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Reshaping the perspective of agriculture – one community at a time

Velda Hendricks, an Oregon State Ecampus student in the agricultural sciences program, works outdoors observing changes in soil layers. She holds a notebook in her lap as she crouches. Her right hand holds a pencil pointed at a soil profile tape measure.

Velda Hendricks, pictured above, is applying the skills she learned in her classes to examine the soil by observing changes in color, structure, texture and pore size, and measuring the depth of each horizon.

By Karina Ruiz Lopez
August 27, 2018

Velda Hendricks has her sights set high: She wants to become the first female commissioner of agriculture in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And she’s not giving up until she achieves her dream.

But sometimes dreams need to be put on hold to attend to what matters most. For Velda, that’s her family. So when her family needed her care, she did what many would do and temporarily dropped out of her postsecondary education so she could provide for her family.

After a few years, Velda returned to school to complete a teaching certificate through a technical school in Jamaica, which allowed her to teach agriculture for 10 years in her homeland in the Caribbean, St. Kitts. Later, Velda migrated to the Virgin Islands, where she currently resides. This is where she first noticed a need for agriculture education in local schools and communities.

“I see the positive impact it can have on the Virgin Islands economy by providing jobs and generating income, and providing more locally grown fresh foods to families’ plate,” she says.

Now as the director of agriculture for the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education, Velda is uniquely positioned to start creating the change she wants to see. But there was still one roadblock: she didn’t have a degree in agricultural sciences.

Determined to advance in her field and make a difference in her community, Velda enrolled in Oregon State University’s agricultural sciences degree program delivered online through Oregon State Ecampus. With the flexibility that comes with learning online, it was a perfect fit for her personal and professional lives.

“Oregon State is giving me this opportunity that will steer me in the right direction.”

She plans to use the knowledge she’s acquiring to solve local challenges and to advocate for agriculture, including reforming misconceptions about the field.

“There is this negative conception that agriculture is only about growing plants and animals, but it involves so much technology, science and economics,” Velda says. “When I teach agricultural science, I show my students the business aspect of it. I try to expose them to different careers in agriculture.

“We have a lot of land here in St. Croix, but people are not serious about agriculture. We still import about 99 percent of our food, and in terms of health, we have a high rate of obesity. So I’m advocating for getting students to learn more and eat healthy.”

To do this, Velda plans on launching a garden-to-cafeteria program for local schools this fall.

“I’m working on getting the kids to be in the garden, educating them about what they’re doing in the garden and where the food is coming from, and then taking the food from the garden into the cafeteria and turning it into food they can eat,” she says.

As a student, Velda says she’s taking the skills learned in her classes and applying them to her daily job.

“Oregon State’s agriculture department has really put some thought into making the work we do in individual classes realistic,” she says. “I’m actually out in the field doing a lot of hands-on activities. It’s not just reading online or answering questions. It’s very practical and real-world situations that are being taught in the classrooms.”

But just like the beginning of her higher education journey, family comes first. This time, Velda’s tenacity is helping her attend to her husband’s health and frequent trips to Florida for treatment, while keeping up with her education.

And with a whole support team at Oregon State by her side, she’s been able to persist through both her personal and educational journeys.

“I’m able to share my concerns, my issues, the good times and the bad times with them. And they always give me words of encouragement, so I’m really thankful to have them working with me,” she says of her Ecampus student success counselor, academic advisor and instructors. “It showed me that there are people in the world who understand what others are going through.”

Now several terms into earning her degree, Velda’s ultimate goal of becoming the first female commissioner of agriculture in the Virgin Islands and expanding her reach to make a difference across the Virgin Islands is getting closer to a reality.

“Oregon State is giving me this opportunity that will steer me in the right direction,” she says.


Karina Ruiz Lopez is a marketing communications intern for the OSU Division of Extended Campus through the PROMISE Internship Program.

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