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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 applies the skills she learned online as an Oregon State agricultural sciences major 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

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. She temporarily dropped out of her post-secondary 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. Her certificate allowed her to teach agriculture for 10 years in her homeland in the Caribbean, St. Kitts. Later, Velda moved to the Virgin Islands, where she currently resides. That’s when she 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 said.

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. The flexibility that comes with learning online was a perfect fit for her personal and professional lives.

“Oregon State gave me an opportunity that will steer me in the right direction.”

She’s using the knowledge she acquired to solve local challenges. She also advocates 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 said. “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 said.

As an agricultural sciences student, Velda was able to take the skills she learned in class and applied 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 said. “I was 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 as always, family comes first. Velda’s tenacity helped her attend to her husband’s health and take frequent trips to Florida for treatment. She still managed to keep up with her education, too.

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

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

Now as an agricultural sciences graduate, Velda’s ultimate goal — becoming the first female commissioner of agriculture in the Virgin Islands and making a difference there — is getting closer to reality.

“Oregon State gave me an opportunity that will steer me in the right direction,” she says.

Every journey starts with just one step. Take that first step today with OSU Ecampus.

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