BOZEMAN — Montana State University faculty members offering an interdisciplinary ‘Farm to Market’ course recently received an $86,000 grant, funds that will be used to continue offering the course for the next three years.
Caroline Graham Austin, a marketing professor in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, and Meta Newhouse, a graphic design professor in the College of Arts and Architecture, won the grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The course is designed to have undergraduate and graduate students solve real-world problems for specialty crop farmers in Montana. In addition to Austin and Newhouse, a faculty member from food and nutrition or hospitality management will co-teach the course in the coming year.
With many specialty crop producers in the state selling their products as low-priced commodities with associated low profits, the students’ goal is to find opportunities to convert some of these raw materials into value-added products, Austin said. This results in higher profits for the growers and economic growth for the state of Montana.
In 2015, six student teams provided three farmer partners with startup ideas for scalable, innovative, value-added products. The ideas helped enable the farmers to differentiate themselves and compete more effectively in a crowded marketplace, Austin said. In 2016, six student teams worked with five additional farmer partners. The student teams in both classes provided prototypes of products, packaging and marketing strategies, all of which were designed to increase growers’ profitability.
These interdisciplinary teams utilized the “design thinking” process they learned in class to develop the prototypes, Newhouse said. The process focuses on the needs of a product’s end user, employing empathy, brainstorming, iterative design, rapid prototyping and critique.
Newhouse said that Stanford University and MIT have similar design thinking programs, but only for graduate students, whereas MSU’s DSEL classes are open to undergraduates.
The Farm to Market class is part of MSU’s Design Sandbox for Engaged Learning, or DSEL, an interdisciplinary collaboration space launched in 2015 as part of the College of Arts and Architecture where faculty, students and industry professionals use design thinking to solve myriad challenges. In the lab – which is open to any student – business, graphic design, engineering and other students come together to tackle unusual and challenging design questions and gain experience working as a member of a team.
Contact: Graham Austin, (406) 994-6193 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Meta Newhouse, (406) 994-2201 or email@example.com