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Hall County Schools, UGA reach enrollment agreement in agriculture
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The Hall County School District signs a dual enrollment agreement Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, with the University of Georgia at Howard E. Ivester Early College. From left are Josef Broder, Jere W. Morehead, Will Schofield and Nick Place. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County high school seniors wanting to kick start their careers in agriculture now have another dual-enrollment option: The University of Georgia. 

On Monday, Hall County Schools signed a “history making” agreement with UGA, creating a new dual-enrollment program called the Ivester Rising Scholars Program. 

The Howard E. Ivester Early College, a dual-enrollment campus in Hall County with about 450 students, will partner with UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. 

The Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation donated $150,000 to the program. Doug Ivester, former CEO of Coca Cola, and his wife, Kay, are known throughout Hall County for their philanthropy in education.

For the past six years, Hall County Schools has partnered with Brenau University, Lanier Technical College and the University of North Georgia. 

But the UGA partnership is the “crown jewel,” Doug Ivester said. “It’s a really big deal.” 

“It’s very important as we look for ways to support the No. 1 industry in Georgia — agriculture — to find new pathways to encourage students to major in that important field,” said UGA President Jere Morehead. 

Agriculture is Georgia’s leading industry, accounting for $69.4 billion of the state’s $1.1 trillion economy and more than 352,430 jobs, according to data compiled by UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. 

“Here in Hall County, the impact of agriculture is great,” said Nick Place, dean and director of UGA’s CAES. “Everywhere you look, there's farms. There's over 550 farms here in the county, 41,000 acres of land and about 98% of the sales fall under livestock and poultry.” 

Gainesville is known as the poultry capital of the world. 

Those involved in the creation of the program, including Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield, spoke in no uncertain terms about its timeliness and importance. 

“When I talk to the fathers and mothers of the agribusiness industry, they tell me, ‘We’re facing a crisis. Young people are not showing the interest in agribusiness that the economy demands,’” Schofield said. “We better wake up and find a way to show our young people that there are opportunities in logistics, genetics and research, and husbandry and find ways to show them where those opportunities are in agribusiness.” 

Place added: “Frankly, we need a lot more young people getting involved in the field of agriculture.” 

Three students have already enrolled and are taking courses at UGA, including Introductory Regenerative Bioscience and Animals in Society.

That experience has already led Flowery Branch High School senior Chloe Mootz to consider a career in regenerative bioscience instead of veterinary medicine. 

“I’m very interested in the sciences,” she said. “Someone just offered poultry science to me, that I would have never thought about, but now I’m thinking about these things.” 

Walker Barrett, a senior at East Hall High School, said he was initially interested in a career in agricultural engineering, but after being exposed to the plethora of fields in the industry, he is now more keen on owning his own processing business.

“Ivester’s definitely opening up a lot of different doors for us,” said Aydan Plumlee, a senior at Cherokee Bluff Middle School, who added that she is considering a career in environmental conservation. “Through the UGA program, we’re given the opportunity to find what we’re truly passionate about.” 

“It’s been really great,” she said. 

The new dual-enrollment program is the latest development in Hall County Schools’ focus on agriculture. 

In Oct. 2021, the school system opened its 51-acre Agribusiness Center, where students get hands-on experience in animal husbandry, food processing and land management. In March, the state allocated $2.5 million for a meat processing center. 

And while agribusiness is the focus now, it may be just the beginning of UGA’s partnership with Hall County Schools. 

“We think the Ivester Rising Scholars Program is going to serve as a pilot for many other things that we can do with this wonderful school system,” Morehead said. “I am so impressed by what I see in Hall County. I wish I saw that in other places in Georgia. What you have going here is something really special.”