Instructor John Paul Owens, far left, and Professor Chastity Warren English, far right, in Belize with a representative for Toucan Education, who organized the tour, and three others in Extension, part of the Ministry of Agriculture in Belize.

Faculty members in the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education paid tribute to a fellow instructor and world traveler in a three-day virtual seminar series.

The department celebrated the legacy of John Paul Owens during the International Education Week Celebration, a discussion series on topics ranging from international trade to study abroad in Belize and research projects in northern Ghana.

Owens, who passed away on June 25, taught in College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences for more than 30 years and, as program coordinator for the Peace Corps Master’s International Program, was a continual supporter for minority and underrepresented students to study abroad, helping them expand their global educational experience. A scholarship fund, the John Paul Owens International Experiential Learning Endowed Scholarship, was later created in his name.

“He wasn’t loud about what he did,” said department head and professor Kenrett Jefferson-Moore, Ph.D. “He had a very quiet presence. But he was just there doing, there supporting and encouraging.”

“He was more than just a colleague; he was a dear friend and professor to many,” CAES dean Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D., said of Owens. “He worked tirelessly throughout the years as a passionate educator and an unwavering supporter of student recruitment, retention, and development within the department, the college and the greater university community.”

The three-day virtual event, held Nov. 14-17, honored Owens’ impact on the department’s study abroad program and the outreach during his time at N.C. A&T, according to Jefferson-Moore.

“We thought about the best expression of his legacy,” said Jefferson-Moore. “He wrote several grants for students to travel to different countries…. he committed his life to that effort, and so many students, especially African American students, were benefitted from study abroad.”

The seminar series began with Quintin Gray, president and CEO of Q. Gray and Associates, discussing internship opportunities from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and the growing inclusive workforce because of ongoing outreach with the 1890 Universities Foundation.

“I’ve known him (Owens) for 30-some odd years,” said Gray, an N.C. A&T graduate. “He was, simply put, a great professor and a good person. Almost every time I’d come home and visit Carver Hall or the department, I’d talk to him.”

A former agricultural counselor with the foreign agricultural service, Gray said the national response to the 2020 murder of George Floyd created a watershed moment for government agencies and the private sector to become more inclusive in their workforce and training, leading to consultation with the Foundation to facilitate research and academic collaborations with land-grant institutions like N.C. A&T.

“This is probably the best time to ever be in school in agriculture,” said Gray. “The USDA forecasts that between 2020 and 2025, there will be 60,000 agricultural jobs out there annually, and only 35,000 of those graduates are coming out with degrees. That means there’s high demand for you.”

The FAS Diversity Program and the Agricultural Export Market Challenge, according to Gray, are among the agency’s latest initiatives to seek students from minority-serving institutions interested in economics, international diplomacy, and trade.

In the second seminar, Chastity Warren-English, Ph.D., professor and program coordinator of agricultural education, shared fond memories about Owens and the students who traveled with them to Belize for several years.

Owens tours the Xunantunich Mayan ruins in Belize. His love of international travel often took him and his students to Central and South America.

From 2017 to 2019, Owens, English and a select group of students and faculty members traveled to the Central American country as part of a three-year capacity grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, while stakeholders from Belize traveled to the N.C. A&T campus to attend Small Farms Week. English cited these experiences as a highlight for the program.

“Travel literally changes your life,” said English. “It changes your perspective of what you know or what you think you might know. Direct benefits include students learning different cultures, enhancing their own people skills, their employability skills, and they’re able to assist in problem solving in international settings.”

In the final seminar, Osei-Agyeman Yeboah, Ph.D., discussed four international research projects he worked on in northern Ghana, all designed to help enhance crop productivity and household food security in the region.

Yeboah’s projects consisted of training farmers in northern Ghana on cultivation, producing and selling crops such as cowpeas and soybeans in bulk, web-based marketing, post-harvest technologies, enhancing the livelihood of women farmers in the groundnut value chain.

So far, more than 10 technologies have been developed or disseminated to the communities, more than 210 farmers trained on best animal husbandry (housing, supplementary feeding, nutrition, health, and veterinary care), and 2,100 producers benefitted from cowpea value-added production techniques.

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The John Paul Owens Scholarship Fund helps students afford international travel and experiential learning opportunities.