September 27, 2009

Fall!  This is my favorite time of the year – warm days and cool nights that allow the sap of trees to store more sugars and fruit such as grapes to become sweeter; a time when the shadows become longer and the leaves on the hardwood trees are starting to change color indicative of their inevitable senescence; harvest of agricultural commodities is in full swing; and, of course, our campus is full of young people – the lifeblood of our college.

I arrived on campus in late July – Summer – a time when I would run into the occasional graduate student, busy with their dissertation or thesis research, and the occasional undergraduate student engaged in experiential research or holding down a job on campus to earn a living and save money for tuition.  With the arrival of Fall, the campus is bustling with young people.  There are numerous orientation programs for the students, and many are “rushing” for their fraternities and sororities.  Students are meeting with advisors and checking on courses.  Freshmen and transfer students are learning about our college and making new friends; while the senior classmen are renewing old friendships or making new ones.

There are orientations as well for new faculty and staff.  Departments and colleges are holding “retreats” where faculty and staff are undertaking an in depth conversation on the accomplishments of the past year, and the challenges and teaching, research, and Extension needs for the upcoming year.  I have met a number of our new faculty – our seed corn, as they are the future of our college – and the skills they bring in research or teaching or Extension are awesome.

Artist:  Jay Noller
Artist: Jay Noller

Many of them have amazing avocational interests in music, art, painting, sculpting, hiking, cooking, gardening, mountain climbing, etc.  One new faculty member I met plays in a band; another plays medieval music on a lap harp.

Looking for answers
Looking for answers

Whether it is faculty in Food Science and Technology who are undertaking research and extending knowledge on adding value to the agricultural commodities by converting to new food products or beverages or better ways of preserving them, or faculty in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology who work on coming up with ways to protect our environment or our health, or faculty in Fisheries and Wildlife discovering new ways of conserving our natural resources – they all exhibit an intensity of commitment to changing the future of our agricultural, food, and natural resources enterprise, making a difference. Right here, right now.

During University Day, President Ed Ray presented awards of excellence to OSU faculty and staff – several in our college were recognized for excellence in advising, research, Extension, or service, including David Williams, Carol Mallory-Smith, Melody Putnam, and Lynda Ciufetti. These faculty, like the many other faculty and staff who have been recognized by their peers at other venues, are changing the future.  Right here, right now.

Gelato Social for Students
Gelato Social for Students

The college hosted a gelato social to welcome students back for the Fall term.  I had the pleasure of meeting a number of them – freshmen and upper classmen – majoring in everything from Agricultural Business Management to Range Ecology and Management.  I learned of the many student clubs we have – Alpha Zeta to the Young Cattlemen’s Association.  It was great talking to these young men and women.  Many of them have had wonderful experiences in the summer – working on farms, with fish and wildlife, in wineries, on golf courses, and in other endeavors relevant to their education.

Fall enrollment in our college in general has increased significantly, particularly in Animal Science and in the Pre-Veterinary Option.  As I have traveled around the state, some of our stakeholders have expressed concern that we are not protecting the interests of traditional agriculture.  I have explained to them that while we are indeed seeing significant increases in other majors and options, we continue to recruit and educate students in the traditional agricultural disciplines as well.  In my mind, there is no conflict in catering to the increasingly diverse student body interested in attending our college, while protecting the traditional agricultural interests.  As a matter of fact, a number of students who come into our Animal Science department to study Pre-Vet are exposed to issues related to livestock animals and agriculture as well.  These Pre-Vet students would likely never get exposed to traditional agriculture were they not to come to our college.  I see this as a win-win situation, because we are seeing increased enrollments, which has an impact on state funding which is based on student numbers, and the students from non-traditional backgrounds are getting exposed to agriculture, increasing their appreciation of agriculture and, thus, more likely to understand and support humanity’s need for agriculture, i.e., to grow our crops and livestock, to feed the burgeoning population.

Welcome to a new academic year
Welcome to a new academic year

In welcoming the students at the gelato social I promised them that our college was about educating them and to equip them with the knowledge and tools to change the future.  Right here, right now.

September 6, 2009

Look up the word “commitment” in the Webster’s Dictionary and you might see the following:
Main Entry: com·mit·ment
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈmit-mənt\
Function: noun
The act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself; A pledge or promise; Obligation; Engagement; Involvement.

The word “commitment” and all of its various synonyms kept ringing in my head – as I was sharing a meal with our alumni, friends, and stakeholders or having conversations with faculty and staff during department and branch station visits or touring our myriad farms in and around Corvallis or branch stations or visiting the State Fair in Salem.

Commitment is evident in the efforts of faculty who work with undergraduate and graduate students. For example, over the last several weeks, Sujaya Rao, along with several colleagues, hosted approximately a dozen undergraduate students from OSU and from other institutions around the nation on a National Science Foundation grant for Research Experiences for Undergraduates. REUPresentationThese bright young women and men were involved in studies at various locations in the state on trying to understand the importance of native bees as pollinators. Similarly, Desiree Tullos engages undergraduate students in her efforts in the area of aquatic ecosystems, ecohydraulics, river morphology and restoration, and bioassessment, helping them develop the skills needed in managing our water resources. These smart, young people epitomize to me the reason why we are a land grant college – i.e., offering access to young people and enabling their success. Listening to the REU student presentations, I am convinced that indeed we are enabling young people to be successful and to be contributing members of society.

Commitment is evident in the research and educational efforts of our faculty and staff in Biological and Ecological Engineering and in Animal Sciences, in such endeavors as to protect our water resources, to obtain bioenergy and biomaterials from plants, or to convert municipal sewage into Hydrogen and “blue” water – imagine that: obtaining water, while also meeting the future energy needs, from sewage; or in endeavors to manage animal wastes or controlling mastitis pathogens, determining the dietary effects of modulating poultry health or poultry reproduction. Greenwall

As I learned this past week, commitment is evident in the efforts as well of faculty and staff in Horticulture or Agricultural and Resource Economics – working to help develop beautiful and sustainable urban landscapes, including “green roofs and green walls”, teaching students to develop skills in these new approaches, in developing better and more healthy vegetables such as purple tomatoes and fruit and more efficient ways of producing horticultural crops, or helping communities manage rural and urban issues, climate change, land and water use, marine fisheries, market structure, the relationships between yields, production and prices of commodities, and other issues with science-based and more effective public policies. Similarly, by their discovery and educational efforts our research and Extension faculty and staff at our Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center and Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center engage local communities and address their unique issues, enabling them to succeed and thrive.

UrbanHortCommitment is evident in Oregon’s producers of crops, livestock, fruit, vegetables, grass, and seed, and other value added products such as wines or blue cheese, using conventional or sustainable or organic approaches. Every one of the producers I have met – in the various valleys that constitute Oregon west of the Cascades such as the Willamette or Rogue or Umpqua, in the Klamath Basin, in the Columbia River Gorge area – is committed to ensuring a safe and secure food supply to the burgeoning population and to mitigate hunger and poverty, while protecting the environmental and economic stability of their communities. There might be different approaches or different philosophies of producing our food. Rather than engage in arguments that one production method or approach is better, my approach is that we focus on outcomes and utilize every tool – organic, conventional, sustainable, or any other approach – in our research and education toolkit to help our producers address the arduous need and responsibility to feed the nine billion humans in just another thirty to forty years. As a land grant college it is our commitment and pledge to help discover ways of growing crops and livestock in an environmentally benign and economically viable manner. I have said to many – we need to help our producers not just survive, but actually thrive in their efforts to feed people in their backyards or miles away on other continents.

OSUStadiumCommitment is evident in the alumni and friends I met during the football game against Portland State University – a game we won 34-7. These are individuals who are proud of their heritage of having graduated from our college. These are individuals who have a connection to agriculture because they grow the crops and livestock or process them into value-added commodities. These are individuals who strive for excellence in their daily lives and careers, and who are about enabling the same – of their alma mater, of the current students, and of their communities – by contributing money and time to scholarships, to fellowships, to professorships, to buildings, and to infrastructure. Without such altruism and support, our college would not be able to strive for excellence.

StateFairCommitment was evident as well at the State Fair in Salem in the person of Tyson Snider, a young man from Klamath Falls. Tyson is taking the year off to serve as a state officer with the FFA, and next year will be attending our college to get a degree in Agribusiness and as an ROTC cadet. I was impressed with his maturity and commitment to the FFA and to his own career – he runs a small swine operation, wants to be in the Air Force and keep his hands in agribusiness and, therefore, his interest in the Agribusiness degree, which he believes he will need when he retires from the Air Force at age 39 0r 40! Now that is commitment. In turn, we promise him an outstanding education that will enable him to achieve his dream.

That’s what our college is about – our commitment to enable young people like Tyson and the farmers and ranchers and the food processors and the mothers and fathers and citizens to achieve their dreams.

The spouse of one of our alumni said it best after dinner, and which speaks for all – “we’ve got your back”! With commitment like that we are guaranteed to succeed and move forward.