Corey Cockerill Follows in Footsteps of Giants

October 4, 2021
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First Female Academic Program Director Leading Popular Program into the Future

Dr. Corey Cockerill, professor of communication arts and agriculture, is the new academic program director — and the first female in that leadership position — for the College’s largest academic area, agriculture.

PICTURED: Dr. Corey Cockerill speaks about the Agriculture Dept. with rural life broadcaster Dale Minyo when Ag New Radio visited the campus in 2019. (BELOW) The professor meets with freshman Garrett Simmons after a class this semester.

Cockerill shares leadership responsibilities with Dr. Chad McKay, assistant professor of agriculture, as both are considered area coordinators and department chairs for agriculture. Cockerill leads the academic side of the program while McKay handles the finances and academic farms.

This new role is the latest summit in an extraordinary journey for one who joined WC as a member of the communication arts faculty in 2008. Following teaching six years strictly in the comm arts area, Cockerill approached Dr. Monte Anderson, then ag program director, pitching the idea of launching a new hybrid concentration in agricultural communication. “Monte and the other agriculture faculty all felt the new concentration would be a good fit,” she said. “They agreed that we needed to add more ‘human dimensions’ to the core curriculum.”

Cockerill’s academic border crossing into agriculture proved nearly seamless and a natural expansion of her wheelhouse when considering her interests and background. Indeed, she has a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural communication, a Master of Science in rural sociology and a Ph.D. in environmental sociology policy and communication. Plus, she married a farmer, WC alumnus Tate Cockerill, who is regional manager for Pioneer and their family, including two children, resides on a farm with cattle, hogs, poultry, rabbits, goats and a grain operation. Their son and daughter are active in FFA and 4-H.

In spite of extensive agricultural environment in which she’s been immersed in recent years, Cockerill sees herself as “an identical match” to the now-typical ag student at WC: a female with no agricultural background or experience before attending college, but with great interest in STEM careers that relate to food, farm, fuel and/or fiber production. “Today, that’s the profile of nearly 70 percent of our ag majors,” she added. “Even those with agricultural backgrounds have limited on-farm experience, but with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm for learning.”

The agricultural communications concentration she initiated in 2015 now includes expanded coursework in agricultural policy, advocacy, mediation and conflict resolution, risk communication and diffusion of innovations, which all complement regular coursework in applied communications.

Corey and GarrettAlso, six years ago, Cockerill was on the ground floor in the establishment of a co-curricular advocacy experience in Washington, D.C., for agriculture students. It represents a logical offshoot of the College’s signature, hands-on learning, Spring Lobby Weekend established nearly 20 years ago at WC by Emeritus Professor Dr. Neil Snarr and continued by Dr. Michael Snarr, professor of political science.

Through that hands-on experience, ag students are trained in advocacy techniques and given the opportunity to meet directly with members of the U.S. legislature to offer their perspectives or positions on select topics, including trade agreements, Farm Bill policies, conservation programs, product labeling laws and renewable fuels.

“The experience is typically a high point for our students — and honestly for me, too,” she said.

The agriculture program has experienced a sea change in recent years with the retirements of longtime stalwarts Anderson this summer and Dr. Don Chafin several years ago, along with the unexpected passing of Harold Thirey in early 2021. Cockerill holds special affection for each of those former leaders of the program.

“I was extremely lucky to have been mentored by the best of the best,” she said. “It’s no secret why the agriculture program is so successful today — these three colleagues. They had a vision for what the program could be and worked diligently and relentlessly to make that happen. They were not afraid of change and knew how to adapt with changing workforce demand for agriculturalists.”

Cockerill lauded the practices in leadership, networking and collaboration at which they excelled, noting these have “now become traditions” among the next generation of faculty when building relationships with students and maintaining relationships with alumni.

“They demonstrated unprecedented work ethic and farm ethic that my new colleagues and I honor and aspire to emulate,” she said. “We will never fill their boots, but every day the ‘Generation 3’ faculty and I try our best to continue their legacy.”

She said the world needs Wilmington College-trained agriculturalists more than ever as American agriculture endeavors to feed 9 billion by 2050 — in ways that are socially responsible, economically viable, production efficient and with high environmental integrity.

“Who couldn’t rally around that!” she added. “It is that ever-so-critical mission that keeps the ag faculty connected to each other and to the students in the program.”

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