July 19, 2021
This fall, entrepreneurs will be able to enroll in a new undergraduate certificate program at Highlands focused on the business and production of industrial hemp.
Highlands developed the Emerging Business Markets certificate in response to the growth of the industrial hemp industry following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp growing at the federal level. The industry is growing across the U.S., making it an attractive employment option for students who are interested in either large-scale hemp growing or the sales and distribution of hemp.
Heath Anderson, director of Emerging Business Entrepreneurship, points to the versatility of hemp as a primary reason for its growth potential.
“Whether we’re talking about biofuel, medicines, paper, textiles, plastics, food and beverage, cosmetics, building materials, automotive parts, furniture, or animal feed, there are so many applications for hemp,” Anderson said. “We are developing curriculum so that we can meet the needs of business and at the same time give students an opportunity to develop those skills.”
The certificate program is a collaboration between the forestry and business departments, and students will be able to choose concentrations in Emerging Markets Entrepreneurship or Hemp Entrepreneurship and Production.
“I’ve talked to students who want to do both,” said Veena Parboteeah, the dean of the School of Business, Media and Technology. “If you’re distributing hemp, you may want to focus on the business side, but if you’re growing it yourself and then producing and selling, you would need both concentrations.”
To earn the certificate, students will take 18 credits. All students will share three core classes, but each concentration will require three additional courses specific to business or farming. For the business concentration, students will take classes in entrepreneurship, innovation management, and project management. For the production concentration, students will take plant physiology and hemp production.
Joshua Sloan, director of the Forestry department, says students interested in growing hemp will learn foundational concepts in the plant physiology class. The two hemp production classes will then give students a chance to put their hands in the dirt.
“The second two courses will both be hands-on lab and field-focus courses,” said Sloan. “Students will actually be putting the concepts from plant physiology into practice in a production system, whether in a greenhouse or in a field production system.”
For those pursuing the farming concentration, there will also be opportunities to pursue internships with farms in New Mexico that are already producing hemp. Students already working in the industry will be able to earn their internship hours at their workplace, and there will be plenty of opportunities to work in the greenhouse on the Highlands campus.
Likewise, students who choose the business concentration will also have hands-on opportunities to learn real-world skills.
“We help students develop expertise in improving production efficiency, scaling both the business organization and the production operations, and managing critical production processes,” Anderson said. “What we’re offering is a professional training program with transferable skills.”
Interested students must either have a junior standing or an associate degree and should have some familiarity with their chosen concentration subject. The certificate is designed to give students hands-on experience in business and large-scale farming to give them practice in the skills they’ll need to use in the field.
The courses will also accommodate distance learners who will be able to complete the certificate through a combination of online classes and internships where they are located.
“One of the target student populations for this certificate are professionals who are already out there in the field, who need a hand in figuring out what they’re doing on the production side,” said Sloan.
According to Sloan, the industry is so new that many people are already working in industrial hemp production but don’t have the foundational skills they need to enhance their knowledge and efficiency.
“For students who are already employed in the industry and the certificate will formalize and improve their job performance and earning potential,” Sloan said. “For a student looking to get into the industry, it’s going to give them that educational background and credential, which is going to make them more competitive applicants.”
Landowners and small farmers might also benefit from the certificate. “A lot of the folks that we’re seeing getting into the industry are small farmers looking to diversify their crop portfolio to shift to a higher value crop,” said Sloan. “For those individuals who are in business, the certificate will improve their understanding and efficiency with what they’re doing and improve their own earning potential.”
While the Emerging Business Markets certificate is focused on the industrial hemp industry, the courses will offer applications beyond hemp as well.
“With COVID-19, people are rethinking what they want to do,” said Parboteeah. “If you’re going the entrepreneurship route, you can also get the knowledge you need to start any business.” On the production side, Sloan sees the certificate as part of the training needed for future forest nursery managers who will be needed to grow seedlings for reforestation.
“It’s pretty cool that we’re right on the edge of a new industry, which has the potential to benefit these rural communities,” said Sloan. “The trend across the country and also in this region is the division and sale and loss of these small-scale farming operations, so I think this program and this new industry provides a potential pathway to revitalize a lot of those communities we serve.”