The New Influencers

ALEC launches doctoral program to prepare future leaders of ag industry


A new doctoral program in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication (ALEC) at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been approved and has begun accepting applicants for its first cohort in fall 2020. 

The new degree program is the second graduate program for the department, which also offers a master’s degree in agricultural and environmental education, and has been in the works for more than five years, said ALEC Department Head Leslie Edgar. 

“There isn’t another doctoral degree program like this in the state, and the intent is to help better serve individuals who are interested in pursuing education in agricultural education, leadership and communications,” Edgar added. “Many of our graduate students are going into industry and politics, areas that require a global perspective, and we are incorporating subjects including global leadership and global impact to offer a broader perspective for doctoral students.” 

The deadline for applying for the first cohort of doctoral candidates in ALEC is Feb. 1, 2020. 

“What makes this program unique for us is that it will allow all of our new doctoral students to take courses from each of the core concentration areas in the degree program. This will help build the department’s research capacity in each of those areas,” Edgar said. The three concentration areas for the degree program are leadership, agricultural and extension education, and science communication. 

“Growing agriculture research and leadership is important for Georgia’s No. 1 industry and redefining science communications to educate the public on the science behind what we do is essential for the agricultural industry not only in the state, but nationally and globally,” Edgar added. “Having a program for industry leaders to be able to move from mid-level to advanced leadership and graduating students with the skill sets and capacity in leadership theory and practice to step into those roles is crucial to the future of the industry.” 

Nick Fuhrman, professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication, helped shepherd the application and approval process for the new doctoral program with input from the whole ALEC faculty. 

“Five years ago, we had quite a few junior faculty — energetic folks who were passionate about teaching — and we discussed that, if we really wanted to up our game in terms of scholarship and our research program, having a doctoral program would help us to get to national prominence as a program,” Fuhrman said. 

Those discussions led to an examination of doctoral programs at peer institutions — including the University of Florida and Texas A&M University — to determine how best to meet market needs with a program at UGA. 

“The program was a blank canvas for us. We could determine what we wanted our doctoral graduates to look like compared to those coming from other programs,” Fuhrman said. “We performed a needs assessment that started by looking at what already existed, what other programs were doing, what gaps there were that the others weren’t addressing and that we believed our students could add to the ALEC discipline nationally.” 

While other programs focus on preparing doctoral students for tenure-track faculty positions, Fuhrman and his colleagues saw a need among potential students for a program that would prepare them for executive-level opportunities throughout the agricultural industry. 

The ALEC doctoral program will hone students’ skills in academic research, but also teach them how to influence change through education, communication and leadership, Fuhrman said. 

“We will be able to prepare future faculty members, but we also want to prepare folks to go into industry, consulting, international development — a focus that was not being met out there to prepare folks to do those jobs and not just faculty jobs,” Fuhrman said. “There is not another doctoral-granting university in Georgia that offers a program like this.” 

Having a doctoral program also will strengthen the ALEC faculty’s research programs and provide teaching experience for students. 

“We have faculty who work in science communications within agricultural communications that will make this a strong suit in this program,” Fuhrman added. 

More information on the ALEC doctoral program is available at alec. 

By Maria M. Lameiras