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US (LA): LSU AgCenter focuses international programs on private sector

The LSU AgCenter is retooling how it does international outreach, putting a greater focus on endeavors that aim to improve the Louisiana agriculture industry.

A new unit called the LSU AgCenter Global Network was formed recently, replacing the Office of International Programs. AgCenter Vice Chancellor John Russin is in charge.

The Global Network needs to expand beyond the conventional role of coordinating exchanges with other universities, Russin said. He hopes to work more closely with local companies and harness international expertise to help solve their problems.

“We want to cultivate not only partners at universities for exchange students, but we also want private connections, embassies, internship opportunities that bring international students to our Louisiana companies,” Russin said. “It’s a much more comprehensive program that will touch faculty, staff and students in a way that we’ve never done before.”

Patrik Růžička, left, and Radek Klíč work on a eucalyptus project in the LSU AgCenter Department of Agricultural Chemistry residue analysis lab. Both are graduate students in forestry at Mendel University in the Czech Republic. They recently completed internships coordinated by the new AgCenter Global Network. Photo by Alexis Agard/LSU AgCenter

A just-completed project is an example of how Russin envisions the Global Network to function. Two forestry graduate students at Mendel University in the Czech Republic were in Louisiana during October and November for a one-month internship with Plaquemine landholding company A. Wilbert’s Sons.

The company has been exploring growing eucalyptus trees for biomass. The students, Patrik Růžička and Radek Klíč, developed a series of mathematic equations that can be used to estimate the merchantable volume and value of timber in eucalyptus plantings.

“Because of these students’ visit, this company now has a tool that can enhance their bottom line,” said Russin, who also holds the A. Wilbert’s Sons Professorship in the AgCenter.

Růžička and Klíč also studied ways to propagate eucalyptus without seed through a method known as vegetative propagation. And they worked with Mark LeBlanc, head of the AgCenter Department of Agricultural Chemistry, to look at possibilities for extracting and marketing oil and compounds from eucalyptus leaves.

Patrik Růžička, a forestry graduate student at Mendel University in the Czech Republic, mixes solutions used to extract eucalyptus oil in the LSU AgCenter Department of Agricultural Chemistry extraction lab. Růžička and another student recently completed internships coordinated by the new AgCenter Global Network. Photo by Alexis Agard/LSU AgCenter

“We owe much of our nearly 150-year existence to innovations and discoveries made by university-led research and development,” said Klein Kirby, chairman of A. Wilbert’s Sons. “Our company is committed to supporting and promoting agricultural education and research in any way possible. Introduction to the new international program by Dr. Russin was a very attractive way to get involved. We could not have asked for better partners than LSU and Mendel University.”

Mendel University has been a partner of the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture for a few years now. The institutions regularly offer opportunities for students and faculty to visit each other’s campuses.

“This is real people-to-people collaboration,” said Miroslav Kravka, vice dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology at Mendel University. “This makes LSU a very special place in the world, where you feel at home just on the first day of your stay.”

More initiatives along the lines of the eucalyptus project are in the works with Mendel and other universities, said Ivana Tregenza, associate director of the AgCenter Global Network and director of College of Agriculture International Relations.

Radek Klíč, a forestry graduate student at Mendel University in the Czech Republic, examines eucalyptus cuttings in a greenhouse at A. Wilbert’s Sons in Plaquemine, Louisiana. Klíč and another student recently completed internships coordinated by the new AgCenter Global Network. Photo by Alexis Agard/LSU AgCenter

“We want to bring some value back to Louisiana,” she said, both by addressing local needs and by engaging companies in international collaborations.

Kirby described working with the Czech students and the AgCenter as eye-opening.

“I strongly recommend that anyone in the agricultural private sector take a hard look at this program,” Kirby said. “We certainly are glad we did.”

Students, both from LSU and partner universities abroad, stand to benefit from the new Global Network approach, too.

“We will absolutely increase employability of the students participating globally,” Tregenza said. “The private sector is looking for people that are global citizens.”

She said students with real-world experience working with companies stand out when they apply for jobs, and those who have studied in other countries are all the more attractive.

Source: LSU AgCenter (Olivia McClure)

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