CHICO, Calif. — For Sarah DeForest, it helps to be a product of the education she’d like to pass on to others.
A 2000 graduate of California State University-Chico with a degree in animal science, DeForest has been the College of Agriculture’s advancement director since 2007. In that position, DeForest has helped develop scholarships to bring promising students here while seeking funding to provide ongoing support for the university’s farm.
“When I’m talking to alumni, I have something in common with them,” DeForest, 36, said. “Having been here a total of almost 15 years now, I’ve seen the college grow and expand from so many different viewpoints … I had to learn the development side, but I already knew the college.”
DeForest and others have been involved in a push to promote Chico State as being on par with the best agricultural universities in the country. So far they’ve been successful; enrollment in the College of Agriculture has increased from 370 students in 2005 to 720 taking classes this academic year. Among the disciplines, those seeking an animal science degree have doubled in the past few years.
Among new scholarships the college has developed during DeForest’s tenure is the Bell Family Presidential Scholarship Endowment, which will provide each recipient with $5,000 per school year for four years. The campus is now selecting the first two recipients to begin next fall.
“I think success breeds success,” DeForest said of the College of Agriculture. She points to instructors such as Dave Daley, the college’s associate dean, who has become nationally known for his research on beef issues.
“We’ve had great success in our ag education program in encouraging (students) to become teachers,” she said. “It’s been an effort but it’s also organic in that each student who graduates here had a great experience and they encourage others to perpetuate that experience.”
The growth in enrollment at Chico comes as agricultural colleges across the United States have seen an increase in students in recent years, buoyed by urban youngsters’ interest in food production and desire to find a job after college.
However, ag enrollment at Chico State has surpassed national averages, as enrollment for all the ag disciplines is up. For instance, the crop sciences degree program has risen from 40 enrollees in 2008 to 122 students last fall.
Having grown up in a ranching family in southern Oregon, DeForest toured Chico State and “fell in love with it,” she said. In her college years, she was a member of the forensics team while working as a news reporter for a local radio station.
As a student, DeForest witnessed the fallout from state budget cuts in the early 1990s, which put the College of Agriculture under pressure to raise money and increase enrollment. Over the years, a group of backers has initiated an annual golf tournament, a social at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale and a breakfast at the Colusa Farm Show.
After graduating in 2000, DeForest handled public relations for the California Beef Council before returning to Chico in 2003 to become the college’s outreach coordinator, encouraging students to come to the university.
She later moved to her family’s cattle ranch in Adin, Calif., and worked in workforce development in Modoc County. But “I really wanted to get back to Chico and get back in agriculture,” she said.
In her current job, she works closely with the college dean, Jennifer Ryder Fox, to establish fundraising and advancement priorities at the college. One of their main goals is to establish ongoing funding for the farm, which DeForest calls “our working laboratory”, so that it can maintain current equipment and standards.
They would also like to build support for professorships so that they can recruit and retain the best faculty members, DeForest said.
“A lot of what I do is just direct relationship-building with individuals — working with scholarship donors to keep them engaged in the college and recruiting new scholarship donors,” DeForest said.
“There’s nothing else I would rather be doing,” she said. “I love this place. I love the students and the faculty. We just have such a great environment at Chico State.”
Occupation: Advancement director, California State University-Chico College of Agriculture
Residence: Chico, Calif.