Jensena Newhouse, tasting room manager, pours a glass of wine.

Jensena Newhouse, tasting room manager, pours a glass of wine.

Photo by Melissa Hansen

Yakima Valley Community College, through a national science grant, is transitioning its vineyard and winery educational program to an online and hybrid format to better serve its student community. Four classes are now available online, and ten are offered in a hybrid format.

Catherine Jones was hired in September 2010 as YVCC’s vineyard and winery technology grant director to manage the college’s advanced technology educational grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant, worth about $570,000, has entered its third and final year.

Her job is to work with YVCC’s agriculture faculty in transitioning the traditional, face-to-face courses to online or hybrid formats. Online classes are those taught completely online—from lectures to homework to tests—and require no physical presence on campus. Hybrid classes are those that can be taught online but require hands-on lab work, so some physical attendance is necessary.

YVCC’s vineyard and wine technology program was a good candidate for the grant’s online education focus, Jones said. Because most students have full-time jobs, all classes are taught in the evenings. The earliest class start time is 5:15 p.m., and it can be stressful for students leaving work at 5 o’clock—and coming from wineries in Prosser—to get to class on time.

“We hope that with the grant and more classes online, we can make it less stressful for the students as well as help out employers who often have to let the students leave work a little early,” she said.

Jones said that already they’ve heard from students that the new online format is valuable in teaching time management skills.

One of the goals of the grant was to convert about a dozen classes to an online or hybrid format. Ten hybrid and four online classes were offered for fall quarter of 2012. The grant also provided money to hire an instructional design consultant, realign curriculum to match the industry calendar, and support faculty with professional development.

“If you have an education degree, you are exposed to different teaching formats during your degree process,” she said. “But most of our agriculture faculty have degrees in areas other than education and didn’t receive that as part of their formal training. We’ve been able to use grant money to teach our faculty how to be exceptional online teachers. Teaching online is much different than the traditional face-to-face format.”

Bonus

A bonus of YVCC’s Science Foundation grant was a relationship developed with Missouri State University during YVCC’s initial grant days. It’s a relationship that has resulted in an online curriculum alliance.

MSU received a series of grants from the National Science Foundation for viticulture and enology education and  became a national center of excellence known as the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA). The center developed about 25 online introductory and advanced viticulture and enology courses that can be combined with general education courses for students to earn two-year degrees or technical certificates.

YVCC’s Jones is the Washington State contact for VESTA, with the community college designated as the delivering school for the state. Seventeen states have an alliance with VESTA. Students in Washington wanting to take an online course from VESTA must register through YVCC, not the national center.

“The alliance is great for our YVCC students,” she said, adding that if a student wants to take an elective not offered by YVCC or a class that doesn’t fit the student’s schedule, the student can substitute the course with a VESTA class. “It’s a great way to supplement our program and provide additional educational resources to our community.”

Students enrolled in VESTA courses that require a field practicum must contact a commercial vineyard or ­winery in their area that would be willing to serve as a mentor and field practicum site to complete the hands-on experience. The business receives information regarding their role as a field site and mentor. Mentors are provided a stipend for their services.

Jones notes that VESTA is working to expand the ­curriculum, adding a wine business emphasis.

For more information about YVCC’s Vineyard and Winery Technology Program, visit: www.yvcc.edu/wine. Trent Ball, agriculture department chair, can be reached at: tball@yvcc.edu or (509) 882-7007.