Agriculture and Business Students to get Real-World Experience Thanks to Donation

JONESBORO – The College of Agriculture at Arkansas State University has received a gift of nearly $103,000 from Lynn native and A-State alumnus Dr. J.B. Penn. The funds will be used to support a trading program in a partnership between the College of Agriculture and the Neil Griffin College of Business.

The funds will be held by the Arkansas State University System Foundation, Inc., to be used in investments suggested by students.

“Success in business today requires having a firm understanding of the functioning of the financial markets. Hands-on experience greatly facilitates gaining that understanding,” said Penn, who is retired from Deere and Company.

The collaboration will utilize the state-of-the-art Dawson Capital Markets Lab, located in the Griffin College of Business, which allows students to get real-life-like experience in bond and stock trading. The lab, made possible through a donation from Scott and Kay Keasler Dawson of Memphis nearly a decade ago, includes computers and monitors students can use to keep track of world markets.

This partnership will be beneficial to students across campus.

“In the College of Agriculture, we agreed to strengthen our hands-on opportunities for students,” said Dr. Mickey LaTour, dean of the College of Agriculture. “We know learning outside the classroom helps students develop practical skills, builds relationships and strengthens their ability to execute future projects.”

Dr. Jim Washam, dean of the Griffin College of Business, said they are excited about the opportunity to partner with the College of Agriculture.

“Given the importance of agricultural business to the regional economy, our two colleges are a natural fit for joint projects,” said Washam. 

This funding will help students be better prepared to enter the workforce thanks to the added comfort level they will have with trading and making trading suggestions through this program.  

“Our new trading platform will only deepen that experience because students will be making recommendations on real dollars, which is unlike a traditional classroom experience,” continued LaTour.

Penn said it is vital for students to understand how financial markets function in business operations.

“Having a firm understanding of the workings of the financial markets is as important today as knowing the technical production processes,” said Penn.

“This gift will provide agriculture and business students with very real-life experience defining investment goals, setting risk parameters, evaluating investment alternatives, and presenting their ideas and results,” said Washam.

This funding will provide positive returns for faculty while giving students real-world experience.

“Students will work with faculty on stocks and commodities and make recommendations on those funds where the investment should be made,” said LaTour. 

He said the Foundation will execute those recommendations.

The funds earned through the program will be reinvested into strategic priorities for the colleges. These include providing scholarships to help students with internships, travel for conferences, experiences and research.

“We thank Dr. J.B. Penn for the impact that this gift will have on the lives of our students. We are also grateful for the work of Dr. LaTour in bringing this project to the campus,” said Washam

Penn retired from Deere in 2020, after serving 11 years as the company’s chief economist and three years as senior adviser to the chairman.

He served more than five years as the undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from A-State, then completed a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Louisiana State University and a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University.

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