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New Cannabis Program at Meramec Stresses Hands-On Learning

cannabis plants in a greenhouse

There is an ambiance that blooms on college campuses each fall when the school year kicks off. The outset of the semester brings fresh student faces, different professors and unforgettable experiences. Among all this newness in the fall of 2023 at St. Louis Community College at Meramec will be first-time course offerings that focus on the production and study of cannabis.

The use of cannabis became legal for medical conditions in the state of Missouri in 2020, and after a November 2022 ballot measure passed, it became legal to use the plant recreationally starting in February of this year.

“St. Louis Community College at Meramec is very excited to be at the forefront of education in this new industry,” said Meramec campus president Feleccia Moore-Davis, Ph.D. “It’s clear which direction things are heading in the cannabis industry. When it comes to preparing students for the workforce, we want to be ahead of other institutions. It really comes down to ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs and industries that are in demand.”

The horticulture department at STLCC-Meramec is expecting approval from the state of Missouri Department of Higher Education to offer a certificate of specialization in cannabis and hemp production, according to horticulture program coordinator Jerry Pence. The certificate will help connect students to jobs in the industry.

What sets the STLCC courses apart from others in the area? 

“I believe we are on the forefront as far as the hands-on components go and as far as having students work with the actual hemp plant in their labs,” Pence said. “I know that some (other programs) use tomato plants and have online components to their courses.”

Sarah Moore is a graduate of the STLCC horticulture program and is now an instructor who will be teaching in the program. She believes the new courses will supplement the other courses offered and enrich the students’ understanding of cannabis cultivation.

“There are several things that can be applied to cultivating cannabis and hemp,” Moore said, such as learning about soils, greenhouse management and propagation.

The horticulture program at Meramec is the largest in the state of Missouri, and Pence hopes the College can reach out to other parts of the state and offer an affordable alternative to what else is out there for prospective students.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges ahead with these new classes. Being on the forefront of change can lead to extra hurdles to clear. In the case of cannabis studies, there is far less research available due to federal prohibition, according to Patrick Vogan, assistant professor of horticulture.

“Fortunately, such research is progressing in countries like Canada and Israel, so there is always more information becoming available about what best practices should look like,” he said.

Pence said it was initially challenging to create contacts and relationships within the cannabis industry, but over time they have made excellent progress. He added that Moore built the curriculum specifically to ensure students not only have an excellent hands-on component in their classes, but also that they can promote professionalism of the cannabis industry.

cannabis plant“The focus with building the curriculum was to remove the ‘broscience’ from the internet,” Moore said. “My goal was to build a foundation of knowledge of how plants work and give the students a hands-on portion to apply what they are learning in class—cannabis and hemp are just another crop that is now growing in our industry.”

Moore said some people are still timid about talking about cannabis, but discussing it openly and professionally with students helps them overcome it.

“In general, the students have been thoughtful, open-minded and very engaged,” Vogan said. “They are eager to learn about what works and they take their responsibilities in this industry seriously.”

“There are many job openings out there right now for people with this knowledge,” Moore-Davis said. “When it comes to preparing students for the workforce, we want to be ahead of other institutions. It really comes down to ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs and industries that are in demand.”

“Our students have the skills and knowledge level to jump right into a career after finishing the program,” Moore said. “Giving students an opportunity to apply those skills in their classes is going to set them above other candidates applying for those same jobs.”

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