UW’s Board of Regents recently approved a new undergraduate major in agroecology to be offered by CALS. The major, which students can declare starting in fall 2024, will focus on how to make agricultural systems more sustainable by simultaneously addressing global challenges like hunger, climate change, resource degradation, biodiversity decline and social inequality.

Agroecology employs ecology, sociology, economics and political science to improve the well-being of people. It explores how people manage organisms and the land. It also addresses how that management affects ecosystems and people’s interactions with the world around them through clean water, stable climate, fair employment and vital communities.

“Students are keying into the ecology of agricultural systems as they seek examples of how agriculture might be part of the solution to the big challenges we face,” says Randy Jackson, professor of plant and agroecosystem sciences. “Ag and food agencies are also emphasizing agroecological approaches as a way to shape a more sustainable future where environmental, social and economic dimensions are simultaneously addressed.”

Faculty and staff from several CALS departments including plant and agroecosystem sciences, entomology, plant pathology, soil science, and community and environmental sociology will instruct classes and mentor students. Undergraduates will learn through a ‘problem-based’ approach with opportunities for field work, lab research, community engagement and career activities. Foundational and core courses will provide groundwork, while flexible options will allow students to tailor their elective classes to suit their interests.

After taking courses in four thematic areas ­­(Organisms, Land, Ecosystems, and People), students will choose one for in-depth coursework. The “Organisms” theme will focus on plant and animal growth, development and breeding, while the “Land” theme will highlight cropping systems, soils and water management. Students choosing “Ecosystems” will study biotic and abiotic interactions resulting from management of Organisms and Land. In the “People” theme, students will explore issues of equity, justice and community and how these dimensions feedback to agroecosystems.

Graduates of the program will address growing employer needs as industries increasingly look for employees with broad knowledge of agricultural production, environmental health, and equity and inclusion as well as an ability to look at systems holistically. Some of the areas graduates may work in include conservation and environmental organizations, the agricultural industry, state and federal agencies, consulting and land management.

“Our hope is that students engage in an education that promotes the welfare and well-being of all people, that they develop skills and training in transdisciplinary processes and collaborations, and that they acquire expertise that is marketable and in high demand,” says Jackson.