesota and Wisconsin have followed with graduate majors in agroecology.”

Groose estimates 34 of the 50 land-grant universities now have agroecology as a major or minor or program.

UW’s goal was to graduate independent thinkers who could recognize and solve real problems facing agriculture and successfully refute what Groose calls bogus challenges.

The then-Department of Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences (PSIS) in 1993 had eight students spread across crop science, soil science and entomology.

“Almost overnight, in 1993, enrollment doubled as we created a single, integrated major in agroecology,” said Groose. “I remember, in the early 1990s, one of my advisees was the only new freshman in PSIS the year he came to Laramie from Lovell.  He joked, ‘Gosh, everybody is so nice to me.’”

Agroecology enrollment is now 45.

He said agroecology has continued adaptation to agricultural concerns and issues using the combination of the plant sciences department and Department of Ecosystem Science and Management. Both are in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Groose gives much credit to the program’s required experiential learning, which frequently lays the groundwork for employment after graduation, he said. Students complete internships during summer and follow up hands-on experiences with a written paper and departmental presentation the following semester.

Department of Plant Sciences assistant professor Brian Mealor has overseen student internships the past two and half years.

“The internship program is an opportunity to gain experience in their chosen field,” said Mealor. “These experiences can be positive or negative, but the students acquire first-hand insight into the challenges and opportunities associated with agroecology.”

The Department of Plant Sciences is commemorating the program’s 20 years with presentations during its Friday seminars Feb. 14 and Feb. 21.