UW-River Falls opens doors to Eastern Europeans

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published April 1, 1992  | April 1992 issue

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is hosting agricultural entrepreneurs from Eastern Europe who want to learn the operations of a free market economy.

In January, 16 farmers and three teachers from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary began their studies at the university, located in west central Wisconsin. Those studies focus on the principles and management of agribusiness and marketing strategies.

Funded by a grant from the US Agency for International Development, the program offers students up to three semesters at the university and, for most of them, two summer internships in the area.

The students, from their early 20s to early 40s, have varied agricultural backgrounds, including goat dairy farming, horse breeding, truck farming, managing a farm cooperative and teaching agricultural economics. To help surmount the language barrier, they took an intensive course in English last fall before leaving Poland.

At the university students have their choice of courses, but some in computer science have been designed specifically for them. When they return to their countries with a certificate of agribusiness, some will teach in public schools, but most will apply their knowledge to their own agricultural specialty.

Stephen Ridley, professor in the College of Agriculture and director of the program, says the summer internships will provide the students with experience in business and entrepreneurial settings. "They've already got the technical knowledge, the farm labor skills," he says. "The university is looking for work sites where the students can learn principles of management, marketing and finance." Because of visa restrictions, a business offering an internship would not be required to pay a salary.

Ridley says hosting Eastern Europeans has been beneficial to the university and hopes the program will be repeated in the future. Three other campuses in California and New York are involved in the same program, which is coordinated by Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Nettie Pignatello