Just when most of the talk from campuses revolves around budget cuts and reduced offerings, little Warner University pops up with a brand-new agriculture program.

The Lake Wales, Fla., school will enroll the first students this fall for its Bachelor of Arts in Agricultural Studies degree, with classes kicking off next fall.

With just 1,100 students and operated by the Church of God–Indiana, the move seems a bit unusual — which gets no argument from Lauren Lewis, the university’s director of agricultural studies.

“We think the traditional universities have been missing the boat on some students interested in ag, particularly the land-grant universities, by being so research-focused,” she says.

“For the student who wants to work hands-on in agriculture, it’s hard to get into those research opportunities without a very high grade point average. We’re here for students who want to work in agriculture, on farms and with agribusinesses. Some may want to go on to graduate school but we think a lot will want to go right to work after getting their degree here.”

Lewis, 24, a native of nearby Haines City, grew up in a cattle-raising family involved with trucking fruit, melons and vegetables. Throughout childhood, she was influenced by 4-H and FFA, and was a state vice president of FFA in 2006-2007.

She went on to graduate from Auburn University with a degree in agricultural business and economics, and an agricultural leadership studies minor. She got an M.S. in agricultural education at Texas A&M University, graduating this May.

Developing the Warner program in Lake Wales is her first post-college job.

“I have a passion for this,”she says. “I am very excited about it.” She notes that Warner is building greenhouses with hydroponics and other facilities on 15 acres of its campus.

Students will begin core agriculture courses as freshmen and are encouraged to minor in complementary programs like biology, business and communications, or even pre-law. From the start, the focus will be hands-on work.

“Adjunct professors will teach many of the courses,” Lewis says. “We are getting industry leaders to teach the classes.”

Every two weeks, students will go to area ag-related businesses and farms to see firsthand how they operate. In addition, they will intern with farms and businesses at least 45 hours each semester.