Matthew Mars Receives USDA Teaching Award for Food and Agricultural Sciences

Monday, November 9, 2020
Matthew Mars working with students in the CALS Innovation Collaboratory, a learning space equipped with state-of-the-art collaborative learning technologies and resources that foster creativity, ingenuity, and higher order strategic thinking.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) announced their public university faculty teaching awards recognizing excellence in agricultural sciences teaching and student engagement.

Matthew Mars, director of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Center and an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Education, Technology, and Innovation, was honored with the 2020 Excellence in College and University Teaching Award for Food and Agricultural Sciences, in recognition of his scholarship, exemplary pedagogy, and dedication to instruction.

The awards, which celebrate university faculty for their use of innovative teaching methods and service to students, were presented as part of the 133rd APLU Annual Meeting.

We caught up with Mars to talk about his role in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the power of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in agricultural education.


Q: You teach upper division courses including entrepreneurial leadership, science communication, and organizational innovation. How do these classes prepare students to enter the workforce or academia with a foundation in creative thinking?

A: The competencies that characterize an entrepreneurial mindset are also reflective of the transferable skills that employers consistently indicate are missing among college graduates. Entrepreneurial leadership and innovation courses are designed to foster this mindset within students and help them develop and enhance their skills and competencies in areas such creativity, critical thinking and analysis, collaboration, data-informed decision-making, and strategic storytelling. Perhaps most importantly, the courses help students build the confidence and determination to pursue their own ideas and confront challenges in productive and forward-thinking ways.

Q: How do you see agricultural education evolving?

A: I think equipping students across all of the agriculture and life sciences disciplines with “softer” skills that are necessary to go along with their technical knowledge will become increasingly important. This is especially true as pressure continually builds around the need to solve some of the most pressing economic, environmental, and social problems that face humankind at all levels. For this reason, along with the changing nature of the 21st century workplace, I believe the demand for courses and experiences such as those we offer in AETI and through the Innovation Collaboratory that help students develop their entrepreneurial mindsets will continually grow. 

Q: You’re known for your interdisciplinary research on campus, how do you instill that in students and why is that important?

A: The best ideas originate from and are nurtured through collaboration, especially that which brings people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise. There is something very powerful that happens when otherwise isolated ideas and perspectives converge in support of a common goal and vision. It is important for students to see and experience the power of interdisciplinary collaboration as part of their education and training. Innovation rarely happens in a bubble or silo – the real magic happens through collaboration. The more we model and involve students in interdisciplinary learning and discovery the better! 

Q: Let’s talk pedagogy, what do think sets CALS apart?  

A: Empowerment is at the center of our pedagogical approach to entrepreneurial leadership and innovation in CALS. In particular, the strategies that we rely on in AETI and the Innovation Collaboratory actively challenge to students to think creatively, collaborate with those who see the world differently, and to rigorously transform their ideas into viable innovations. Our ultimate goal is to empower students with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to advance solutions and create new opportunities for themselves, the organizations they will join, and the communities they will serve. Indeed, empowerment and entrepreneurial agency is at the heart of our pedagogical approach and instructional philosophy.


Rosemary Brandt
Media Relations Manager, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences