Gearing Up

Nov 25, 2014 John Stumbos CA&ES Outlook Magazine — University of California, Davis
Bixby fund supports popular courses in practical agriculture.
Gearing Up

Lecturer Mir Shafii (left center) makes a point to a student in his biological and agricultural course, Field Equipment Operation. Students in the popular class, long a UC Davis tradition, learn how to operate a tractor. (John Stumbos | UC Davis)

Students wanting to learn how to drive a tractor, weld farm equipment, or teach agricultural mechanics can choose from a slate of courses offered through the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE). These popular courses are made possible by the generosity of the late Fred H. Bixby.

“These courses are unique in the University of California system and provide substantial hands-on experience to students interested in agriculture,” said  BAE professor Raul Piedrahita. “They teach practical skills needed to operate, maintain, and manage farm machinery, fabricate farm equipment, and to run and maintain the wide variety of engine-driven equipment common to farming environments.”

Annually, more than 200 students spend countless lecture and laboratory hours in these classes. The most popular course—“Field Equipment Operation”— typically has a waiting list of more than 50 students. Learning to drive a tractor in this class is a tradition on campus that goes back decades.

Bixby was a successful Southern California cattle rancher who, seeing a need for university-level agricultural training, gave an unsolicited gift to the UC Regents in 1949. The purpose of the gift was to fund a course in practical farming in what was then known as the College of Agriculture. The Fred H. Bixby Fund now helps fund seven BAE courses. Funds from the endowment also help support teaching students practical skills at the Student Farm.

“We can say unequivocally that we couldn’t offer these courses without the generous support provided by the Bixby Endowment,” Piedrahita said. “The courses, especially ‘Field Equipment Operation,’ are an important part of the image and tradition of the campus and are an increasingly important link to agriculture, given the urban background of most students now entering UC Davis.”

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