DSU ag department aims to make students welcome

DICKINSON, N.D. -- There are two coffee pots always going in the Agriculture Building on the Dickinson State University campus. Students walk from their classes with coffee in hand or the occasional cookie.

3220439+dsu ag department.jpg
Chip Poland reviews Senior integrated ranch management student Wacy Ortmann’s senior project during advisement on Thursday. (Kalsey Stults / The Dickinson Press)

DICKINSON, N.D. - There are two coffee pots always going in the Agriculture Building on the Dickinson State University campus. Students walk from their classes with coffee in hand or the occasional cookie.

A large portion of the students are accustomed to waking up early back home on their family farm or ranch, but Woodrow "Chip" W. Poland Jr., chair of the department of agriculture and technical studies, said those early morning classes still elicit an audible groan from students.

"Last semester we offered a class at 7 in the morning and I heard quite a bit of grumbling," he said. "But go to bed earlier."

Poland said some students have a tough transition going from the routine of farm life with their daily chores to settling into life as a college student.

Because of that, the department focuses on making the freshmen transition as seamless as possible.


Ag freshmen are signed up to take the same core classes like math and English on the main campus together.

"The typical ag student has some experience as being part of a group whether that was through 4-H or FFA or some sports team and it's our feeling that when they get here that they are looking for that connectivity and we try to give them an opportunity to create that," he said.

Senior ag student Wacy Ortmann's first traditional school experience started at DSU after being homeschooled his whole life.

"Coming here and experiencing school for the first time was kind of intimidating for the first few weeks," he said. "It's been a really positive experience. I've enjoyed it a lot."

Ortmann, an integrated ranch management major, is one of the many students that take trips back home to help out on the farm or ranch. He'll be making the drive to Lustre, Mont. as soon as spring break starts.

While Ortmann involved himself in college life by being on the baseball team and being a resident assistant on campus, Poland said that it can be a challenge to get students to engage in campus life.

"Occasionally it is a challenge to get them to fully experience college if they are gone every weekend back home or if they are gone all summer back home. For some that is a reality," he said.

Ortmann said he knows that the skills he has learned are invaluable when he goes back home to take over the livestock on his dad and grandfather's ranch.


"It's taught me as a student and a rancher to look at different situations and critically think about things and how I could improve what I'm doing," he said.

Poland said he urges students to find a club they enjoy whether that is the rodeo club, 4-H, range club, or collegiate farm bureau.

"It's our feeling that if they can feel like they are a part of this place then their likelihood of staying and their likelihood of being successful is greatly enhanced," he said. "Many of them come from strong family environments and when they get here they are looking for that. They may not express that in words but they are looking for that and we are trying to create that."

Poland advises students and he said though the department gives them the tools, sometimes it's about the students having to make the effort to be successful.

"They have to decide 'Do I want to stay in the ag department and do I want to get something out of this experience and if so, I'm going to have to work at it,'" he said.

Not only are the students having to put in some work, Poland is busy covering classes while down one professor. He said he usually teaches six credits but has been teaching an additional six this semester while also overseeing the rodeo program. Not to mention he also has administrative tasks, advises students, helps with senior projects and talks to prospective students.

"Keeps me out of trouble," he said.

The ag building which sits off campus has everything a student would need to live there. There's a couch in one room where it's been rumored students have taken naps, and there's a locker room along with showers and homemade snacks have been known to be placed by the front door.


It's not like any other buildings on campus, not only because of the smell of dirt from the indoor arena but because it lacks the sterility that some other buildings have, which leaves students feeling at home Poland said.

"The students that are in the ag department are more comfortable in this environment than they are on main campus," he said. "It adds to the feeling that they belong here."

What To Read Next
Get Local