By Johnny Jackson
Dozens of area students make the trek south to the small, rural town of Tifton, Ga., to pursue a post-secondary education at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). They may have more reason to make the 150-mile trip this fall. ABAC is unveiling a new bachelor's degree program.
The college will offer a Bachelor's of Applied Science Degree in Natural Resource Management, with majors in Forestry Management, and Wildlife Management, beginning in August 2011, according to ABAC President David Bridges.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved ABAC's new degree program at its meeting in Atlanta, on Feb. 9.
"Being an Abraham Baldwin Alumni and teacher, I'm extremely excited to see that they are offering a well-rounded Agriculture and Natural Resources four-year program," said Eve Felton, the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Ola High School in McDonough.
Felton said five of her students at Ola, this year, have been accepted to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College for the fall. She said two of her students from last school year, are currently majoring in Agriculture Education and Wildlife Management at the college.
"Agriculture and Natural Resources are our state's number one industry, and I'm thrilled my students are enrolling at ABAC to pursue their passion in these fields of study," she continued. "Our students here at Ola will hopefully be able to come back to Henry County, and work with DNR [Department of Natural Resources], or a private company in the area."
College President David Bridges said Georgia's forest resources have a direct economic impact of $16 billion annually, and a total impact of $26 billion. He said graduates of the program will find employment in government and private sector organizations that deal with the state's and the region's natural resources.
"Natural Resource Management really completes the foundation of bachelor's degrees in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources that we have been building on for a while," said Bridges. "This is a degree we have been working on for a very long time. I believe it will be one of our most popular programs."
The college's objective, he added, is to have graduates of the new program fill important roles in the timberland industry, the plantation industry, and other related tourism industries.
Chad Abbott, of Martinez, Ga., is enrolled at ABAC. He said has been waiting for the degree program to come to fruition so that he could stay and earn a bachelor's degree.
"It's really nice being down here," said Abbott, 21. "I've created such a great rapport with a lot of the teachers and advisors."
Abbott said he had pursued a degree in Forest Management in the college's two-year transfer program, and now will be able to earn a four-year degree at ABAC.
"It goes to show that ABAC is maturing as a college," he said. "It's opening up a lot more possibilities for the students. I want to be a forester, which manages timber. I want to be able to help fight fires out West. And with a four-year degree, I plan on going federal."
Abbott is one in ABAC's 3,284-student population, which consists of 48 students from Henry and Clayton counties, and others from eight states, and 19 countries, according to ABAC Public Relations Assistant Ashley Williamson.
Williamson acknowledged the college's most popular major is nursing, but has its mainstay majors in forestry and agriculture.
"Georgia is a net importer of professionals in forestry and wildlife careers, and the southeastern U.S. will continue to play a major role in supplying our country with forest resources," said Dr. Tim Marshall, Dean of ABAC's School of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "We now have bachelor's degrees to support the needs of employers who are hiring in agriculture, the green industry, and natural resources."
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