WOOSTER, Ohio — In 2012, Cody Bower enrolled in the very first class of the renewable energy program at The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI). One year later, he had full-time employment in his field of study.
“After my first year, I enrolled in a summer internship through Ohio State ATI at the city of Wooster’s Water Pollution Control Plant,” said Bower, a graduate of Northwestern High School in Wayne County, Ohio.
“I was taught various laboratory procedures, and part way through that summer, I was offered a full-time position as an assistant operator. It was very amazing to be gainfully employed by my 20th birthday because of the opportunities granted to me by the renewable energy program.”
In the coming fall, Bower will receive his associate degree with specializations in bioenergy and in solar and wind technologies, along with a job and more than two years of professional experience.
Bower’s journey is not unusual at Ohio State ATI, which is the two-year degree-granting institution of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the awarding of associate degrees in agriculture and related sciences.
In fact, about 70 percent of Ohio State ATI students who are planning to obtain full-time employment after graduation have a job in hand before they get their diploma.
With an open admissions system and affordable tuition that is much lower than on the university’s Columbus campus, the institute offers 30 associate degrees and three certificates. After graduating, students can join the labor force or transfer to the Columbus campus to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Ohio State ATI’s largest and most traditional programs prepare students for careers in livestock production and management, agricultural business, agronomy, crop management and soil conservation, and horse production and management.
Additionally, the institute offers programs in nonproduction agriculture fields, including landscape horticulture, turfgrass management, floral design and marketing, construction systems management, and the newest offering — renewable energy.
Ohio State ATI’s floral design and marketing degree is the only university program in the field in Ohio and surrounding states, and one of very few in the nation, said Terry Lanker, coordinator of the floral design program and chair of the Horticultural Technologies Division.
“Our students learn in two years what it would take someone in the industry as much as 10 years to learn,” Lanker said. “They learn how to make beautiful flower arrangements and also how to market and run a business.”
Marie Arnold, a 2014 floral design graduate, said the program appealed to her because she was interested in a career that was active and creative.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all day,” said Arnold, a native of Smithville, Ohio, who this week accepted a full-time position as designer with a florist in Columbus, Ohio.
Both Arnold and Bower said a key to their success is Ohio State ATI’s emphasis on “learning by doing” and the opportunities to enroll in internships while completing a degree.
Arnold, like all floral design majors, gained real-world experience working in the campus’s flower shop. She also did paid internships at flower shops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which boosted her credentials for employment.
Other assets that set Ohio State ATI apart are its specialized facilities that foster active learning, including a 1,700-acre farm and an 18-hole public golf course, Hawk’s Nest. The golf course allows turfgrass management majors to practice what they learn in the classroom and become highly employable at country clubs and sports fields.
A turfgrass program graduate, Renee Geyer is now assistant superintendent of the prestigious Firestone Country Club golf course in Akron, Ohio. She is one of only a few women in a male-dominated industry and will be presented with Ohio State ATI’s Young Professional Award March 7.
Ohio State ATI also appeals to students by offering new programs in emerging sectors of the economy. For instance, the renewable energy program is unique within Ohio State and is the only degree program in the United States with a bioenergy component, said Russ Yoder, visiting assistant professor.
“Renewable energy is a new field, and an associate degree will get you in the industry,” he said. “We appeal to students who want to do something different, who want to join a field with job opportunities and little competition, and who want to have the opportunity to be leaders at a young age.”
Bower, who said he has always been fascinated with the possibility of becoming energy independent from fossil fuels, found this program to be the perfect fit for him.
“I would encourage anyone who wants to be challenged and succeed to take part in ATI’s renewable energy program,” he said. “It will provide you with all the hands-on experience you could possibly want. This program is very flexible and gives you the possibility of going as far as you are willing to challenge yourself.”
Learn more about Ohio State ATI’s programs at ati.osu.edu/find-your-major.