I have a prepared statement for people who mock my school.
If I feel like someone is even thinking about criticizing ABAC I tell them, “You’re welcome.” You’re welcome for the food on your plate and the clothes on your back because the people at my school know how to make the things you need to live.
That’s completely true, and when my momentary opponents realize that, they don’t have much else to say.
But I should probably admit something, I’m not one of the students that learn how to grow crops and properly care for animals. My main argument could easily be used against me; luckily it hasn’t yet. When I have to explain that I’m a Rural Studies major, I need to have an even better explanation of my presence at an agricultural college. But first I have to know, what is Rural Studies?
Robinson explained that on one hand the Rural Studies program’s focus is to take students who are interested in revitalizing rural communities and teach them how to get back into those communities after school to work from a knowledge base to help rural communities thrive and prosper.
On the other hand, the Rural Studies program is able to prepare students interested in working within a corporate world or government world where important decisions are made about rural communities.
“There may be next to no contact between that corporation or that government agency and the real rural world,” said Robinson. Rural Studies students can bridge the gap between those two, sometimes distant worlds. “We are training students to be liaisons between the rural and the distant professional.”
The Rural Studies program also works to adequately prepare students for graduate school. “[There is a] very broad based preparation for graduate school or, as I said, for working to help revive and make rural communities thrive again or to be the intermediary between decision makers in [rural] areas.”
According to Earl Denham, Assistant Professor for the Stafford School of Business, “[Rural Studies is] looking at the systems that we have, systems meaning quality of life living in a rural environment, what’s available in a rural environment, what opportunities do we have in a rural environment and the benefits, and what can be done to sustain our [rural communities and rural lifestyle.]”
Denham explained further that students in the Rural Studies program are able to understand what is happening in a rural community and see that there are opportunities for them to contribute to rural communities.
“I see it more as a modernist vision of America, one in which there’s still the possibility of expansionism of growth, of being more than you were in the last decade,” Dr. Thomas Grant, Assistant Professor of Journalism, said, “rather than a post-modernist view that most colleges have, in which we’re talking about trying to do more with less.”
Grant explained that Rural Studies symbolized what rural communities are based on, a perspective of independence and self-reliance. The Rural Studies program and the type of community it represents appreciate finding opportunity and “bootstrapping.”
“There’s that ability of people to make a world where they didn’t have a world before, so there’s a pioneering spirit within Rural Studies,” said Grant.
With a pioneering spirit comes an entrepreneurial spirit. Dr. Grant suggests that other people may see life after college as simply getting a job, but Rural Studies students see it as, “How am I going to prepare to make my way in the world?” and not, “How am I going to prepare myself to become a cog is someone else's machine?”
“Maybe that’s a subtle difference,” says Dr. Grant, “but I think that’s a significant attitude change.”
There is this idea of a system of working hard, making good grades, and getting a corporate job that will take care of you for the rest of your life. “But if you go back to our agrarian roots, and ABAC rises out of those agrarian roots, we have a world in which
one has to plant their own seeds, till their own soil, and then market their own goods. That’s a very self-reliant, a very independent, a very courageous kind of world they lived in. As we moved into the industrial age we’ve changed our attitudes about that.”
Rural Studies encourages students to embrace that agrarian philosophy of self-determination. “We are making [the Rural Studies program] very practical, so a large portion of your education is going to be out working with other people, and we are going to prepare you to work in places where you will have to make your own way.”
Grant went on to say that students who are capable of paving their own way are what industries are looking for, even what they need. “The monolithic organizations that used to hire people and care for them for their life are falling apart.”
The agrarian, pioneering, and entrepreneurial spirit does not guarantee job security for life. “You have to be self-reliant. You have to have your own skills, your own ability to see how to make things happen. And that’s what I think Rural Studies is about,” Grant said.
He addressed the fact that after graduation there are several possibilities for Rural Studies students. All of those possibilities include making your own space within a community.
“You might create your own space by going to school here, getting a couple internships with some community development organizations, and then getting out [into the community] identifying needs, building organizations. When people come out of ABAC, especially in small towns, they’re not going to be worker-bee followers; they’re going to have to be the leaders,” he said.
After graduation, Dr. Grant asks, what is ABAC seeing? Students are getting community development jobs or economic development jobs or communications jobs or working for small companies, where it’s important for them to help those communities grow. Students are getting political jobs; politics is always entrepreneurial. “They should feel confident to make their own way because they’ve made their own way here.”
Rural Studies is hard to explain because it is so broad and all encompassing. But that’s also what makes it so appealing. People enter the Rural Studies program as students and leave as leaders. Independence and self-reliance are easy for Rural Studies graduates because they had to establish themselves not only in school, but out in the real world, in their own communities.
As Robinson said, Rural Studies majors can revitalize communities, bridge gaps between the rural and the decision makers, and/or prepare for graduate school. As Denham said, Rural Studies students learn to seek, create, and take opportunities to contribute to their communities. And, as Grant said, Rural Studies students understand independence and possibility.
So despite the fact that I don’t have a direct relationship with agriculture, I have a place at ABAC. Rural Studies for me is different from every one of my peers, but it is for me and it is for them. Rural Studies is a shapeless mold, fit for anyone willing to learn, gain experience, and lead.
Because of ABAC and Rural Studies, I notice and appreciate my rural surroundings. I like that when I drive onto campus calves run alongside my car while nonchalant mothers pay me no attention. I like that when I look out of my car window, wide expansive fields greet me. I like that there is a history of independence and strength in my community and I get to be a part of that. My peers and I get to be a part of a better future for our rural community and for the rural world.
So if anyone asks, I’ll tell them, “Rural Studies is growing the future.”