Dean’s Blog – April 2016 – “Ag Day and Arrivederci Edition”

agday-blogThe month of April brings a college tradition to the University and Newark communities — Ag Day. This 41-year tradition outstrips all but very few of us in terms of number of years of service. This year’s theme is “sustainAGbility,” which reflects one of our fundamental values, as defined in our strategic plan. “Feeding the world while protecting the planet,” as we say in the college, is truly one of the grand challenges of the 21st century. We certainly hope that everyone who attends Ag Day 2016 will leave with an enhanced understanding of how CANR rises to meet this challenge. Many of the traditional displays and activities will be in place, along with some new ones, so I hope to see all of you between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. And don’t forget about food, live music, arts and crafts, ice cream and audience participation activities.

Thanks in advance to the dozens of people involved in planning, executing and volunteering for Ag Day: the steering committee; students who serve on the planning committee; student ambassadors; AGR and SA members who volunteer; faculty, staff and Extension agents who work displays and events (including those who play the music!); the farm crew who bring the animals and hay bales; the Master Gardeners and plant sale volunteers; and many more. I also express thanks to Grace Wisser, who recently joined our staff to coordinate events; she has done yeoman’s work in tackling logistics and other details. It takes a college-wide effort to bring this fantastic day together!

Promptly after Ag Day, I will say arrivederci to campus for two weeks, as I head to Italy for a brief lectureship. I will be at the University of Palermo in Sicily, teaching a course in tree physiology with one of my former students, now an associate professor of horticulture. In academia, it’s a “bucket list” thing to reunite with a former Ph.D. student and engage in academic pursuits, so I am really looking forward to this! Embarking on a plan to offer part of their curriculum in English, the university has invited U.S.-based scholars to visit for a brief period and teach. I only hope that I can learn alcune parole dell’italiano from them in return. We’ll see — bet on them, not me.

Spring is always a busy time on campus, and here are few highlights to share with you this month.

creamerybirthdayUDairy Creamery’s fifth birthday

This may be hard to believe, but the UDairy Creamery is five years old this year. While the planning began before 2011, the Creamery opened its doors five years ago and has been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. More than 250 students have worked or interned there, producing more than 1 million servings of ice cream in five short years. The Creamery has become one of the most visible symbols of the college, and it speaks volumes about entrepreneurship and application of knowledge as a fundamental value in our curricula. I frequently say that a better educated student is the real product of the Creamery, and the ice cream is the by-product (though that sometimes gets me in hot water with the management!). After Ag Day ends, we will celebrate the Creamery’s birthday at 6 p.m. in the Trabant University Center. I hope you can join us to celebrate this milestone.

Pre-vet program success

We have always known that our undergraduate pre-vet major places students in professional school at a rate well above the national average, but this year our graduating students set a new bar: 27 out of 28 students from the pre-vet program who applied have been accepted to either veterinary school or medical school next fall! That acceptance rate exceeds 95 percent, compared to the national average of about 40 percent. I am so proud of our students and the faculty and staff who guided them through the demanding curriculum. This may be the highest acceptance rate in the country, and it certainly reflects the quality of the program we have in the Animal and Food Sciences Department. Best of luck to all of these smart, hardworking Blue Hens!


Congratulations to recent award recipients

Recently, our faculty, students and staff received a number of awards. Here’s a sampling:

The inaugural Excellence in Extension Award goes to Richard Taylor, an Extension specialist in agronomy, soil fertility and crop management at UD for more than 31 years. During his tenure, Richard conducted applied research and Extension programs on major field crops, alternative crops, cover crops and cropping systems.  More recently, he expanded into the areas of nutrient and turf grass management. He has been a key member of the IPM team in field and forage crop areas as well as no-till and soybean systems. Richard will retire in the next fiscal year, so we’re glad that he will be honored for his hard work at convocation before beginning a new chapter in life.

The Excellence in Staff Support Award goes to Richard Morris, who manages the dairy operation on the Newark farm. Richard meets and mentors many of the animal science students in the college, offering excellent hands-on opportunities for students who wish to work with large animals. He also provides leadership for the AGR fraternity, whose young men reflect well on the college. Richard will receive his award on stage at convocation this year, when his son will walk in graduation. May 27 will be a great day for the Morris family, who has done so much for the college.

Maria Pippidis, New Castle County director and Extension educator, received the Jeanne M. Priester Award at the National Health Outreach Conference for her work. Maria partnered with Maryland colleagues, developing a literacy education program that helps individuals make the best health insurance choices for their families, with training offered in 32 states.

Joanne Whalen, Extension specialist, is the recipient of the 2016 Ratledge Family Award, which recognizes the contributions of University of Delaware faculty, staff and students who exemplify excellence in public service to the citizens of our state.

Nancy Gregory, Extension agent, received an individual award at the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) meeting. She served as chair of the National Database PAC from 2010–2013. Nancy also led and directed the effort in pursuing funding from the Farm Bill for the One Standard Fungi Name Project.

Christy Mannering was honored at the Women of Promise Celebration, an annual event that promotes positive mentoring relationships among women faculty and students. Christy, who is pursuing a master’s in Public Administration, keeps the college looking great on the website and in digital media.

Remembering Bill Brown

Reflecting on the many talents and accomplishments in the CANR family brings to mind Bill Brown, our Extension poultry agent in Sussex County, who died in an accident on his farm on April 14. Bill was one of the best Extension agents in the Mid-Atlantic region, and he worked tirelessly on issues related to poultry production, Delaware’s #1 agricultural industry. In recent days, many have shared their memories of this extraordinary individual. The following is a fitting quote from his colleagues on the Delmarva Land & Litter Challenge Committee with whom Bill worked in recent months:

Bill was a good listener who sought to understand the viewpoints and concerns of others before advancing his own opinions. He was very generous with his time and was passionate in the quest for win-win outcomes for agriculture and the environment. Bill was an active poultry grower, the poultry Extension specialist with the University of Delaware, and a leader in his community and church. Bill was not just a colleague; he was also our friend. His presence and contributions around the Delmarva Land & Litter Challenge leadership table will be sorely missed. We offer our most sincere condolences to Bill’s wife, Mary Lou, and the rest of his family.

You can view a brief tribute video of Bill at the following link:

Please keep Bill’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time. In lieu of flowers, Bill’s family has asked for contributions to a scholarship in his name. Please send contributions to the University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 E. Main St., 3rd Fl., Newark, DE 19716. Make checks payable to “University of Delaware” and include on the memo line “Scholarship in memory of William R. Brown III.”

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Before the next blog post in June, we will send off another class of agriculture and natural resource leaders to change the world. Please join us on May 27 at 4 p.m. in the Bob Carpenter Center for the 2016 CANR Convocation.

Dean’s Blog February 2016 (late edition)

Well, the Blog is running a bit late again. And this being a leap year, there really is no excuse for getting a February blog out in early March. A whole extra day — where did it go? Like most days in the College, there’s a lot to do and great people to work with, so before you know it, time has slipped away.

Be sure to mark your calendars for Ag Day, April 30(2)Last year’s February Blog was a tad critical of Punxsutawney Phil and his (misguided) weather prognostication. But I have to say that he was close to the mark this year, foreseeing an early spring after a winter that will go down in the books as mild overall. Except for the blizzard that brought a season’s worth of snow in 36 hours (and a UD snow day), the El Niño weather pattern has really kept temperatures above normal. And we will take it after the two previous winters!

I can see buds moving on the saucer magnolias, some color on the early ornamental plums, and red maples turning red in southern Delaware, so spring is not very far away based on plant phenology. Soon, our UD Botanical Garden will come alive with color and we will be busy prepping for Ag Day. (By the way, you may want to mark your calendars for Ag Day — Saturday, April 30). So while you’re enjoying the longer day lengths and gradual transition to spring, here are a few highlights from the early weeks of 2016.

Fundraising success! In January, the College received its largest gift in quite some time — a $4.2 million charitable trust that was given for Worrilow Hall expansion and upgrades. It is all the more important to receive a large gift for your number-one fundraising priority, so we are goals for 2016doubly grateful for this incredible gift. To put this in context, this single gift is roughly the amount of money we raise in a typical year. The donor wishes to remain anonymous, like so many of our supporters, and we will certainly respect their wishes. I’d like to thank Dan Sarkissian and Martha Mitchell in UD’s Development Office who worked through the complexities of the gift agreement and made sure everything was in order. Adding our recent $500,000 Unidel gift to this brings us to almost $5 million for gifts targeted at Worrilow in the past four months. This is a great start, given that UD’s official fundraising campaign has not yet reached the public phase. We have a lot more work to do to reach our goal, but this gift helps us make the case for further support among our alumni and friends.

New Communications Director. I am pleased that Catherine Hamrick has joined the College as the Director of Communications. She started just this week, and is already working the hallways and holding meetings with key stakeholders. She has held many positions over her career, ranging from book editor to English instructor, and importantly, many of her projects were horticulturally themed, like the work she did for Ortho books and Better Homes and Gardens. We look forward to her vision and direction in telling the story of the College and increasing awareness and understanding of all the good things we do. I thank Michelle Rodgers and the rest of the search committee for conducting a thorough, yet expedited search that resulted in the best outcome for the college.

More new faces. Another great hire was Jen Clem, who was already working for us in a different capacity at the Kent County office in Dover. She will provide much needed support for grants and contracts, and will be in Newark one day a week and at the Carvel Center other days. I thank Kathy Lyons for chairing the search and many others for screening applicants, interviewing and providing input. Welcome, Jen! Grace Wisser joined the dean’s office staff about the same time as Jen. Grace is doubling our front desk service capacity, providing much needed help with event planning and logistics, and finding many other ways to help out. She has been a delight to work with and has helped us get back on track after a few positions were vacated recently. Stop by the dean’s suite and welcome these new folks to the family!

goals for 2016(1)Enrollment update. It looks like the college is on track for another good year in enrollment of new students. We’ve had about the same number of applications to the College as last year, and thus we’re holding at relatively high numbers compared to recent history. The admitted group is just slightly less than last year, but very talented based on grades and scores. Similarly, overall UD admission offers are slightly lower than last year, prompted by our need to reduce the incoming freshman class, as we’ve exceeded our target for two years in a row. The target is about 3800 rather than the 4100–4200 in previous years, when we’ve experienced overcrowding in the dorms and in freshman classes (by the way, this is a good problem to have).

Some admission decisions are still going out, and we’ve had only one “Decision Day” thus far, where admitted students and their parents come to campus to take a closer look at the opportunity that UD presents. In the College, our goal is to yield as many of the admitted students as possible, which will take a lot of phone calls, emails, and follow-ups over the next several weeks. Most of our admitted students are also admitted at three to four other great universities in the region, so they have choices. If you know any of our admitted students, please encourage them to schedule a private tour of our campus through Kim Yackoski, senior assistant dean. We’re happy to accommodate parents and other family members as well. We conduct over 100 such tours in a typical year. Many of the students who tour our campus end up enrolling here — once they see what we’ve got to offer, how could they say no?

Lesa Griffiths named T.A. Baker Professor. Congratulations to Dr. Lesa Griffiths, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, who was named the T.A. Baker Professor after an exhaustive search to fill the slot vacated by Tom Sims‘ retirement in January. The T.A. Baker Professorship is awarded to a faculty member who has had significant impact on the college; in Lesa’s case it was impact on students and teaching. Lesa has done an outstanding job with our students, in and out of the classroom. Her appointment is for a five-year term.

The Blog will return in April when winter will be just a distant memory.

Dean’s Blog – December 2015 – Happy Holidays Edition

holidaypartyI can’t believe we’re just about ready to bid farewell to 2015 and ring in the New Year. For the College, 2015 was not boring. We had our share of ups and downs, and thankfully, we’ve ended the year in a good place overall, so maybe that’s why it seemed to fly by so fast. Every week was different. Although the last few weeks of the semester have been as frantic as ever, on December 11th we took time out to have a wonderful holiday party in our newly renovated Townsend Commons (photo). It was a nearly packed house of faculty, staff, students, retirees, friends and family members, engaged in merriment of all sorts. It was really great to see about as many adults with painted faces as children! Mostly, we enjoyed the opportunity to set aside work for two hours to tell stories, catch up, and have a few laughs at the end of a busy and eventful year. This month’s Blog will cover a few noteworthy year-end items, and then settle down for a long winter’s nap.

UD’s next president. By now, many of you have heard that Dr. Dennis Assanis, Provost at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, will become the next president of the University of Delaware on July 1st 2016. If you haven’t, you can read a bit more about him here. I was able to spend half an hour with Dr. Assanis during his three-day visit to campus in November. I gave him copies of our strategic plan, the related Milestones document (see next item in Blog), and a copy of our recent Annual Report, just in case he didn’t have enough to read from the other six deans! We discussed many things about the college and university in our brief time, and one thing stood out in my mind. He asked if there was a university-wide sustainability studies program, and if so, what our college’s involvement was. While there isn’t such a program (yet), I assured him that we would be at the forefront of such an effort, as sustainability is one of our fundamental values and most of what we do relates to sustainability of agriculture and natural resources. My first impression? Dr. Assanis is a personable, thoughtful, and visionary administrator who makes you feel like you know him almost immediately. I am sure that UD is in good hands as we usher in a new administration in 2016.

Master Plan Milestones. During the latter part of 2015 we revisited the college’s strategic plan, the 2013 Master Plan, to chart our accomplishments and progress two years into implementation. The resulting Milestones document has been vetted with faculty, staff and stakeholders, and is now posted to our web site. I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive comments received to date, and I certainly appreciate the thorough review that people have given the document. Here is a sample of the milestones that the faculty, staff and students have accomplished in the execution of our strategic goals:

  • Since FY12, the incoming class size has grown 12.7%, student credit hour generation has grown 17.1%, and undergrad and grad enrollments have grown 8.2 and 23.8%, respectively. Total enrollment is just under 1000 students and growing!
  • Since FY12, sponsored program expenditures (a proxy for our scholarly activity) are up 7% to $28 million for the year ending last June. Our faculty and extension professionals have done a great job in garnering external support for their programs! Cooperative Extension has grown their portfolio from $3.1 million to $4.3 million and has made significant progress on their goal of increasing external funding.
  • The college’s budget has improved significantly since FY13. In that year, our contingency was a mere 0.1% of our total budget – a razor-thin margin. This year (FY16) we are projecting a contingency of ~2% (over $1 million), and we’re able to devote dollars to badly needed deferred maintenance issues, launch a few faculty searches and implement strategic initiatives like internal seed grant programs. We’ve doubled annual fundraising compared to pre-2012 averages, which has helped enhance the quality of all of our programs. We had to do some belt tightening to get here, but the financial picture has brightened considerably in the last two years.

We still have a long way to go to reach many of our goals, but we’ve definitely taken the first steps toward a brighter future as we’ve implemented the strategic plan.

Case for philanthropic support. Speaking of the budget, one of the things we’ll be launching in 2016 is an ambitious fundraising campaign for the college. We have been working in the “silent phase” until now, and already we’ve raised over $20 million toward our goal of $39 million. As we move into the “public phase”, we’re laying out the case for support, i.e., why fundraising is so important to our future and what the main priorities are for gifts received. Our case document is being vetted with past donors and future prospects and will be finalized in early 2016. The many opportunities for investment in the college will be pursued through three broad priorities: investing in students (through scholarships, internships and experiential learning), investing in infrastructure and programs (re-envisioning the potential of Worrilow Hall, funding innovation in Extension), and investing in faculty (through professorships and gifts to support specific programs). So, why is fundraising so important to the college? It allows us to pursue unique and impactful goals that we simply could not otherwise, like giving scholarships to students with financial need, allowing faculty and staff to develop new programs, and creating 21st century facilities conducive to discovery and innovation. The next Blog item gives an example of what a well-placed gift can do.

Many of you who read the Blog are also donors and supporters, and with a joyous holiday spirit, I’d like to thank all of you for your generosity over the years. You have enabled us to build a thriving environment for learning and discovery that has impacted thousands of faculty, staff and students. As I reflect on the true meaning of the holiday season, I am inspired by your willingness to give so that we can continue to produce top notch graduates and tackle some of the grand challenges facing agriculture and natural resources.

UDairy Creamery expansion planned. Speaking of fundraising, we just received a $500,000 grant from the UNIDEL Foundation to expand the UDairy Creamery! This gift will be matched to raise the approximately $1 million required to build a production facility to make new products such as cheeses, yogurt, butter, cream and of course, ice cream base. Currently, the Creamery employs 20-25 students per year and produces solely ice cream products. As we branch out into more diverse line of products, we’ll be able to employ many more students who will be engaged in far more sophisticated production, technology and marketing opportunities. It will greatly reinforce our value proposition of authentic, hands-on learning for students that enroll in the college. The need for faculty involvement will increase as we undertake pasteurization, fermentation, aging and other complex aspects of food science. Some have suggested involving sheep in the operation, given the popularity of cheeses made from sheep’s milk. And there are probably many other endeavors that we haven’t yet considered. As I frequently say, the real product of the UDairy Creamery is a better educated student; the by-product is the ice cream. As we expand, we won’t lose sight of our fundamental mission, we’ll just make it a much more interesting pursuit.

Retirements and departures. As 2015 comes to a close, we will wish the best to a few faculty and staff as they enter retirement or move on to other opportunities. Tom Sims, the TA Baker Professor of Soil Science, will retire in January after almost four decades of service to the college as a professor and administrator. Tom Pizzolato, a professor of plant sciences will retire in January as well after a similar career with CANR. Bill Ritter, a professor and chair of the former Biological Resource Engineering Department will retire in early 2016, as will Pat Nelson who served for many years in Applied Economics and Statistics. Blake Meyers, professor and former Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences, will begin a new chapter in his career at the prestigious Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri. Nancy Gainer, the CANR Communications Director, will become the Executive Director of Communications for West Chester University, and we are grateful for all that she has done to improve our visibility and strategic communications in recent years.

We will miss them all, but hopefully they will continue to engage with the college for years to come. Please take a moment and thank them for their loyal service, and all of the lives made better by their tireless efforts.


The Blog wishes all of you a joyous holiday season, and will return in February following a mild winter.

Dean’s Blog – October 2015 – Halloween Edition

The past few mornings, I’ve definitely felt autumn in the air, as days grow shorter and cold fronts bring crisp, Canadian air to Delaware. I took the blog with me on a trip to Europe during the first two weeks of October, so the stark change in weather and fall color were more amplified for me than in most years. Halloween décor seemed to appear all of a sudden given that when I left, there were still signs of summer around the neighborhood. I did not know that Halloween was also celebrated in Europe, at least in the few countries that I was able to visit. I was in a department store in Switzerland, and one entire section was devoted to Halloween costumes and clothing – it looked like I could have been at the Christiana Mall. In Austria, I ran across a Starbucks with a sign for “pumpkin spiced latte”, and saw pumpkin being used in all sorts of snacks and desserts. I really thought that I could avoid all-things-pumpkin by being out of the USA in October, but no, the Europeans seem to have latched on to the pumpkin craze as much as we have. All in all, it made me reflect on how similar we are, even though we speak different languages, wear different clothes, drive different cars, and often adopt different worldviews. Halloween is something we can all relate to.

But I wasn’t in Europe just to observe the culture. I attended the 3rd Global Risk Forum on “One Health” in Davos, Switzerland. “One Health” is the label for a new paradigm in which the health of humans, animals and ecosystems is considered to be strongly interrelated. It follows that tomorrow’s human health solutions have to be developed in much broader contexts by highly interdisciplinary teams, including the types of researchers you find in our college. In the 2013 strategic plan, we declared One Health as one of our unique research strengths. While the end-game for us is not necessarily curing cancer in humans, the One Health paradigm challenges us to work more collaboratively with folks in medicine, biology and public health. I’ll say more about the conference below, but my belief that CANR is at the center of One Health was reinforced ten-fold after hearing speakers from all over the world describe research and outreach that sounded a lot like us.

Please, feel free to get yourself a pumpkin-spiced snack or a piece of Halloween candy and allow the blog to bring you up to speed on a few things happening in the college.

chulabhornOne Health in CANR. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my career, but never one that opened with a live performance by opera singers and a keynote speech by a princess (I took a picture of the soprano singer because I didn’t think people would believe me). By the third performance, I knew I wasn’t just going to see a bunch of talks and posters. The keynote was given by Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand. She is a professor of chemistry and an honorary member of the Royal Society of Chemistry of England. Not your typical monarch! She gave a talk on human health as a key factor in sustainable development, in which she showed that people from urban environments in Bangkok, Thailand had a significantly higher cancer risk than rural people. The poor air and water quality of the city environment had resulted in higher levels of carcinogens and greater DNA damage in people from the city when compared to rural populations. That’s One Health – an unhealthy environment correlates directly with greater health risk, and in this case the human health solution lies at least partly in the realm of environmental sciences. She speculated that these issues have to be dealt with in order for cities like Bangkok to develop sustainably. That’s the way the rest of the conference went; talks from people all over the world studying zoonotic diseases like Ebola and rabies, avian influenza, vector-borne diseases like chikungunya and malaria, associations between environmental health and wildlife health, antibiotic resistance in animal production and consequences for human health, and so on.

In most every talk, I could see relevant programs in CANR. In fact, our faculty easily could have given presentations at this conference. Obviously, we have strength in avian health and are at the forefront of avian influenza surveillance and management. Our food scientists are working on ways to reduce food-borne illness in people. Our soil scientists are studying ways to reduce arsenic content in rice and by extension, human health issues associated with arsenic. Our animal nutrition folks are studying metabolism in animals with implications for humans. Our entomologists are studying bee and pollinator health by looking at the plants they forage, and in turn how this might affect ecosystems and agriculture. Our natural resource economists are studying the policy and economic issues surrounding viable ecosystems and agricultural lands, with implications for the health of everything. Extension family and consumer scientists are teaching people about healthy diets, exercise and handling food safely. Ryan Arsenault, one of our newest faculty in animal science, is working on a course in One Health. I could go on, but the blog is telling me I’ve made my point (!). The College is clearly at the center of the One Health movement. But one thing is lacking – an awareness of our integral role in One Health – by both internal and external constituencies. So please tell someone today about One Health and how the College is at the forefront of this emerging area of study.

Homecoming festivities. Homecoming is a great fall tradition at UD, and is the time that the College recognizes some of its most distinctive alumni through presentation of our Distinguished Alumni and Worrilow awards. We’ll do that on Friday, November 6, in the Townsend Commons. Homecoming is Saturday, November 7, when our awardees will attend a special tailgate followed by Blue Hen football. Join us in the Commons if you can! This year’s recipients are:

Distinguished Alumni:

  • Mary Denigan-Macauley, ANFS ‘88, Assistant Director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Government
  • Devan Mehrotra, STAT ‘91, Executive Director, Clinical Biostatistics, Merck
  • Kenneth Raffa, ENTO ’76, Beers-Bascom Professor of Conservation, University of Wisconsin
  • Don Tilmon, APEC ‘67, Professor, Retired, University of Delaware

Distinguished Young Alumni:

  • Jared Ali, ENTO ‘08, Assistant Professor of Entomology, Michigan State University.

George M. Worrilow Award:

  • Charles C. Allen, III, AGRI ‘71, Past President, Allen Family Foods

I thank everyone who nominated individuals for these awards and those who have worked very hard to organize the event.

Staff reclassifications. Congratulations to several people on our staff who were reclassified and/or received adjustments in the past month. Annually, we nominate staff members for reclassification and/or salary adjustments that have experienced substantial changes to their roles over the years. The latest group includes: Albert Nojunas, Charlie Willis and Wayne Bartsch (Newark Farm); Melinda Litvinas (UDairy Creamery); Tammy Schirmer and Sharon Webb (Carvel Center); Alice Moore (Extension) and Cindy Rechsteiner (Plant and Soil Sciences). We absolutely, positively could not operate the College without the valiant efforts of our staff, and I am glad that we can properly recognize their efforts. I thank Kawkab Rasheed, Kathryn Thoroughgood, and Chris Towers who spent a lot of time preparing and reviewing the cases.

Worrilow Hall. As many of you know, we have been considering a renovation and possible expansion of our primary laboratory building, Worrilow Hall, for several years. This week at the Dean’s Council meeting, the topic of Worrilow came up in the context of capital priorities across campus. The good news is that Worrilow is officially listed as a “project under consideration” in the UD four-year capital plan, which is the first time I’ve actually seen this in writing. It is just one of many projects that will be presented to the Board of Trustees in the coming weeks as a potential capital project to undertake. One major change to the thinking about the renovation has occurred – Worrilow is being envisioned as a multi-college, interdisciplinary science building, and I agreed to chair a group including the vice president for research and deans of Arts & Sciences, Health Sciences, Engineering and Earth, Ocean and Environment to develop a concept for a broader, larger Worrilow expansion and renovation. Of course, I’ll be advocating strongly that all of CANR’s proposed needs be met through the project. That’s a given. Having faculty and students from other colleges collaborating with our folks in new, state-of-the-art space is one of many positive outcomes. I could see problem-based learning classrooms in the new Worrilow given the success of this approach in the Harker ISE lab; why not extend that success to south campus?  I’m sure you can think of other benefits as we conceptualize what Worrilow could become, not just for our College, but for all life sciences at the University. I’ll be reaching out to you for input over the next several weeks.

Awards and minigrants coming soon. Attention faculty, staff and students! We have three awards and two intramural minigrant opportunities coming soon. The award categories are staff excellence, excellence in research by faculty, and excellence in Extension. Each carries a monetary award, recognition at the 2016 CANR graduation ceremony, and a brick engraved with the awardee’s name in the Dunham Garden patio (south end of Townsend Hall). Please nominate deserving individuals for these awards. On minigrants, Associate Dean Eric Wommack is launching a round of research minigrants and I am launching a teaching minigrant RFP very soon. All proposals must tie in strongly to the Master Plan, the College strategic plan. More details will follow, but please get your teams together and get your ideas on paper!

Happy Halloween, and enjoy this wonderful October weather while it lasts. The blog will return in December prior to another set of holidays.

Dean’s Blog – August 2015 – From the Blogosphere

The blog comes to you from an inspired 38,000 ft this month, as I travel with associate dean Eric Wommack and assistant professor Deb Delaney to Lima, Peru (the “from the blogosphere” pun is from Deb). We’re headed to La Molina University to recruit Peruvian students who might wish to obtain an MS or PhD degrees in the college. The Peruvian government has an attractive scholarship program that supports students seeking higher degrees in the U.S., and UD has executed an MOU with the scholarship officials that should increase the likelihood of students coming to us. I’m optimistic that we will attract our fair share.

I should bring the blog with me more often on trips, as this is the first time in years that I have been upgraded to first class, for free. Man, this is great! Legroom, wide seats, wifi, and a hostess that brings you orange juice before the cabin door is closed. Not sure about the whole hot towel deal, but it does make one feel special. So this is how the other half lives? Woohoo! Take your time, Captain.

As we lift off and gain altitude out of BWI, the late August sun glimmering off the Chesapeake Bay reminds me that the summer is almost over, and a new cohort of students is about to descend upon Newark, DE. (Thank God – it’s been too quiet around here these last few weeks). But what an interesting summer it has been; here are a few highlights.

Incoming class. This fall, we’ll welcome somewhere north of 170 students in the incoming undergrad class. While not a record high, we’re within 5% of last year’s record, continuing a three-year uptick in enrollment. Since 2012, we’re up about 13% in incoming class size thanks to the hard work of the faculty and staff who have been diligently recruiting for the last several months. I do not yet have the numbers for graduate students, but last year we topped the 200 mark, putting us up over 20% since 2012. All of this suggests that we’re on the right trajectory in terms of enrollment.

New faculty. We welcomed four new faculty this summer. Amy Biddle is an equine scientist, and she will oversee the equine minor and do research on equine nutrition and metabolism. Ryan Arsenault is a new food animal biologist. He brings expertise in proteomics, and broadens our reach in molecular biology. Both are in Animal and Food Sciences. In Applied Economics and Statistics, Jing Qiu has joined the statistics group from the University of Missouri, and she has already reached out across the college to develop collaborations. Leah Palm-Forester is a new resource economist from Michigan State, also in Applied Economics and Statistics. She is the first hire in resource economics in several years. Please join me in welcoming them to the CANR family as you see them in the hallways this fall.

Departing faculty. We’re sad to see two faculty leaving us this fall and winter for jobs elsewhere. Earlier this summer, Titus Awokuse accepted a position as chair of an applied economics department at Michigan State University. This is a near perfect fit for Titus, as the department is known for its strength in his field of expertise, international economics. Just this month, Blake Meyers accepted a position at the prestigious Danforth Center in St. Louis, which is one of the finest institutions of its type in the world. Blake will be leading a large lab at Danforth in his area of specialization, plant genomics. Blake will also have a faculty appointment at the University of Missouri. While we hate to see such great talent leave the college, it’s a testimony to the strength of our faculty and college when our people are actively recruited by the very, very best in the business. We wish them both the best as they enter another chapter in their distinguished careers.

New chairs. Since both Blake and Titus were department chairs, I’ve appointed two interim chairs this summer. Tom Ilvento will take the helm of Applied Economics and Statistics, again, as he chaired the department for many years before Titus’ appointment. I am grateful to Tom for stepping up at a time when the department has just turned over 25% of its faculty. Janine Sherrier will assume leadership in Plant and Soil Sciences, succeeding Blake Meyers. Janine spent a year as interim associate dean in 2013, and brings a unique perspective and appreciable experience to the interim chair role. I look forward to working with both Tom and Janine this year to keep strategic initiatives rolling in their departments.

New 4H program Leader. It’s official – Doug Crouse is now the permanent 4H Program Leader in Extension. Doug has stepped up from the interim role that he assumed after Mark Manno’s untimely passing last year. Doug is perfect for the role – with extensive experience in 4H and extension leadership, Delaware’s youth are in very capable hands. He is putting on a lot of miles commuting between Kent County and Newark, but that’s the great thing about being in a small state. Could be worse, Doug, could be Texas!

Budget. I believe I spoke about the roller coaster budget year we had in FY15 in the June blog, so I won’t belabor the issue here. When the FINAL final numbers were published in late July, I found that we did better than I had expected. Despite cuts during the FY15 year, we were able to eliminate our structural deficit, pay off debt, and bank a small surplus. Three elements of our revenue stream contributed to the rosier-than-expected picture: a large increase in undergrad tuition revenue due to increased credit hour production, a large increase in self-paying grad students, and a 10% increase in F&A returns compared to the previous three year average. I have opened a search for an assistant professor in entomology already, and we may be able to make 1-2 more hires this year as a result of the increased revenue. Suffice it to say that FY16 looks good, which is as far as I can see in my crystal ball right now.

My eardrums are telling me that we’re beginning the descent into MIA, so I’ll have to wrap it up. But the quiche breakfast was yummy, and it came with real plates and real silverware. Amazing. I probably won’t be so lucky to get an upgrade on the leg from Miami to Lima, so I’ll have to enjoy the last few minutes of first class travel. And I hope you all enjoy the last few days of summer.

The blog will find its way home by October.

Dean’s Blog – June 2015 – Summer’s Transition Edition

In the annual cycle of college life, June is a time of transition like no other. The students mostly leave town and things quiet down A LOT. You can get in to your favorite restaurant on Main Street with no waiting. You can get that lone parking spot with the shade of a tree on it. You can drive right through the infamous pedestrian crossing on Delaware Avenue without even stopping. It’s a welcome change from the previous nine months, but eventually it gets too quiet and we’re all looking forward to starting another cycle of academic life in September. As faculty members, our attention generally shifts from teaching to research and Extension, and consequently our daily routines shift as well.

For me and many of the faculty, summer generally takes us off campus. For example, this July I have a national meeting in New Hampshire, a grant panel in DC, the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, and a handful of trips to see alumni throughout the region. That means a lot of time in the car and/or on a plane, which allows me to reflect on the past academic year. June tasks such as crunching year-end budget numbers, trying to reach fundraising goals, and prepping for the next fiscal year calls even more attention to the unique changes that occur at this time each year. Having a June birthday doesn’t help much either, as I am faced with fact that I’ve made over 50 trips around the sun in what seems like a flash.

So, it is with a June mindset that I blog on a few topics of interest.

Looking back on FY15, and ahead to FY16. Say what you want about Fiscal ’15, but it wasn’t boring! We had our share of ups and downs, but landed in a good place. First, we saw record high enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels: 756 and 208 (respectively) were the official headcount numbers. One day soon we’ll reach the 1000 student milestone for the college. As of today, the Fall ’15 incoming class is projected to be the 2nd highest in history at ~175 students.

At spring graduation, we saw about 200 newly minted BS, MS, and PhDs (more than in my previous two years) take that triumphant walk across the stage. The new USDA jobs outlook came out during the spring with encouraging news for those graduates – there will be an estimated 58,000 jobs available each year in agriculture and natural resource occupations, but only 35,000 graduates to fill them. Not quite 2:1, but still very encouraging odds for gainful employment upon graduation for our students. Due in part to the paucity of qualified grads, the starting pay has been increasing and our graduates can now expect to earn salaries on par with business school grads, and higher than those for health care, social science, humanities, and other majors.

On the research and Extension fronts, we had a good year as well. We reopened the Lasher Lab in Georgetown after a $4 million renovation, and opened a new Center for Experimental and Applied Economics in Newark. We’re already seeing great things coming out of both of those facilities and the paint is not even dry. Pam Green and Blake Meyers earned the distinction of being among ISI’s most highly cited researchers in their fields worldwide; that’s two out of only three faculty at UD to earn this distinction! We held about steady at $26 million in sponsored program expenditures, the third highest at UD – not too shabby for the second smallest college.

Budget-wise, we came out better than I had expected, thanks to the hard work of faculty, professionals and staff who have increased teaching output significantly in the last year. On the downside, RBB and health care cuts during FY15 took about 1.5% of our recurring funds away, but the good and the bad budget impacts were largely offsetting, and we enter FY16 about even, and just below our strategic goal of 1% budget contingency. I have more grey hair (and less hair overall!) after this roller coaster year, but remain cautiously optimistic about FY16. We may be able to make one faculty hire and do a few reclassifications of staff, depending on what happens in Dover in the next several days. All in all, I’m putting this one in the win column.

Personnel transitions. We had six faculty retire in FY15: Tom Sims, Tom Pizzolato, Pat Nelson, John Mackenzie, Don Tilmon and Bill Ritter. All had long careers in the college and we wish them well as they move ahead. We pulled Bob Lyons out of retirement the day after he retired in FY14, and he is finally fully retired after a part-time stint to help with the transition of the Longwood Grad Program director. We welcomed four new faculty: Tara Trammel and Anna Wik in Plant and Soil Sciences, and Xiaoke Zhang and Susan Ding in Applied Economics and Statistics. Early in FY16, we’ll welcome another four faculty: Ryan Arsenault and Amy Biddle in Animal and Food Sciences, and Leah Palm-Forester and Jing Qiu in Applied Economics and Statistics. In Extension, sadly, we saw the passing of two great 4Hers, Mark Manno and Mary Argo. Doug Crouse has stepped up to take on Mark Manno’s responsibilities and we were able to fill Mary Argo’s position in Sussex County with Jill Jackson. Dan Severson joined New Castle County as an Extension professional, and Anne Camasso retired as a family and consumer sciences professional. Finally, Eric Wommack stepped up to be Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs in the college, while retaining a very productive research program in Plant and Soil Sciences. All of this required a lot of back and forth with HR, and I am pleased that Kathryn Thoroughgood stepped up to assume HR responsibilities in the college in such a crazy year!

New chair for Plant and Soil Sciences sought. After six years at the helm, Blake Meyers has decided not to seek another term as chair of Plant and Soil Sciences in order to focus on his world-renowned research program and other aspects of his career. We thank Blake for his efforts and look forward to even more outstanding research impacts from his team. The department is doing well and has brought in an excellent group of talented faculty during Blake’s watch, so the future of PLSC continues to look bright. We’ll be using the summer to identify and seat an interim chair by September 1, 2015, so that new leadership will be in place at the start of the fall semester. The interim chair could be considered for the permanent position if they wish, which would commence about a year later. Please share your thoughts on this important decision with me over the next few weeks.

Summer homework for faculty and staff. So while many of you will be enjoying the slower pace of summer, I need you to do a little homework to get ready for fall.

  • First, read UD’s new strategic plan Delaware Will Shine, and revisit your unit’s 2013 strategic plan. Provide input on potential areas for realignment or refocusing to your unit leader. Both Delaware Will Shine and the CANR Master Plan were meant to be living documents, and can easily accommodate change over time. The college administrative team retreat is August 12th, at which time we will generate milestones and consider changes to our plans.
  • Second, think about clean up and repurposing of valuable space that is currently used for storage (like spring cleaning delayed by 3 months). We have a few thousand square feet of useful space that can be recovered on our Newark Farm, if only we have the will to part with old “stuff.” I’m not even sure what much of it is, but I’ll bet I can pawn off some of the larger pieces to a museum devoted to mid-century-modern technology. A space consultant is coming in as we clean up to help us decide on how best to use the recovered area. If you want to see a great example of this, check out the ongoing renovation of the old insectary behind Townsend Hall. It was completely cluttered, but is now on its way to becoming a great light-duty lab for Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.
  • Oh, and let’s not forget to spend a little time with family and friends this summer – that’s the good stuff.

The blog will return in August with the students.

Dean’s Blog – “Late Edition,” AKA “Post-Ag Day Edition”

agday-2015Well, we did it again. The 40th annual Ag Day was held Saturday, April 25th. Yep, forty years ago Dave Frey and Paul Sammelwitz decided to have an event on the “mall” (now termed The Green) to promote the College to a broader audience. Four decades later, and Ag Day has grown to encompass several acres, dozens of displays/events and hosts about 6,000 people annually. Ag Day is dedicated to educating our community about all the great things that happen in the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources. Many are surprised to learn that we’ve got a “350-acre classroom” right in the heart of our campus that offers a working dairy, creamery, as well as woodlands, wetlands, streams, grasslands, botanical gardens, crop land, equine and large animal facilities. I probably walked three miles on Ag Day, greeting visitors and checking on events and displays, and from toddlers to retirees, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Despite a cold start to the day, the sun finally came out in the afternoon, precipitating a rush of folks to the Creamery or the Moo Mobile to get some of our ice cream. We set a record with over $10,000 of sales in one day, and the AGR guys sold almost 700 lbs. of chicken from their food stand. Most importantly, the visitors learned some things about where their food comes from and how they can protect their environment, which, amidst the fun, is what it is all about.

Special thanks to Nancy Gainer, Katie Hickey, and Deanna Lentini, whose leadership and tireless work made the event a success. And they had plenty of help from dozens of students, Ag Ambassadors, faculty, Extension professionals, staff, and volunteers – basically a cross section of the College. Donna Bailey even made a commemorative quilt out of Ag Day t-shirts that will soon be art in The Commons for all CANR students to enjoy. I am grateful to everyone.

While every college of Ag in the USA has some type of annual event like this, I would bet that Ag Day ranks in the top 5 nationally in terms of visitation and diversity of attractions. I have had the opportunity to visit many ag schools across the nation and talk to many deans, and I’ve yet to see or hear of anything on par with what we do. I am so proud of everyone that helps bring Ag Day to the community.

Beyond Ag Day, here are a few items that have occurred over the past two months:

I. Teaching and Advising Award. Let’s give a special shout out to Dr. Kali Kniel (Animal and Food Sciences), who received the 2015 ANR Teaching and Advising Award. It’s been a few years since we’ve given this award, and I believe there were 20 nominations this year. Coincidentally, in the same week that I notified her about the College award, Kali also won the Elmer Marth Educator Award from her national society! Obviously, Kali is one of our best teachers and we’re grateful for all that she does for the students, and doubly grateful for the dual recognition. I thank Lesa Griffiths for spearheading the effort to develop the nomination process, and then convene a committee of faculty to make a selection. Kali will receive a monetary award, a certificate and an engraved brick will be placed in the Dunham Garden patio area on the south side of Townsend Hall to commemorate this accomplishment. She’ll be recognized at the ANR convocation on May 29th, as well. Moving ahead, the Teaching and Advising Award will be given in odd-numbered years.

II. Staff service award. Another shout out for Sharon Webb, an administrative assistant at our Carvel Research and Education Center, who received the new ANR Superior Service Award. Sharon has worked at the Carvel Center for 14 years, and in the words of the Center Director, has been “vital” to Carvel operations and has provided “exceptional” service. Sharon will receive a monetary award, a certificate and an engraved brick in the Dunham Garden, and recognition at convocation. Next year, and in succeeding even-numbered years, we’ll have another staff award for research support, alternating with this award for administrative support.

III. Lasher Lab reopens. On April 17th, we dedicated a newly renovated Lasher Laboratory in Georgetown, our primary facility for avian disease surveillance and diagnosis. We were joined by Senator Carper, several Delaware legislators, members of the Lasher family, industry folks, Delaware Secretary of Ag Ed Kee, Vice Provost Charlie Riordan, members of the ANR Advisory Board, faculty, staff and others. Following the lab tour, we had a legislative lunch to thank the elected officials who supported the appropriation of the $4 million to make this happen. Lasher is now on par with Allen Lab, UD’s only biosafety level III laboratory. The reopening of the lab comes at a time of an unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza in Midwestern and western states. Thankfully, it has not yet surfaced in Delaware, but, if it does, we will be ready to handle the increased sampling and diagnosis of birds. Lasher Lab represents the front line of defense against a possible disease outbreak.

IV. New faces in the dean’s suite. I am so pleased to welcome Dr. Eric Wommack and Kathy Lyons to the administrative team of the College, both coming on board in April. Eric is a professor in Plant and Soils Sciences, and now Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education. He was one of the original hires at DBI back around 2001, and has maintained an outstanding research and graduate program in environmental virology. Eric holds joint appointments in Biology and Earth, Ocean and Environment, as well. He will provide leadership for research and graduate education in the College, and oversee related matters such as the College committees on Space and Cost Recovery.

Kathy Lyons is a familiar face around the dean’s suite as she worked as liaison to ANR from the Research Office for several years before assuming direction for the College’s grants and contracts operation. I am glad that we were able to hire someone who is intimately familiar with the College, as the learning curve in this position would be quite steep otherwise. We are the second smallest college at UD, but rank 3rd in grant submissions and sponsored program expenditures. Kathy will continue the progress made during the LEAN process improvement retreat last December.

The blog will return in June, after we send off another class of agriculture and natural resource leaders to change the world. Join us on May 29th at 4 pm in the Bob Carpenter Center if you can – free ice cream!


Dean’s Blog – February 2015 – Febrrrrrrrrr-uary Edition

As a Pennsylvania native, I’m really having a problem with Punxsutawney Phil these last two years. Do we really know if he saw his shadow, or is that a matter of interpretation? How can he see a shadow of anything on the dark, overcast days of winter in Punxsutawney? These are the questions I ponder while scraping my windshield and experiencing the painful, subzero wind chills.

As some of you may know, I started teaching again this semester (Organic and Sustainable Farming) and the main project is to grow a crop organically in the new high tunnel sited on the northwest corner of the Newark farm. This single-digit weather has really put a damper on enthusiasm for getting outside for some hands-on learning! The silver lining is that it reinforces the connection between farming and weather for the students, just one of many take home messages that I hope they will remember for the rest of their lives.

As we wait for the warmth of spring to return and bring our botanic gardens back to full glory (frozen, curled foliage on broadleaved evergreens is downright sad looking), here are a few things that have occurred during the winter months.

I. Peru and Kenya trips. Over the past few months, I made my first international trips since becoming dean. While at UGA, I taught study abroad, and at UF, I oversaw the portfolio of study abroad and student exchanges, so I was glad to get back to some familiar and rewarding territory. In November, I traveled to Kenya with Randy Wisser to establish the Borel Global Fellows program, made possible by a generous gift from Jim and Marcia Borel. Their gift will allow two African students per year to pursue an MS degree in CANR while researching a topic of great significance to their home country. We’re working with AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), a Nairobi-based organization, to help with recruiting and logistics. Last month, I spent about one week in Lima, Peru, meeting with university and government officials and various ag industry groups to raise awareness on the PRONOBEC-Presidente scholarship program for Peruvian students. UD has signed an MOU with the Peruvian government that should increase the number of MS and PhD students across campus. The PRONOBEC-Presidente scholarship provides very generous support for Peruvian students (airfare, stipend, partial tuition, and more). As I found out, the agricultural export business in Peru is simply booming, creating huge demand for trained professionals and researchers. Both trips were fruitful and should help bring several more graduate students from Africa and Latin America each year, all with their own sources of funding.

II. New faces, ongoing searches. I am so pleased to see Tara Trammell, our Bartram Professor of Urban Forestry, and Anna Wik, our assistant professor of landscape design, walking the hallways of Townsend and getting settled in. If you haven’t met them yet, please take a moment to welcome them to CANR. Just yesterday, I saw Ryan Arsenault, our soon-to-be assistant professor of food animal biology, who was here with his wife looking for places to live and sizing up his space in Worrilow. He accepted the position in ANFS a few weeks ago, and will be on board officially in June or July. We have three open searches that are each beyond the interview stage – natural resource economist (APEC), statistics (APEC), as well as the internal search for the next associate dean for research and graduate programs. Eric Wommack and Eric Benson are the finalists for the associate dean position, and the search committee is deliberating on this issue as I write. Please provide Mark Isaacs with any last minute input you might have ASAP!

III. New faculty mentoring underway. The collective wisdom offered through our strategic planning efforts and the four recent Academic Program Reviews prompted the development of a formal faculty mentoring series for our new hires. I’m glad to say that this is underway. The newest faculty are meeting biweekly to discuss issues such as the Master Plan, P&T, grants, teaching and learning, and other topics. Obviously, the mentoring must continue beyond this spring series, so I hope that one or more faculty will reach out to the newest hires in their departments and build on the foundation that is being laid.

IV. LEAN process for managing grants and contracts. Beginning last fall and peaking in December, all of the staff involved in grants and contracts for the College went through a LEAN process to troubleshoot and streamline their collective efforts. I attended a few sessions, as did several faculty and chairs, and everyone seemed to agree that it was a great experience that produced immediate, impactful results. Steve Horah, from Lean Change Agents, LLC, was brought in as a consultant to facilitate. I’m pleased to say that UD HR kicked in to help pay his bill, as they were glad to see staff development occurring organically (sorry, it’s on my mind these days) in the Colleges. Kathryn Thoroughgood has had her responsibilities redesigned to handle HR, as this turned out to be a “rate limiting step” in the process of managing grants from submission to close out. I learned a lot about the intricacies of managing grants and the great staff who runs 1/3 of the College’s budget behind the scenes. They’re doing great work! One sad postscript to this (sad for us, that is) is that Victor Peguero, the current CANR grants manager, was made an ‘offer he couldn’t refuse’ to move upward and onward to Johns Hopkins, which he’ll be doing in March. Victor was instrumental in the LEAN process and a great asset to the College for the last year and a half, and he will be sorely missed. We wish him the best as he moves into grants administration at the nation’s #1 research university down the road.

V. Coming soon – survey for the 2014 Federal Plan of Work. Each year, we must ask research and Extension faculty and professionals to provide information about the outputs and impacts of work that was funded from federal capacity funds (Hatch, Smith-Lever, Animal Health and McIntire-Stennis). Last year, we spent a lot of time revising our Plan of Work and implementing an Extension Planning and Reporting System, so that the annual chore of collecting information and writing the report would be greatly simplified. I’m glad to say that it has been greatly simplified, and nothing will be needed from Extension personnel beyond what they’ve already put into the Planning and Reporting system. Since we have no such system in place for research, we will be doing a brief survey of all faculty with research involvement in the coming days (similar to the one Tom Sims used to send out each spring, but shorter). It will ask you to select the research emphasis from the Master Plan that most closely describes your work, and provide simple output metrics (such as grants, publications, graduate students) and a brief impact statement regarding your 2014 work. From the Master Plan, our five research emphases are: Genetics and genomics for plant, animal and ecosystem improvement; Sustainable food systems, landscapes and ecosystems; “One health” – intersections among animals, plants, humans and ecosystems; Climate change – impacts, mitigation and adaptation; and Human dimensions of food, agriculture and natural resources. Please respond to the survey when it comes to you. Remember that the Plan of Work is our way of demonstrating the return on investment that $3.4 million of federal funds (plus its required state match) has had on our stakeholders. It is an essential part of our research enterprise and our annual budget.

V. Mid-term evaluation. Speaking of surveys, and as I said in the December 2014 Blog, I am happy to share the outcome of the IDEA Center survey that many of you received as part of my mid-term self-evaluation. The survey report will be sent by email shortly, but I’d like to summarize the major findings with you now. I welcome follow-up conversations on how I can improve in my role as dean over the coming weeks.

  • The survey was modeled after the provost’s guidelines for reviewing deans at the end of their 5-year terms. The survey questions were identical to those used in the most recent dean’s review on campus. In theory, my mid-term results can be compared directly to results obtained when I am reviewed officially at the 5-year point.
  • The response rate was about 44% (233 out of 528), which is good for a web-based survey. Of the respondents, the largest classification was “faculty” followed by “colleagues,” “students,” “not identified,” and “staff.”
  • As you’ll see in the report, faculty tended to score me about one point or so below where students, colleagues, and staff rated me, suggesting that I need to communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships with faculty. On questions with a 5-point scale (strongly agree…….strongly disagree), faculty responses were about 3 while others rated at 4 out of 5. The same ~1 point difference between faculty and all other respondents held true on questions where respondents were presented a spectrum (e.g., indecisive=1 vs decisive=7) rather than a typical Likert scale. To me, this was one of the most important lessons of the self-evaluation, and while I need to make sure that lines of communication are open to all constituent groups, working with faculty in new ways will be a major priority in the future.
  • 62% of all respondents answered positively when asked “overall, this administrator has provided excellent leadership,” while 21% were neutral and 17% were negative. Despite the relatively low percentage of negative ratings, to me this is large enough to be a concern.
  • A slightly higher margin (66%) responded positively to “I have confidence in the administrator’s ability to provide future leadership in this position.” The same 17% responded negatively.
  • Written comments were roughly even between positive, negative, and neutral. This might be expected given the three open-ended questions: the first asked about strengths and the vast majority of responses were positive. The second asked about ways to improve, where most comments cited weaknesses in style, judgment or effectiveness. The third question asked about future challenges, and most of the responses were neutral as people were citing issues such as “budget” or “deferred maintenance,” and not commenting on my performance per se. They were simply pointing out what are (indeed) the major challenges that the College faces moving forward.
  • As communication seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the survey results, I checked the web analytics on the Dean’s Blog page – what you’re reading right now – to see if it is being read. For December’s Blog, only about 25% of email recipients opened the page. The web folks tell me that this is actually good for an Internet blog, but I am struck by the 75% of intended recipients that don’t see it. This just underscores the need for opening new lines of communication and finding ways to improve existing ones.

Like teaching evaluations, it is a humbling, yet constructive experience to read through this mid-term evaluation of my performance. Obviously, there is room for improvement, particularly in communication, which is something I plan to address immediately. You may recall that I offered an invitation for coffee or lunch to anyone willing in my first semester on campus:

I still have many more of you to meet, so once again, I extend the invitation to have coffee or lunch, or simply chat about your program or issues of concern. I have really enjoyed learning about Delaware agriculture and natural resource successes and challenges over these four+ months, but have a long, long way to go. Please, take me up on it! [Dean’s Blog, December 2012].

In retrospect, I probably should have been more proactive in asking you, not waiting for you to ask me, for an opportunity to get to know you better. Thus, don’t be surprised if I invite you to spend some time sharing your views and concerns. Please know that I take seriously the concerns voiced by any of the 260+ employees or 960+ students of the College (and their parents!). As I said when I interviewed, I work for you (ALL of you), and ultimately, I will measure my success by your success. I thank you for taking the time to complete the survey.

The blog will return in April, after a brief visit to Punxsutawney.

Dean’s Blog – December 2014 – Holiday Edition

As the holidays draw near, many of us are reminded how fortunate we are to work at such a cutting-edge university and on such important topics. It’s great to be part of an organization that works diligently to solve problems related to feeding the world and protecting the planet. This time of year, I get a healthy dose of insight on a few individuals who are going through the promotion and tenure process, as those dossiers come across my desk on their way to the next level. (Yes, the dean’s involvement is scheduled over the holidays!) I am truly amazed at the work being done by our faculty. Reading between the lines, I can see the involvement of the staff, farm crew, students and others who help bring that work to fruition. I read the comments by individual students from past evaluations, talking about how much they loved the professor’s class, how funny they were, and how much they learned. The external letters come from all over the world and are usually quite complimentary regarding the impact of the candidate’s work on the discipline. It takes a couple of hours for me to write each letter, and longer to read the dossiers, but it is time well spent as I come away with great talking points to use as I’m out advocating for the College. So, this Blog is a bit short as I’ve got work to do!

Here are a few brief updates to ponder as all of you go off for the holidays, hopefully with a strong sense of satisfaction and purpose:

I. Record enrollments in Fall ’14. We can celebrate a lot of hard work by many individuals this holiday season in yielding record enrollments at the undergraduate (755) and graduate (208) levels. We’re edging up on 1000 students in the College and thus contributing more strongly to the societal need for graduates in our disciplines. Thanks to all of you who spend days, nights and weekends helping to recruit and retain our students, especially those in CANR’s Undergraduate Student Services department!

II. Research funding is at or near record levels. In FY14, which ended last June, we had a record or near record award total of about $22 million. This is the highest in three years, probably longer, but prior to 2011 the data were reported including cost share, so it’s hard to disentangle amounts from earlier years. In any case, it was a very good year!  There’s more great news. The FY14 awards were more heavily weighted to future year funding, meaning that we’re landing more multi-year awards, creating more longevity and stability in our research portfolio. Thanks to all of the faculty, professionals and students who are doing great work in attracting support for their programs!

Curriculum consent agenda passes. Kudos to the CANR Curriculum and Courses Committee (Balascio, McCarthy, Benson, Ilvento, Hastings, Yackoski) for engineering a door-to-door vote on several items of curricular reform that align us more closely with our strategic plan. By the deadline on Monday, we recorded a majority positive vote for the items they acted on this fall, which will now go to Faculty Senate for approval. Curriculum enhancement is an ongoing process and I’m sure we’ll have another slate of items next year, as I’ve had some great discussions with faculty and chairs in the last few weeks. Please remain engaged in this important activity.

III. Bylaws vote postponed. Another group has been working diligently to update and enhance our CANR Bylaws to be more inclusive of the College membership and more explicit on our operations and shared governance (Sims, Whaley, Benson, Shriver, Hastings, Balascio). While they had hoped to have a vote launched by December 18th, we thought it wise to pause and allow more time for input. Please see the email sent by Tom Sims on December 16th and give some thought to this important item. We don’t want to do this again for several years, so it is best to delay a few weeks and get it right. We anticipate a vote taking place in February 2015.

IV. Its official – UD is an “engaged university.” With a strong sense of appreciation for the work done by Cooperative Extension, I almost want to say …….Duh (!) to this one. Achieving this Carnegie classification as an engaged university was not easy task, and special thanks goes to Michelle Rodgers and others who produced a successful proposal. Indeed, there are a lot of outreach activities going on campus-wide besides the good work we do in Extension, and I hope this opens doors to greater collaboration in our existing Extension programs, as well as new initiatives like “One Health” that we proposed in our strategic plan.

V. Mid-term evaluation for the Dean. As I mentioned in the October Dean’s Blog, we’re launching a survey this week, so you can give feedback to me on how I am doing two-and-a-half years into the job. You’ll get an email from The IDEA Center (for more detail see in the coming days that will allow you to provide input on my performance. When I was teaching regularly, I found mid-point evaluations to be far more useful than the end-of-course evaluations, and often changed things about the course midstream in order to meet students’ needs. The same is true here. Be assured that your input will be confidential (raw data are kept on the IDEA Center server and I receive only a summary report), and taken very, very seriously. I will share the results with you when they come in, and I welcome any feedback that you may offer outside of the survey itself.

Make good use of some much deserved time off with family and friends beginning next week!

Wishing you all the best this joyous season,


Dean’s Blog – August 2014 – Back to School Edition

I just returned from a “send-off” event on Long Island with about 20 incoming students and their parents who wanted to learn a little more about the decision they had made to attend UD this fall. It was hosted by one of our alums, Dr. Bob Cohen, who spoke eloquently on the value of a UD education, and how the course of his life had been influenced greatly by his four years in Newark. Some of the students were enrolled in CANR, but most were in other colleges. As I spoke to the parents, I could see the concern in their eyes. While all seemed to be excited about the UD decision, they wondered if their son or daughter had chosen the right major, if they would do well in classes, and what kind of a career they might have after graduation. I reassured them that many faculty had also sent sons and daughters off to college, and we understood what they were going through. For some of them, this would be the largest monetary investment they had ever made, short of buying their house. It reminded me of the awesome responsibility we have as we welcome thousands of sons and daughters to campus each fall, who come with the promise of becoming educated and prepared for a better life through our collective efforts. And it takes all of us – faculty, staff and current students – to pull off this amazing transformation.

So to all of you – get ready to welcome the largest incoming class ever! By last count, 179 new undergraduate students will enter CANR this fall, up almost 30% from Fall 2012 levels. For this entering class, we’ve exceeded our “15% by ‘15’” goal by a good bit, but we still need to add students to reach the overall enrollment increase of 15% by next year. I’d like to send a special word of thanks to Kim Yackoski and her staff for helping to yield this record class, thus far with 0% melt since all of our admitted, deposited students have pre-registered. (Melt is the percentage of students that deposit but do not enroll.) And thanks to all of you who took time over the last year to meet prospective students and their parents. Your efforts are paying dividends.

Overall UD enrollment is up as well: over 4,100 students (we were shooting for 3,800) from 48 states and 82 countries will become Blue Hens this month. Yield is up, diversity is up, international student enrollment is up, and the Delawarean segment of the class is the strongest academically in history. This is truly a great group of young people.

Of course, we’re welcoming a few dozen new graduate students as well, though we won’t have good numbers on this until classes begin. Two new faculty will begin this fall, both in APEC:

  • Shanshan (Susan) Ding: Just finished her PhD at U Minnesota’s School of Statistics.
  • Xiaoke Zhang: A recent grad from UC Davis’ Department of Statistics.

Please take a moment to welcome them and all of our new faces to CANR as classes begin.

Here are some other items of note as we wind down the summer and get ready for fall:

10478414_246987938758307_4639111982710214352_oFresh to You. This is a new entrepreneurial venture that “sprouted” on the farm in 2014. As you know, we produce tons of fresh produce in our Garden for the Community project that, up to now, has benefitted only the Delaware Food Bank. Thanks to Mike Popovich’s efforts, we’ve added an entrepreneurial aspect to the Garden, and we’re selling produce at the UD Farmer’s Market and the Creamery. We’ve attracted the attention of some local restaurants and Vita Nova, and some expansion is planned for the coming year. We will have more capacity and will have produce available for a greater portion of the year with our new high tunnel, soon to be built on the northwest corner of the Newark Farm. The tunnel was purchased with my startup funds, and will more than pay for itself in produce sales over the next several years. I have even submitted an experimental course syllabus to teach organic and sustainable farming in the spring using the high tunnel. Looking forward to it!

championsaUDairy Creamery having a great summer. Melinda Litvinas and Jacob Hunt (a 2012 CANR grad and former UDairy intern) received the “Champions of Change” award given by the White House (yes, thee White House). They were honored in a two-day ceremony held in late July in Washington, DC. Melinda and Jacob were among only about 20 people in the entire country to receive the award, given to people who are changing US agriculture through innovation. Another exciting recognition involved the Food Network that filmed both the Creamery and ice cream truck for one of their new TV programs to be aired this fall. The Creamery has also attracted the attention of some local entrepreneurs and we’re looking into new outlets and products to augment the learning opportunities even further. I am also pleased to announce that the Creamery had a good year financially, and for the first time, some of the net proceeds have been funneled back to the dairy operation to defray its costs. Melinda and her team have done an outstanding job!

New Deputy Dean sought. As Tom Sims prepares for retirement in 2015, we have begun an internal search for his replacement. Perhaps the title “Associate Dean for Research and Graduate programs” gives you a better idea of the portfolio this person will oversee, though there will be additional duties as Deputy Dean of the College. Mark Isaacs is chairing the search committee, so please funnel comments and nominations to him in the coming weeks. If you’d prefer, schedule a time to speak with me about the position or search before classes begin.

FY14 budget close out and FY15 budget. UD dodged the proverbial bullet when the $3 million cut that was threatened over the power plant issue never came to fruition. Thus, the CANR budget for FY15 looks a bit brighter than originally thought. While this was helpful to our bottom line, the most significant improvement to the budget came from the greater efforts in teaching. Student credit hour production was up significantly from previous years, bringing several hundred thousand in new income to the College. Nice job, faculty! Your efforts will result in an additional $300k being distributed to departments for teaching through the teaching incentive program I implemented last year. The FY14 budget close brought good news as well – we saw a structural deficit of just over $400k based on year-end analyses. While red ink to the level of $400k may sound bad, remember that it has dropped from over $1M in 2012. The shortfall will be made up through our endowment funds, but I hope that one day soon, we’ll be able to use the full endowment for strategic investments in the College, not just for paying our bills.

AG-Cooperative_Extension_Centennial_CelebrationCooperative Extension celebrated its centennial with Governor Markell. Governor Markell and other elected officials were among the many who gathered at the State Fair on July 24 to help Cooperative Extension officially celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act. I was especially happy to hear the Governor talk about the impact Cooperative Extension made on him as a child. As part of the ceremony, Michelle Rodgers announced Joyce Witte as the winner of the contest held to name the new centennial ice cream flavor, “Centennial Cherry Chunk.” It was a sweet day all around.

Worrilow architectural study completed. Thanks to all who worked with SmithGroup over the past several months to produce rough plans and cost estimates for a potential renovation and expansion of Worrilow Hall. Special thanks to Jenny McDermott and Shelley Einbinder who expended many hours holding meetings, gathering data, and advising SmithGroup. They’ve given us a vision of what could be, which I’ll be making public in the next few weeks. This fall, we need to develop an implementation strategy to take the next steps.

Unidel grant update. Thanks also to those who served on the Unidel Task Force this spring. As you may remember, Janine Sherrier and Yohannes Tesfaye wrote a proposal, entitled “Extending Information Technology-Rich Environments to South Campus,” that was approved for Unidel funding. As a result, $303,420 was awarded to the College for the purpose of outfitting two classrooms and transforming Townsend Commons. A task force was convened and went to work surveying and speaking with students and faculty about the most useful ways to upgrade the Commons and two popular classrooms. The transformation has started. The Commons will soon have new carpet and furniture, as well as more outlets for laptops. Over winter break, classroom #006 will be converted to a more dynamic, flexible classroom with video conferencing capability to allow remote students to participate, especially from our Georgetown campus. Classroom #007 will be maintained as a computer lab, but modernized with improved server capability that will allow students to remotely use licensed programs stored on the server.

Mt Cuba FellowsMt. Cuba Center partnership. We have begun two new research projects with the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, both of which involve the ecological value of plants in the landscape. Thanks to a generous gift from Mt. Cuba, two graduate fellowships were established to aid the research. Mt. Cuba Center Fellow Emily Baisden is studying the attractiveness of woody plants to foliar feeding insects, guided by her advisor Dr. Doug Tallamy. Mt. Cuba Center Fellow Owen Cass is working with Dr. Deb Delaney to examine the nutritional value and attractiveness of native Coreopsis selections. The partnership was announced on July 9 at Mt. Cuba Center during their Trial Garden reception, which was attended by President Harker.

CANR Policy and Procedures Manual under construction. One summer project we have undertaken in the dean’s suite is to produce a Policies and Procedures Manual for the College. The idea is to have one searchable document to use as a guide for everything from P&T to space utilization. Currently, our policies are scattered and difficult to find. If you know of any policy or procedure that we’ve being abiding by, but could never find written down, send in your suggestions. We plan to have this on the web site in the fall of 2014.

The blog will return in October.