Starting on July 15, 2020, Wheeler will serve as a teaching assistant professor, taking over from James Durfey, who is nearing retirement after 28 years with the program. Wheeler will transition to lead the program following Durfey’s retirement.
One of the largest undergraduate majors in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, AgTM readies students for careers in precision agriculture, farming and forestry, nursery management, animal breeding, seed production, and food quality. AgTM combines physical and biological sciences with technology, mathematics, business, and practical subjects. Graduates are highly sought after, and leave the program prepared to own, operate, and manage their own business or serve private and government organizations.
“AgTM has a long record of training students to be successful in careers in the agricultural industry,” said Rich Koenig, chair of WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and managing faculty member for AgTM’s parent Agricultural and Food Systems degree program. “Our team looks forward to working with Tadd to evolve the program, and to ensure it continues to meet industry needs for a prepared workforce.”
“The opportunity to take the wheel of AgTM and help guide its future success is something I couldn’t pass up,” Wheeler said. “This program is incredibly effective, thanks to years of hard work by Jim Durfey, the enthusiasm of the students, the support of the university, industry stakeholders, and alumni.”
Wheeler comes to WSU from the University of Idaho’s Soil and Water Systems Department. For the last six years, he served as a senior instructor in the Agricultural Systems Management program. He has a broad background that joins trade skills such as welding and mechanical repair with a scientific background in forestry and ecology.
“My favorite disciplines are those in which a student can get useful, hands-on experience that they want to take home and apply, whether that is learning how to rebuild and maintain an engine, creating mechanical drawings in CAD software, or building GIS data layers for their family farm,” he said. “My favorite activities are troubleshooting exercises where I make something not work properly, and the students have to figure out what is wrong and fix it.”
Agriculture, and the tools that guide farming decisions and production, are evolving at a fast pace.
“Connecting industry with students, as well as progressive, pioneering students with other students creates the opportunity to combine foundational knowledge with cutting-edge technologies that are the future of agriculture,” Wheeler said.
Many AgTM courses are hands-on, and Wheeler plans to conduct face-to-face courses this fall, and seeks creative options, such as added space or multiple lab sessions, to ensure safety. He is also preparing to adapt to a virtual model based on classroom capacity and health concerns.
“If classes are unable to meet in person, I will do my best to come up with rewarding experiences that can be done remotely, such as virtual field trips and labs,” he said.