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Aug. 22, 2013 Volume 35, No. 1

Mizzou Advantage appoints education facilitator

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Mike Gold, associate director of the Center for Agroforestry, has been teaching online-only since 2011. In his position as Mizzou Advantage education facilitator, Gold hopes to be a catalyst for more online certificate and degree programs. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Appointee has years of educational experience fostering collaboration

Michael Gold was fostering interdisciplinary collaboration long before Mizzou Advantage. As the associate director of the Center for Agroforestry, Gold works with landowners, entomologists, horticulturalists, agricultural economists and rural sociologists on everything from the production to the economics to the environmental protection of both agricultural and forested landscapes. 

He was a natural choice as the new educational facilitator for Mizzou Advantage, said Program Director Meg Phillips. 

“He is a big thinker with interesting ideas who takes the time to listen, is good at working with people and who likes to think about how to focus to make the best impact,” Phillips said. “He understands what the program is trying to do.”

Harvesting Power

Even before Gold came to Mizzou in 1998 as a research professor in the forestry department, his work crossed boundaries. His career started at Michigan State University as the international forestry professor. For nearly 15 years, he traveled around the world, working in areas outside his expertise in forestry genetics. Using ethnographic methods, he reported how people in Nepal, Jamaica or Rwanda describe and interpret the value of trees in their agricultural production. 

Gradually he yearned to settle in America, where he was familiar with the culture and language. When a position opened up at Mizzou on the ground floor of the then-new Center for Agroforestry, Gold applied. 

His research focuses on how to use specialty crops to create more market opportunities for the family farmer.

For instance, at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in New Franklin, Mo., researchers plant Chinese chestnut trees in the fertile soils of the Missouri River hills. On a 1-acre plot, a farmer can plant about 50 trees. When the trees are young (“This is the agroforestry part,” Gold said), farmers can plant anything from wheat to pumpkins to tomatoes in between the tree rows, gradually shifting to bluegrass or hay when the trees mature. 

By the time a chestnut cultivar is about 11 years old, it will produce upward of 40 pounds of chestnuts, which retail for $5 to $8 per pound. With 10 acres of chestnuts in full production, a farmer can gross about $100,000. 

After conducting market research on the chestnut crop, Gold organized training programs for landowners. He estimated that there are some 20 chestnut farms around the state. 

Spearheading Programs

Gold understands the importance of preparing students who are capable of working across disciplines, something important for today’s multi-skill jobs. 

“If you have different disciplinary perspectives in your training, you can see the world from more than one perspective,” Gold said. “Wherever you might be, you’re that much more nimble and able to function in the world of the 21st century.”

Gold, who has been teaching online-only since 2011, hopes to be a catalyst for more online certificate and degree programs. Two years ago, the forestry department launched the only online master’s in agroforestry program degree in the world. 

“There are people who want to study agroforestry in depth, but it’s not offered in Springfield, Joplin, St. Louis, Kansas City, Rolla,” Gold said. “That’s a microcosm. I want to reach beyond the smaller numbers and the limited population of Mizzou students.”

Since 2010, nearly 100 research projects, involving some 400 faculty members and hundreds of students, have been spearheaded by a facilitator in each of the four areas of strength and an education facilitator. As the education facilitator, Gold looks forward to removing the geographic limitations of the other educational programs that Mizzou Advantage offers and expanding their reach even farther. 

“I’m excited to bring folks together from across the university and create educational opportunities that complement those strengths,” Gold said.

 — Kelsey Allen