The Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University has just celebrated its 100th birthday. The instructors, students, technology and career opportunities have changed considerably over the last ten decades but the mission of the Department has not, and that is to prepare young people to succeed and become leaders in our nation’s most important industry, agriculture.
In 1911, Erwin Madden was hired as the first professor of agriculture at Illinois State Normal University. Professor Madden moved quickly to establish a University Farm and by 1914 farm buildings and a house for the farm manager had been constructed. That farm was located at the north edge of campus where the current Ropp Agriculture Building is located. The fields extended west and south where now Horton Fieldhouse, Redbird Arena and Turner Hall are located. Enrollment in the agriculture program grew rapidly given the increase in the demand for agriculture teachers at Illinois high schools. Because of the need to construct new classrooms, athletic facilities and dormitories near campus the ISU farm was moved to the northwest edge of campus on Gregory Street. As the Town of Normal grew, inevitably the University farm needed to be relocated once again. In 2000, ISU purchased the FS Research Farm near Lexington, Illinois. Buildings at that location were renovated and new buildings were constructed. Today the ISU Farm at Lexington provides state of the art facilities for research and teaching, and each year hosts hundreds of visitors. The Horticulture Center located just off of Rabb Road was established in 2006 and is the latest addition to the Department’s teaching and research facilities. The Horticulture Center offers students and the general public an opportunity to view a number of gardens made up of hundreds of different plant species.
The agricultural curriculum at ISU has changed to reflect the evolution of the agriculture industry. By the 1960’s Illinois State Normal University had evolved into a comprehensive university and was now called Illinois State University. An agriculture major with specific sequences in agronomy, livestock science and teacher education was developed and in the mid-1970’s a new major, agribusiness, was offered. In 1992, the ISU Agriculture Department established a Master’s program in Agribusiness and later launched a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science. The Department’s current curriculum reflects today’s wide range of specialized fields in agriculture. Student’s can now concentrate in horticulture and landscape design, agricultural communication and leadership, food industry management, pre-veterinary studies as well as the traditional fields of study such as agribusiness, agronomy, livestock science and agricultural education.
The Department of Agriculture’s Centennial Celebration featured a number of events for alumni, students and the general public. These included the 1911 Dinner at the Horticulture Center that featured food commonly offered in 1911, an old fashion barn dance and Agriculture Day at an ISU football game. The celebration culminated in a 100th Anniversary Gala that featured Max Armstrong as the keynote speaker.
While reflecting on the accomplishments of the last 100 years, the Department of Agriculture faculty and staff look forward to the challenges and opportunities agriculture will present in the next 100 years.