Dr. W. Wyatt Hoback
UNK Department of Biology, 308.865.8602

Dr. Wyatt Hoback, professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, was recently honored with a President’s Volunteer Service Award by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

The council grants the awards on behalf of the President of the United States. In Jan. 2002, President George Bush called on all Americans to dedicate at least two years, or 4,000 hours, over the course of their lives to volunteer services.

Dr. Hoback received a Bronze Award from the President’s Council for his work through the Winrock John Ogonowski Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which attracts approximately 350 volunteers each year to aid farmers, agribusinesses and local nonprofit organizations around the globe.

Named after the late pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the program takes skilled U.S. volunteers to areas that need help with agricultural sciences, farming, agribusiness, enterprise development, marketing, international trade, food processing, credit and financing, training, organizational development and renewable energy production.

For his part in the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, Dr. Hoback has traveled to Russia annually since 2003, and in the process has accumulated 4,000 hours of volunteer service.

During his volunteer missions, Dr. Hoback has worked with eight different Russian universities and technological colleges, which are similar to American community colleges. He teaches techniques for distance education, as well as improving potato production and other agriculture techniques.

Dr. Hoback’s latest trip was to Ulan Ude, Russia, to develop distance education strategies for the Institute for Additional Professional Education and Innovations of the Buryat State Agricultural Academy.

One of the struggles Dr. Hoback cited for farmers in Russia is the transition from a state-oriented production process that existed in the former Soviet Union under Communism to a free market democracy.

“They’re still trying to figure out how to move from Communism to a democratic society with a free marketplace. It’s a huge challenge. In the past, farmers received materials to grow the crops and didn’t get paid. Now, they are transitioning to where you can profit, or you can fail miserably,” Dr. Hoback said.

Dr. Hoback also teaches Russian citizens how to develop Web sites and other training modules, but he said technology in Russia is dated compared to the U.S.

“They’re where we were in 1995. High-speed Internet does not exist,” Dr. Hoback said.

Another challenge Dr. Hoback said he faced is the structure of the Russian education system.

“The Russian education system is based on memorizing facts and taking multiple choice tests,” Dr. Hoback said. “It’s a lot of information. It’s challenging, but it’s not the United States approach.”

Dr. Hoback said he tries to teach the Russians new ways to incorporate distance learning into the education environment, as well as methods for testing.

Dr. Hoback said the Farmer-to-Farmer program came to UNK in 1999, and he became involved with the program through his work with potato production in Nebraska and with distance education for the biology master’s program.

As the director of the UNK distance master’s degree in biology, Dr. Hoback has seen the relevance of distance education. He said students have already enrolled in more than 620 credit hours for this summer, and more than 300 students have taken classes from UNK.

Representing a national and international scope, Dr. Hoback said the enrollment figures show the reach of UNK programs.

“We’re serving students, not just in Nebraska, but in Alaska and Hawaii,” Dr. Hoback said. “So, I can go to Russia and talk about serving students, not just at the county and state level, but even at the national and international levels.”

Since 1991, more than 1,700 Winrock volunteers have completed more than 4,100 technical assignments that last from two to six weeks. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program currently operates in 25 countries, and the program covers volunteer travel expenses through a fund from the United State Agency for International Development.

The President’s Volunteer Service Awards were presented as part of National Volunteer Week.