“We’ve put together a practical program for students to get as much experience as possible,” Lewis says.

“We will sit down with students, learn their goals, and map out an internship and practicum for each one. We want students to see the entire picture of that aspect of agriculture.

“One semester they may be working with a farm, the next semester on the marketing side, and the next after that, with media.

“We’ve established a list of individuals and companies that will let them come in and intern, to give them a practical background so when they graduate they’ll be ready to go to work.”

Lewis thinks Warner ag graduates will be prepared to work in jobs as wide-ranging as the industry itself.

“This is definitely a broad-based program,” she says. “We’re finding that employers want employees who have a broad knowledge of many areas of agriculture.

“Our graduates will know something about a lot of things — agronomy, citrus production, ag mechanics, sustainability, and many other areas. We want to insure that our students know about all the components of agriculture.”

The university established an advisory council to help map out a program that potential employers, as well as students, would find most valuable.

“We’re bringing the entire ag sector together to help guide us,” she says.

Ag classes will start in August 2013. Students are already enrolled for the program,  however, and will take a wide-ranging agriculture course this spring to teach them about global issues in the business.

“Since this is a church-related school, there is a missions component, too,” Lewis says. “We’re planning to go to Honduras that first year to teach people there how to grow food and diversify their food supply.

“This will be through the HEART (Hunger, Education and Resources Training) Institute located here on campus.

“We’re hoping to open their eyes to the world as freshmen, so they know the depth of this industry and understand that they’re not just in a little bubble here in central Florida. There are a lot of issues you can’t really understand until you’ve been there and seen it and talked to the people.”

Right now, Lewis stays busy explaining the new program to people throughout the area.

“I hope the ag industry will support us,” she says. “While we’re a private school, we’re still non-profit. We have to raise money for building facilities. We hope industry stakeholders will feel an investment with us is a good thing, in order to build this program.

“What we’re doing is supporting the future of Florida agriculture. I really believe a lot more young people would be working in ag right now if they had a different option for a college education.”

Warner University, started in 1968 as Warner Southern College, is fully accredited, Lewis says, and is looking to expand into other academic areas, as well as athletics.

“We think the agriculture program is going to be a great opportunity for the university and for students. I get calls every day from people wanting information about the program. We had a booth at the state FFA meeting and the feedback was amazing,” she says.