Cale Bigelow, associate professor of agronomy, talks about opportunities in the department at the annual welcome-back gathering at Purdue University. The gathering is held at the beginning of every school year to welcome returning students and introduce faculty to freshman.
Cale Bigelow, associate professor of agronomy, talks about opportunities in the department at the annual welcome-back gathering at Purdue University. The gathering is held at the beginning of every school year to welcome returning students and introduce faculty to freshman.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Lee Schweitzer has been around Purdue University since his college days in the ‘70s.

Although he’s seen roads and buildings change, one thing hasn’t: The character and quality of Purdue’s Agronomy Department.

Schweitzer, a Purdue agronomy professor, described the department as a close-knit family of students and faculty.

His personal goal is to motivate students and maintain a tradition of excellence.

“Agronomy is at the intersection of genetics, soils, plants and the management of variables that manage yield,” Schweitzer said.

“I can attest the quality and caliber has not changed for many years. Our goal is really to provide a family setting and provide time to spend with each student. It’s not all about getting them across the finish line — it’s more about mentoring.”

The department consists of around 170 undergraduates studying one of six majors that range from crop science to plant genetics, breeding and biotechnology.

Students studying agronomy can rest assured they are taking an academic path with lots of potential, said Jane Wiercioch, undergraduate program coordinator.

“I’ve heard different families say, after they visited, they leave feeling at ease,” she said. “We have faculty advisers, which is rare on campus. It feels like a second home.”

Schweitzer said the department includes students with different talents and goals. From sales and management to turf science, there are many options for students interested in applying scientific principles.

“Agronomy is such a neat field,” Schweitzer said. “Our students have multiple offers, even starting after freshman year for internships.

“The neat thing about agronomy is we’re problem solvers. What we try to do is help students realize if they are helping clients solve problems, they never have to sell them a thing.”

Agronomists that go out of their way to serve their clients, he said, bring in sales without even trying.

“You never have to push, prod or misrepresent — you can always be straight-up and honest,” he said. “And instead of people hiding when you pull up, they will invite you in for breakfast.”

The department offers a plethora of clubs, study-abroad opportunities, internship experiences and Extension outreaches. But it all starts in the classroom.

Professors such as Schweitzer instill lessons by going beyond the minimum level of involvement and keeping an open-desk policy.

Generations of students walk through the doors each day, giving the department a sense of tradition that glues its people together.

“That’s why I’m passionate about this stuff,” Schweitzer said, pointing to an old photo of his father standing with a group of peers and their tractors. “My father went here. I see generations come through here. We feel a responsibility to take care of the heritage.”

To find out more about the majors offered, visit www.ag.purdue.edu/agry.