CROOKSTON, Minn. - He said he didn’t see himself farming. “I grew up a little north and east of Crookston, I never knew agriculture would be part of my career path, Proulx said.” Rob Proulx, Ph.D, University of Minnesota Crookston, agronomy lecturer, started his undergraduate studies as a business major and transferred to UMN Crookston earning his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and later a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. “A couple years later I began pursuing a Ph.D. in earth systems science and policy.”
So he has come full circle. He said it really began when he accepted a summer job right out of high school at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center (NWROC). “It opened my eyes to a broader view of agriculture and agronomy. I didn’t see myself farming, but there are so many opportunities out there even if you don’t think you want to be in ag.”
In the most basic sense, he said agronomy is plant production, harnessing and making food from those plants. In a more philosophical sense, he continued, “it’s the harnessing of the sun, the soil, air, and water through the beauty of plants, helping farmers and producers harness the resources they have to produce food, fiber, fuel, and crops as efficiently, profitable, and environmentally sound as they can.”
UMN Crookston has deep roots in agriculture and agricultural degrees serving the region and state. One example to help illustrate that are the graduates who remain in northwest Minnesota. “The impact of UMN Crookston’s agronomy program has enabled graduates to go anywhere. Our agronomy graduates have embedded themselves in companies located in this region. Over the course of the past six months, I have noticed American Crystal Sugar Company, a company that is a strong contributor to our economy, like a third of their agriculturist staff are graduates from UMN Crookston.”
Proulx championed UMN Crookston’s student to faculty connection. “It is special; the opportunity for students to connect with faculty and the emphasis on teaching and advising that is done at UMN Crookston.” He said he teaches courses at all grade levels, so seeing the student along the way as they advance through the program to graduation is special. Crookston’s commitment to hands-on, experiential learning, utilizing campus greenhouses, laboratories, and field trips as part of the student experience really creates a broad base and overview of agronomy. Proulx went on to say UMN Crookston’s agronomy program is more than a crop science program; it covers the whole array of agronomy careers. He said the difference is the seed and grain industries, “students really get a broad based overview of agronomy, that is a unique aspect at the Crookston campus.”
One thing that was particularly impactful in shaping Proulx’s career was his time as a student and working with his advisor at the time, Associate Professor of Agronomy Chuck Habstritt. “I never really considered graduate school, something I had no concept of with my background.” He said as he neared graduation, Habstritt put an idea in his mind “you know you should consider going to graduate school.” Proulx said without that conversation and input he wouldn’t be at UMN Crookston today. “Without his intervention, without that same guidance, I wouldn’t be teaching here today. I wouldn’t have the necessary qualifications to teach undergraduate courses. I wouldn’t be on the same career path I am on right now.” Proulx said it was that formative moment for him which allowed him to understand and clearly embrace that connection with a faculty member, “they get to know you, they can give you advice you couldn’t’ get if they didn’t know you real well”. He said, “UMN Crookston makes that experience happen.”
Proulx has taught at the Crookston campus for 12 years during that time he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching award at the end of 2018. “This award came from my peers, a very nice award to be recognized and having that recognition has fueled me to keep pushing forward in improving my craft as an instructor.”
Proulx said his favorite thing about teaching agronomy is trying to improve his understanding of pedagogies, effective teaching, and learning strategies to integrate those into the classes he teaches. He strives to be better, to understand how to best serve students, organize courses, run a classroom, and provide each student with the best learning opportunity and classroom environment. “I can see there will always be room to tweak and improve and keep things fresh with this mindset. Relationships between faculty and students are so important.”
Chuck Habstritt was in Proulx’s role when he was a student. He’d like to give a shout out to Chuck; as he is enjoying his retired (2009) life splitting time between Arizona And Minnesota. “He has done a lot to help set me on this path.” Proulx said he would keep the tradition going at the University of Minnesota Crookston, there are many to which Habstritt and now Proulx continue to make an impact. Habstritt, as he retired, stated he counts the successes of the UMN Crookston Crops Team and its alumni as one of the proudest accomplishments of his teaching career. It is clear Habstritt left the agronomy program in good hands.
You can view more on YouTube an interview with Rob Proulx and “all things agronomy” found here.