Reaping student success in ag economics
Load by load, Pete and Dana Wenstrand bolstered their commitment to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by donating grain at their local Essex, Iowa, elevator.
As their investment grew so did their interest in providing a unique pathway for students to advance their education and career through an accelerated master’s degree in agricultural economics.
“We often give gifts of grain,” says Pete Wenstrand (’74 agricultural business). “Farming is our career and vocation, therefore, it’s more rewarding to give gifts of grain, rather than writing a check. Plus, it’s a nice tool for tax reasons. We simply scan a QR code at grain delivery and select who we’d like to receive the gift – for us that includes our church, FarmHouse fraternity and Iowa State University.”
Pete and his wife Dana, a College of Human Sciences grad, are members of the ISU Foundation Board of Governors and Forever True Campaign Committee for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They decided to use their gifts to revive a master’s program in agricultural economics. It’s a program Pete says he would have loved to complete at Iowa State, but since it didn’t exist in accelerated form at the time, he pursued a similar program at Purdue University.
“It’s really intense and serves students and their future employers well by building a solid skill set,” says Dana. “We didn’t really create something new, rather we found something on an old shelf and brought it back to life.”
In August 2020, the revitalized master’s degree in agricultural economics launched with a cohort of seven students. The program prepares graduates with advanced applied economics training in areas including risk analysis, commodity markets, agricultural finance and agricultural policy.
Students take coursework during the fall and spring and complete a dedicated research project during the summer. The summer research is conducted under the supervision of a professor and can match students with an industry, government or academic partner in their chosen field, combining classroom training in economics to address real-world challenges.
The Wenstrands furthered their commitment by supporting the faculty position that directs the program, and Hongli Feng was brought on board in January 2021. An assistant professor in the Department of Economics, Feng will hold the Professorship for Excellence in Agricultural Economics. She teaches and conducts research on economic issues pertinent to the agricultural sector, the environment and the interface of the two.
Holly Cook (’20 economics, agricultural business, ’21 MS agricultural economics) was a member of the inaugural cohort and credits the program for helping her land a position as an economist with the National Pork Producers Council in Washington, D.C. following graduation.
“The program perfectly complemented my undergraduate degree with more rigorous economics coursework and applied research experience,” Cook says. “The skills I developed through this program have opened doors for career opportunities that would not have otherwise been possible.”
That’s just the type of lasting impact the Wenstrands were hoping for when they delivered each load of grain.
“We were blessed with the ability to work hard and build assets,” Dana says. “As philanthropists, we are grateful to utilize these blessings and help serve the future of agriculture and Iowa State University.”
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Students interested in pursuing a master’s of science in agricultural economics should reach out to Hongli Feng at firstname.lastname@example.org, and those interested in offering support to the program or its students can contact Alyssa Ehrich at email@example.com.