As I write, Delaware is experiencing a first-day-of-spring nor’easter, predicted to dump 6-8” of snow on our fine institution on March 21st. March Madness indeed! We have daffodils coming up and Witch Hazels blooming in the UD Botanic Gardens, sheep ready to give birth on the Webb farm, and ducks beginning to migrate north, right over our heads along the Atlantic Flyway. I don’t think Mother Nature got the memo on spring equinox. Ah well, spring break begins on March 26th and many of our students will be headed south. I think I may join them.
But the prolonged winter hasn’t been so bad since March typically is a busy month. Spring semester classes are in full swing, and during the Feb-April period, we are shaping the fall incoming class, so students are frequenting campus with parents in tow. Kim Yackoski and her team in Undergraduate Student Services respond to hundreds of inquiries and arrange over 100 personal tours for prospective students. Faculty and staff come out on “Decision Day” Saturdays to encourage High School seniors to become Blue Hens. Our Ag Ambassadors inspire prospective students with their personal stories of success. On the other end of the student spectrum, seniors are in the home stretch, finishing their last classes and planning for graduation day. Research and Extension folks are planning their summer field experiments and demonstrations. You can feel the energy in the hallways. Here are a few updates amidst the excitement.
Enrollment update. Speaking of enrollment, we’re on track to achieve our “20 by 20” goal (20% increase in enrollment by Fall 2020) as interest in our programs is increasing again. Undergraduate applications to the College numbered 907 as of mid-March, well above last year, which is the highest in recent times. Importantly, the quality of our admitted students in terms of high school grades and test scores is among the highest on campus. Undergraduate admissions will be nearly complete in May, so I’ll have an update in the next blog. At the graduate level, it’s too early to say much about enrollment, but there’s good news in terms of graduate student support. Eric Wommack, our Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, has launched a
pilot program to recruit the best PhD students by providing exceptional stipend and research support for top students. We’re redirecting some of our research capacity funds to this program to align ourselves with UD’s goal of enhancing doctoral education. Also, a new Unidel Foundation grant of $2.5 million has enhanced PhD admissions campus-wide, with some of our faculty receiving awards lasting four years. With sustained efforts from both programs, we should see significant growth at the PhD level in the coming years.
Progress on Worrilow. The architects are close to finalizing the Worrilow “program”, which is the basic layout for the building that precedes blueprints. The upgraded building will have fewer, but larger shared research labs, each with several nooks for specialized equipment or procedures (see the picture below). There will be nine research “neighborhoods”, each based on a theme such as animal disease or soil chemistry. Three investigators will share each neighborhood. Students will be learning in open, flexible spaces that will be a great improvement over what we have now, on par with the best lab classrooms in the Harker ISE building. We are still on schedule, but timing is becoming more critical as we move to actual construction documents. The UD Board of Trustees approved the remaining $28 million for the project in March. We’ve contributed about $9 million through philanthropy and college reserves toward our $10 million share of the project, and we continue to raise funds from private donors. Regarding swing space, our faculty and staff will be across the street at STAR Campus for about 18 months, and the construction of their temporary home should commence soon. I am extremely grateful to our supporters; by this time next year, we’ll be underway!
Partnership with Universidad O’Higgins, Chile. Imagine starting a university from scratch – one day you have no faculty, no students, no buildings, then two years later you’ve got 50+ faculty, 1,300 students, and two campus locations under construction. This is happening in Chile, just south of the capital Santiago, in the O’Higgins region (Bernardo O’Higgins was one of the founding fathers of Chile, and the region is named for him). This region was one of a few in Chile to lack a public university, and former President Bachelet provided funding for it. In February, we hosted four Universidad de O’Higgins students at UD, who were their first students to study abroad. Special thanks to Bruce Vasilas and Kali Kniel who let them attend class for a few weeks, and to Ed Kee who introduced them to Delaware agriculture, local historic sites, the Port of Wilmington and more. Ed and I visited O’Higgins in early March and explored several possibilities for collaboration.
I am sure that our students would benefit from a student exchange or study abroad opportunity, at least, and since all of the O’Higgins faculty have majority research appointments, there is plenty of opportunity for scholarly collaboration too. If you can picture the central California Valley – arid, cobalt blue sky, alluvial soils – you can picture the central valley of Chile, absolutely perfect for fruit production. There is a large pork and poultry industry in the region as well, and the university has launched a veterinary medicine program this year to complement their general agriculture major. Learning opportunities for everyone!
Stephen Leath, President of Auburn University, to receive the 50th Worrilow Award. One of our most accomplished alumni, Dr. Stephen Leath will receive the College’s highest honor for an alum, the George M. Worrilow Award. President Leath received an MS in plant pathology from CANR in 1981 in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. He ascended through the ranks quickly and became the Vice President for Research for the University of North Carolina System before becoming the president of Iowa State University in 2012. He was named President of Auburn University in 2017. The Worrilow ceremony will occur in spring, 2019. Thanks to Ted Haas and all of the Worrilow awardees who made the award selection and facilitate the award ceremony every year.
Retirements, searches and personnel changes
- We have been busy making hires and conducting searches:
- Two tenure-track faculty in Food and Agribusiness Marketing have been offered positions in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics. Kelly Davidson, a behavioral Economist from the University of Florida (Go Gators!) has accepted our offer and I anticipate being able to land the other hire by April. There were over 150 applicants for these two positions! Thanks to John Bernard who chaired the search committee and all of the APEC faculty that worked on the search.
- We welcome Cencheng Shen to the CANR family later this summer. He is currently completing a post-doc at Johns Hopkins, and will be an assistant professor of statistics in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics. Thanks to Jing Qiu for chairing the search committee, and all of her colleagues that brought Dr. Shen to us.
- The Department of Animal and Food Sciences is interviewing candidates for two positions in immunology and physiology. We hope to make offers to the top candidates in April. Mark Parcells and Ryan Arsenault are leading the search effort and are bringing impressive candidates to campus.
- Applied Plant Pathology: this search is still in the applicant pool phase. This person will focus on diseases of agronomic crops and will be housed at the Carvel Center in Georgetown. Contact Nicole Donofrio, chair of the search committee if you have nominations or suggestions.
- At the staff level, the following people have just joined the CANR Family:
- Alison Brayfield, began as Business Administrator I, Cooperative Extension
- Melissa Bundy will begin as Financial Analyst I position in April
- Grace Wisser, who was part-time, will move to full-time as Administrative Assistant IV
- Sam Roberts will be a Research Associate I in Entomology and Wildlife Ecology
- Jason Morris, who worked in the UDairy Creamery from the time the doors opened to the public, has left Newark to pursue a position in Pennsylvania. Jason is the son of Richard Morris, former CANR Dairy Manager, and is one of the few people to grow up on the Newark Farm. Best of luck, Jason!
The Blog will return in May when it’s safe to go outside!