Graduation ceremonies are always bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s our job to produce career-ready graduates, yet on the other hand, we’re sad to see these fine young people walk out of our classrooms for the last time. In a small college like ours, we get to know them as they grow significantly in four short years.
Most of the 250 eligible grads at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources “walked” on May 27 and then had beautiful, warm weather at commencement the next morning. It was a great weekend. Like most other deans, I participated in five ceremonies in 36 hours. I can honestly say that I enjoyed each one, despite losing a few pounds of water weight at the outdoor ceremonies! These newly minted Blue Hens joined a global network of over 160,000 UD alumni and are in very good company. We wish them well as they endeavor to feed the world and protect the planet.
Alumni Weekend—a great success
After the university sends off about 4,000 graduates each year, we welcome back about 6,000 alumni the following week for Alumni Weekend. Of course, the college plays a significant role in this event. We kicked off with a special welcome reception on Friday, June 3. The potential for rain chased us inside, but that didn’t dampen enthusiasm; we had more than double the number of attendees as in previous years. On Saturday, our faculty and staff gave tours of the UDairy Creamery, UD Botanic Gardens and Apiary. Many alumni were involved in a behavioral economics experiment to illustrate the capabilities of our Center for Experimental and Behavioral Economics. I hope that some of you were able to attend, and if you couldn’t, please mark your calendar for next year’s event (the first weekend in June).
Strategic hiring plan in process
The college has experienced a number of retirements or departures in the last 12 to 18 months, and we anticipate several more in the coming year. (I have blogged about the individuals involved previously.) We decided it would be a good time to drop back and develop a strategic approach to all of the hiring occurring after July 1. We’re in the final stages of planning. Each major unit of the college submitted their needs and anticipated retirements for the next five years, and all of this information was aggregated into a college-level plan. One guiding principle was that we were not simply replacing positions that were being vacated, but were rethinking each one and aligning potential hires with our strategic plan, the 2013 Master Plan. It was not an easy process, but we capitalized on a golden opportunity to make strategic change at a time of relatively high turnover in our workforce.
In academia, the best time to implement strategic change is during hiring, as we are, after all, an institution built on human and intellectual capital. The plan is being discussed at the provost’s level and will be out early in the next fiscal year. It will allow us to strengthen an area called One Health, which I blogged about after attending the third Global Risk Forum (GRF) One Health Summit last fall. This aligns the college with a national movement to strengthen the relevance of agriculture and natural resources to chronic human health issues, many of which are related to diet and the environment. The plan also allows us to improve unique strengths in sustainable food systems and the human dimensions of agriculture and natural resources. This time next year, I look forward to welcoming several new hires who will help lead strategic change in the college.
Department chair searches conclude
Another item of business that we just completed is the placement of three permanent chairs in departments that had been operating with interim chairs. This solidifies our administrative team and provides stability as we move into a new fiscal year that will be highlighted by the beginning of a new presidential administration at UD. More about that in the next section, but let me present our new department chairs:
Tom Ilvento, Applied Economics and Statistics. Tom Ilvento’s name may be familiar to many of you, as he was chair of the department for 12 years, ending in 2011. Tom decided to throw his name into the hat after the rather sudden departure of the former chair last summer. I am pleased with the progress he made as interim chair over the last nine months. He is perfect for the role as he brings experience, and importantly, expertise in both economics and statistics. I thank Jake Bowman for chairing this search and Steve Hastings, Kent Messer, Leah Palm-Forster and Shanshan Ding for serving on the search committee.
Janine Sherrier, Plant and Soil Sciences. Janine also served as interim chair since last September. The faculty and search committee strongly endorsed her to become the permanent chair of the department. She has been with UD since the late 1990s and was one of the first hires placed at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. Her research has been at the interface of plant and soil sciences, literally, as she studies soil microbes that have beneficial impacts on crop plants. She brings a lot of energy, enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking to the role. I thank Del Levia for chairing the search and Jules Bruck, Harsh Bais, Yan Jin, Mark VanGessel and Nicole Donofrio for serving on the search committee.
Limin Kung, Animal and Food Sciences. Limin has completed two years as interim chair of his department and will complete the remainder of a five-year term with the “interim” removed from his title. He did yeoman’s work guiding the department through a transition period, which is why he was endorsed strongly to become the permanent chair. Limin is a world-renowned dairy nutritionist and holds the S. Hallock DuPont professorship in this field. He has been with UD for 30 years. I thank Tom Ilvento for chairing the search and Ryan Arsenault, Melinda Duncan, Kali Kniel, Mark Parcells, Dan Severson and Changqing Wu for serving on the search committee.
28th President’s first day of work
On June 6, 2016, UD welcomed its 28th president, Dr. Dennis Assanis, formerly provost at Stony Brook University. Before the day had ended, President Assanis and his wife Eleni enjoyed UDairy ice cream at the annual staff picnic. Great way to start! At 9 a.m., he held his first President’s Roundtable, which is a meeting of all major administrators on campus, including the deans. We learned a little about what he is thinking and what he may tackle during his first few months on the job, such as hiring a new communications director, as this important position is currently vacant. Dr. Assanis and his wife enjoyed ice cream with us again on June 17, when we hosted Representative John Carney for a brief tour and discussion about the college. We will try to make this a regular event as our new president gets adjusted to campus. We will be hearing a lot more from President Assanis as he gets settled into his new role and new home here in Newark, Delaware.
Wishing you a Happy July Fourth!
CANR in the news
Below is a list of recent stories from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Originally published on UDaily, they were picked up by national and international news organizations either organically or through coordination with UD’s Communications and Public Affairs Office:
Link to original UDaily story: “Plant Communications: UD researchers identify two enzymes that regulate communication channels in plants”
Picked up by:
Popular Science: “How Plants ‘Clot’ after Being Wounded”
Modern Farmer: “When Plants Are Cut, They Bleed, Sort Of” (Discovery News and The Huffington Post also published this version of the story.)
Link to original UDaily story: “Parasitic Wasp: UD, USDA researchers study natural enemies of tree-killing emerald ash borer”
Picked up by:
Entomology Today: “USDA to Release Russian Wasps Against the Emerald Ash Borer”
Link to original UDaily story: “Rice Husk Research: Scientists look at use of rice husk to reduce arsenic levels in vital grain”
Picked up by:
Link to original UDaily story: “CANR Discovery Learning: UD students get hands-on farm experience in beef and sheep capstone course”
Picked up by:
American Farm Publications