There he will oversee one of the university’s largest academic programs in the nation’s third largest college of agriculture and life sciences, with more than 4,000 students in associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. He succeeds Dr. George Barthalmus, who retired in June.
In many ways, the move is actually a kind of homecoming for Esbenshade: From 1991 to 1996, he worked as director of the College’s Agricultural Institute and as assistant, then associate director of academic programs, so he knows the lay of the land at Patterson. Nevertheless, he says, “There have been changes I need to catch up on.”
His first order of business has been “to meet with people here, the staff, then spread out to meet with departments, undergraduate teaching coordinators and graduate administrators — to gain a perspective of the history of academic programs and learn more about the things that have taken place since I left.”
Esbenshade says his predecessor has been very helpful in that regard. “Dr. Barthalmus left me several pages of salient notes that covered topics and issues that I’ll have to deal with, clued me into things so that I won’t be surprised — things like commitments, ongoing programs to follow through with, such as the biotech lab in Jordan Hall, equipment needs and so on.”
Speaking more of the long-term, he says, “We want to provide the infrastructure that’s necessary for the education of our students and other clientele. I’m a planner; I’m very strategic. I know the direction I want ‘the ship’ to go in, so now I’ll be carving out the milestones to get there.”
To begin, Esbenshade plans to build on the strengths Barthalmus and Dean James Oblinger (who served as academic programs director prior to Barthalmus) have laid as a foundation.
That foundation consists of strong programs in sciences as well as agriculture-related areas, he says. “The instruction we provide in basic life sciences is second to none in the state. It provides a wealth of scientific knowledge that students can use as a basis for employment, graduate school or professional schools.
“Our job is to continue to provide state-of-the-art equipment, dynamic curricula and the experiential opportunities to apply knowledge to practical situations.”
Esbenshade came to the university in 1981 as an assistant professor of animal science. During the decade following, he was honored with a 1988 N.C. State Outstanding Teacher Award, a 1990 National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Teaching Fellow Award and a 1991 N.C. State Alumni Distinguished Professorship. A native of Lancaster, Pa., he holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University and a bachelor’s degree from Delaware Valley College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Replacing him as interim Animal Science Department head is Dr. Roger McCraw, professor and commodity coordinator for the animal husbandry Extension group in the department.
Esbenshade believes his own experience as a department head will serve him well as academic programs director. “I have a working familiarity with building a solid foundation of academic programs, working with people and personnel issues, enhancing facilities and working with the general public,” he says.
Attracting students to the College to avail themselves of the many opportunities here is a priority to Esbenshade. “Recruiting, to me, is a complex subject,” he says. “It deals with reputation, with programs, with getting the word out and follow-up.
“The reputation is everyone’s responsibility. The undergraduate and graduate students that we want to come here will come because of the programs we offer and the successes of our graduates. Quality programs perpetuate applications and the applicants’ preference of N.C. State as first choice.”
However, he says, “you can’t hide a good program under a bushel. You have to get the word out. That used to mean you had to hit the road. But now there are many ways to get the word out. Primarily, there’s the Web — students surf it constantly.” He cites also the effectiveness of recruitment CDs.
“But there’s also the need for the one-on-one dimension,” he says. “Potential students and their parents still need personal contact, a more familial campus connection. That’s where personalized visits and correspondence come in.”
Esbenshade believes that this College, perhaps more than any other at the university, has the infrastructure to provide such access and contact, “because we have a presence in every county — an Extension faculty member, as well as alumni who are teaching or live in every county. We have the network of ambassadors to do the communicating, people whom potential students can contact for information or a name to call on campus.
“It’s just a matter of training the trainers, getting the information out, making sure the information is accurate, that they know whom to refer to on campus. The personal touch of providing the accurate information and working through the bureaucracy helps students feel more comfortable.”
Recognizing and accommodating the diverse educational backgrounds that students come from is another priority.
Esbenshade says the academic programs of the future will look different because “we’ll be casting our net more broadly, have a more diverse audience, age-wise and in terms of interest. I think our program will have to be more flexible, to blend in non-traditional learners.
“I see a more diverse student population, not just on campus but with equal access through distance education. Five to seven years from now it will be a much more diverse student body.”
Having an impact on societal issues via inquiry, instruction and service is one of his stated goals as director of academic programs. That includes a continuation of the community service activities involving students of the College.
“Our clubs and organizations are active in helping with community projects, and that’s an important dimension to the training of a scientist. Some clubs make it a requirement. I think it needs to be encouraged,” he says.
“We’ll continue to provide
support services to assist students, student aid, scholarships, peer
support, clubs and organizations, things that help the student grow.
We’ll look for ways to enhance and broaden that.”