by Jason Rochelle, Program Officer
North Carolina’s agriculture industry is constantly evolving due to changing consumer demand and new technologies. Our state’s long-term success as an agricultural leader depends heavily on the ability of our educational institutions to provide a sufficient supply of skilled professionals capable of meeting these evolving needs.
One of our state’s leaders in agriculture education, Dr. Sandy Maddox, has recently retired from her position as Dean of the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at the University of Mount Olive (UMO). Dr. Maddox has been involved in several Golden LEAF-funded initiatives at UMO.
“As Dr. Maddox begins her retirement this summer, we reflect on her many accomplishments and celebrate the successes achieved by University of Mount Olive’s agriculture programs under her guidance,” said Scott T. Hamilton, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer. “Her tenure was instrumental in ensuring the state has a strong agricultural workforce today and in the future. Dr. Maddox, thank you for your leadership and for being a great partner to Golden LEAF.”
Dr. Maddox shared how her interest in agriculture began. She recalled that her love for animals started as a child spending time in her father’s pet store in Charlotte. As she grew and began considering a vocation, Dr. Maddox initially wanted to be a veterinarian and enrolled in North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) pre-vet program. Over time, however, her interest turned toward farming and agricultural research. She began working as an Ag Research Technician at NCSU, where she eventually earned a master’s degree in Soil Science. Following graduate school, she began working in the field as a Horticultural Extension Agent, later becoming the County Extension Director for Pender County. After eight years in that position, Dr. Maddox moved back into research with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services where she became the Director of the Research Stations Division.
In 2007, Dr. Maddox made her move to the University of Mount Olive, where she served in various roles before being named Dean of the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Dr. Maddox is quick to point out the solid foundation established by her predecessor, Dr. Don Scott, who initiated the University’s Agribusiness Bachelor of Science degree program and served as the first Director of the Agribusiness Center before his passing in 2005. When Dr. Maddox arrived in 2007, UMO’s administration expressed an interest not only in growing its existing Agribusiness Program, but also in establishing an Agriculture Education degree program. The Agriculture Education program started soon thereafter through a 3+1 collaboration with NCSU. Since UMO could not yet license teachers, students completed three years of agriculture education coursework at UMO and finished their last year through the partnership with NCSU. Through the diligent work, UMO was approved to begin offering educational degrees in Agricultural Education in 2011.
Though Dr. Maddox praises her colleagues for many of the accomplishments of UMO’s agriculture programs, its growth and progress since her arrival is clear. When Dr. Maddox began in 2007, there were only two agriculture degree programs serving twelve students. Today, there are nine in-person degree programs and two online programs serving over three hundred students. In its early years, the academic facilities serving agriculture programs were limited to a single plastic greenhouse. The program now has a Teaching Greenhouse, Lath House, 3-acre Arboretum & Fitness Garden, Ag Mechanics Shop, a 5,000-square-foot Commodity Handling Facility located on the Kornegay Student Farm, and the Shady Grove Farm, which is currently under development.
Not only have the course offerings and facilities grown, but Dr. Maddox has also increased the funding to support UMO agriculture projects from $230,000 in 2007, to nearly $6.5 million in 2023. A portion of UMO’s agriculture funding has come through strategic investments by the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors. Golden LEAF was the first entity to support the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center with just under $100,000 in funding to launch the Agribusiness Center in 2001. Later awards of $69,568 and $51,722 in 2002 and 2003 helped further cement the central role of the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center among the University’s agriculture programs.
In 2017, Golden LEAF again invested in UMO with an award of $200,000 toward the construction of the Agricultural and Education Building at the Kornegay Student Farm. Under the guidance of Dr. Maddox, the Farm now provides college students with experiential hands-on learning opportunities on a working farm. Not only has the Farm delivered enhanced indoor and outdoor learning environments for the University’s students, but it also serves as a platform for regional high school agricultural education and Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs, as a training facility for the agricultural community, and an undergraduate and faculty research hub.
Dr. Maddox most recently spearheaded development of the University’s Educational Livestock Facility. Made possible by a significant investment from the North Carolina General Assembly, a generous private donation of land, and $500,000 in funding from Golden LEAF, the new Facility will provide a unique training experience for students preparing for high demand jobs in our state’s livestock industry and will serve as an additional research site for students and faculty.
With the many achievements UMO’s agriculture programs have seen under her tenure, Dr. Maddox says her greatest source of pride in her time at the University is her students.
“To see each of the students I have had an opportunity to engage with find their passion and become a unique individual is what has made my journey at UMO the most fulfilling,” said Dr. Maddox. “I am so proud of what so many of our graduates have achieved and the impact that they are making not only in their careers, but as importantly in the communities in which they work and live.”
Dr. Maddox offered a few thoughts on the agriculture industry over the next 5-10 years and the role UMO will likely play. She explained that one area of growth in the industry will be the use of precision technology.
“In the future, this will not only include the use of precision equipment, but the generated data and interpretation and application of this information will be critical in making production decisions, which will allow producers to remain profitable and sustainable as input costs continue to increase,” said Dr. Maddox. “That is why the University’s Educational Livestock Facility is dedicating significant time and resources to training students through a Precision Agriculture curriculum currently in development with local industry partners.”
Additionally, Dr. Maddox points to the recent increase in federal funding for the development of Local Agriculture Market Program Grants; Grants for Local, Regional Food Producers; Organic Market Development Grants; and Local Meat Capacity Grants. She indicates that these are excellent opportunities for producers and the local agricultural industry to pivot. The development of food hubs and food distribution centers, organic and gap certification opportunities to increase market diversification, value-added locally produced commodities all are offered as opportunities for study within the University’s agriculture programs.
“UMO stands ready to lead by offering its students hands-on learning opportunities in each of these areas,” said Dr. Maddox. “Further, it challenges those students to lead by developing their own marketing and production solutions to address these issues.”
To read more about Dr. Maddox’s career, click here.