Meet Josie Van Lent, the 8th feature in our Women in Ag series.
Agriculture, at its foundation, is the practice of cultivation, whether that means tending to cropland or raising livestock. However, there’s another form of cultivation that takes place within the industry—cultivating education.
Josie Van Lent is a prominent figure within agricultural education. For forty years, Van Lent has been involved with Lakeland College—she was the dean of agriculture sciences for nearly fifteen years and prior to that she worked part-time as an instructor teaching a range of agricultural courses. Van Lent even played a role in the development of student-managed farms at Lakeland College back in 1989.
“I think education is a two-way commitment. While we bring expertise, skills, and experience to the table, I think the real magic in education is how we facilitate that transfer of [knowledge]. We're partners with students in what we do,” says Van Lent.
For Van Lent, a strong connection to the students is key to becoming a successful educator. With each student passing through Lakeland College, Van Lent is keen on understanding who they are, their experiences, and their interests.
“It's really important to create that relationship and trust [with our students] . . . For learning to be interesting and to spark that curiosity and passion, I think it’s really important.”
While she taught as a part-time instructor, Van Lent worked in other agricultural roles in the public and private sector, giving her a broad understanding of the industry. She spent the first fifteen years of her career with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development as the district agriculturalist and later on as a beef specialist. Then Van Lent moved into the private sector, working with Webb’s Crop Services and United Farmers of Alberta. Josie is also a partner, in Staden Farms, a multi-generation family operation with beef, bison, and crop enterprises.
Today, Van Lent is dedicated to the education side of agriculture—especially when it comes to agriculture technology. By spearheading the new bachelor’s program at Lakeland College as the dean of Lakeland’s School of Agriculture Technology and Applied Research, Van Lent wants to ensure that her students at Lakeland College are prepared for the everchanging future of ag tech.
“It was a bit of an evolution, but it did come fast. Our ag technology degree was certainly part of our strategies to be able to offer students deeper learning with technology—and now that's underway,” says Van Lent.
“I think there's still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we're getting the highest value out of technology, but there's no doubt it's coming and it's going to keep coming.”
This newly established program will help students understand the connection between technology and agriculture while preparing students for the fast-changing industry.
But this is just one of the many successes Van Lent has achieved throughout her career, gaining recognition within the agriculture and education community.
Over the years, Van Lent and her team at Lakeland College have lead projects like the Dairy Learning Centre and the Animal Health Clinic. In 2018, her leadership in the school of agriculture earned her the 2018 Gold Award of Excellence from Colleges and Institutes Canada. Then in 2020, Van Lent was awarded the John J. Kennelly Western Canadian Dairy Seminar Award of Merit.
“I do think one of my strengths is being able to identify other people's strengths and being able to put the right teams together,” says Van Lent.
With each accomplishment, Van Lent attributes the success of her projects to the faculty members at Lakeland College—their effort and dedication pushed forward these innovative projects.
“Here at the college, a lot of [projects] that we do are team-based. I have a great team. If we look at some of the projects that we've had and some of the advancements we've made—it really was a lot of teamwork,” says Van Lent.
Through relationship building, Van Lent is dedicated to creating a healthy atmosphere for learning. In every endeavour, Van Lent enjoys seeing both students and staff flourish throughout their journey at Lakeland College.
Witnessing the development of the upcoming agriculture technology program from the ground up through her team’s hard work, she looks forward to how the program will evolve and how the educators can bring knowledge to students. Furthermore, Van Lent is excited to see what students can accomplish in the agriculture world even after their post-secondary studies.
“Something that brings a lot of contentment and joy is when I see alumni doing great things out [in the world],” says Van Lent. “They're their own people. They’ve worked hard, taken risks, failed, and owned their successes as individuals. But it's neat to know that we've played a part in that. It’s super rewarding.”