Sheridan College Director of Agriculture Keith Klement, left, demonstrates how to properly identify various rangeland plant species to students in the Natural Resource and Ranch Land Management program, an area of study supported by previous gifts from Forrest E. Mars Jr. during an outdoor field research trip in April.  Courtesy photo |Sheridan College Director of Agriculture Keith Klement, left, demonstrates how to properly identify various rangeland plant species to students in the Natural Resource and Ranch Land Management program, an area of study supported by previous gifts from Forrest E. Mars Jr. during an outdoor field research trip in April. Courtesy photo |

Mars gifts $4 million to SC for new agriculture center

SHERIDAN — Sheridan College officials announced Friday a $4 million gift, the largest gift from an individual in the history of Sheridan College, from Jacomien and Forrest E. Mars Jr. of Big Horn for the creation of a new Mars Agriculture Center.

The new center will be a 13,000-15,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility, and will be located on the south end of Sheridan College’s main campus, adjacent and connected to the existing Science Center, which will also receive upgrades during the project.

“We are building a world-class agriculture program here in Sheridan, Wyoming, and, thanks to the generous support from Forrest and Jacomien, it will have a world-class home,” Sheridan College President Dr. Paul Young said. “This latest gift builds on a history of support from Forrest Mars Jr. for our ag students and programs, including one-half million dollars for the Natural Resources and Ranch Land Management Program and one-half million dollars pledged last year to support the creation of an additional agriculture faculty position.”

The center, Young said, will focus on providing real-world experiences for students. In addition to high-tech classrooms, a herbarium, a greenhouse and a soils and agroecology lab, the new center will include a computerized commodities trading floor classroom to support students studying in the ag-business program.

“The academic study around agriculture is different today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, with a global emphasis on business and science,” said Dr. Ami Erickson, SC Dean of Ag, Science, Math and Culinary.

“We have a record number of applicants and current students in our programs, and if we are going to teach our students the skills necessary to compete and contribute in the global world in which we live, updating our learning space is the next step.”

The total cost for the project is $8 million. The state of Wyoming allocated $2.7 million toward the project during the last legislative session.  Young is confident the remaining $1.3 million will be raised by the end of the summer.

The next steps for the project include selecting an architect and construction manager, which college officials hope to have complete by the end of the summer. The design phase will likely last through February 2015.

“We should be ready to send out bids on the project by February or March of next year, and be ready to begin construction in mid-May,” Young said. “We anticipate opening the doors for students at the new Mars Agriculture Center by the start of fall semester 2016.”

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