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VESTA localizes education across U.S: distance learning in viticulture and enology expands from Midwest to both coasts.

In May 2003, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided funding through its Advanced Technological Program to develop the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), an online education program based at Missouri State University. Collaborating with schools, government and industry, VESTA established online educational programs in viticulture and enology. In addition to online coursework, the program offered students opportunities to get hands-on experience at area vineyards and wineries. Shortly thereafter, VESTA expanded to include a two-year college in Oklahoma. A second grant from NSF in 2007 made it possible for VESTA to expand its alliance to include Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Editors' Note.

The viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) partners with colleges to develop highly qualified technicians with industry-validated credentials in grape and wine production. In August, the National Science Foundation awarded VESTA a $4.99 million grant which enabled it to expand from its mid-America origins and become national in scope,

VESTA has since added five new institutions of higher education in California, Oregon, Washington, North Carolina and New York. We asked Michelle Norgren, director of the VESTA National Center, to provide an overview of the program and what it has to offer.

In 2011 NSF issued a third grant that enabled VESTA to become a National Center of Excellence, expanding its partnership to include higher education institutions in California, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and washington.

Why VESTA?

The expansion of the wine industry in the Midwest is startling. In the 16 states participating in the VESTA Regional Center, the number of wineries increased from 2,788 in 2004 to 6,030 today, according to WinesVinesDATA. The VESTA vision was created as a response to appeals from the wine industry in mid-America, where technically educated and trained individuals were in demand. That challenge remains true today.

VESTA's online curricula delivery.

VESTA developed and deployed a groundbreaking distance-education model that enables faculty and students (especially in rural areas) to participate in its educational programs regardless of state boundaries. This model will be broadly implemented to enable the education of a workforce at the national level. In addition, VESTA will be increasingly focused on women, veterans and other under-represented populations in this industry. Similarly, VESTA is expanding its program to accommodate students for whom English is their second language.

The core VESTA courses are designed to take advantage of the online medium. Students are guided through units and complete assignments with the flexibility of "anytime learning" within a prescribed timeframe. Content is presented through print-, web-and audio-visual platforms to accommodate different learning styles while creating and reinforcing the sense of a learning community.

Vesta's vision for the future.

The program's vision is the same today as it was in 2003; only the scope of the effort has expanded. VESTA is committed to becoming a nationally recognized resource providing the foundations in science, mathematics and technology that are critical to developing a workforce to support the rapidly expanding U.S. grape- and wine-production industries in the 21st century.

Vesta teaching faculty.

Members of the VESTA faculty, made up of successful professionals from academia and the grape and wine industry across the country, have advanced training and education in their subject area specialties. These true professionals bring industry experience to ensure that students are ready for the challenges they might experience as an employee or owner of a vineyard or winery.

Who is Vesta for?

The easy answer is that VESTA is for anyone seeking a quality educational experience regarding the growth of grapevines and the production of wine. Some might ask, "Aren't there places already doing that?" Sure, there are excellent educational programs under way in regions where grape and wine production is sufficiently large to support traditional approaches at universities and community colleges. However, these approaches have a limitation not found in VESTA: You do not have to become a full- time student, and you do not have to be physically on-site at the educational institution.

This last issue is critical for developing grape and wine regions, and it can be especially limiting to potential students who cannot afford to leave current employment or relocate for school.

An example of the value VESTA has had on industry comes from Andrew Meggitt, executive winemaker at St. James Winery, the largest wine producer in Missouri. Meggitt found that both quality and retention of his workforce were enhanced through VESTA. "As a company, we want to build healthy lifestyles for our staff; education is one way we can do this. VESTA provides us with an opportunity to offer education and further training of staff that has been with the winery for three years or more. The individuals are motivated and glean a tremendous amount of information from the courses," he said. "Benefits (to St. James) include offering suggestions that may improve or streamline processes in our cellar. They will, in time, gain a better understanding of each task they undertake in the cellar, which will facilitate better wine."

There also are individuals with higher education degrees who seek to gain the specialized knowledge requisite for economic success as a winegrower or wine producer. Again, the courses offered through VESTA can meet these individuals' needs, and their resulting education is of value to the expanding U.S. grape and wine industries.

Outreach to high school students.

One of the goals of VESTA is to provide high school students with an awareness of the career potential available in this industry, with a specific focus on viticulture due to their age. Outreach to high school students strives to get the attention of students who may become 21st century leaders in grape production through an emphasis on table grapes and grapes processed into juice, jellies and jams, an important, economic part of the U.S. grape industry.

Potential for certificate and applied science programs.

With 25 online enology and viticulture courses currently available, both certificate and applied science degree programs have been established. To date more than 750 students have enrolled in VESTA, online courses, with 90% residing in the 17 states currently participating in the alliance. The other 10% come from 26 other states, Canada and Italy.

Conclusion.

VESTA aims to educate and train the next generation of grape and wine producers as well as expand the knowledge of workers presently employed in those industries. If you have such goals, visit vesta-usa.org for further details about the VESTA program.
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Title Annotation:WineEast
Comment:VESTA localizes education across U.S: distance learning in viticulture and enology expands from Midwest to both coasts.(WineEast)
Author:Norgren, Michelle
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:1072
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