The A Team
Date posted: February 12, 2014
The College’s newest administrative leaders share their visions of things to come for CALS.
Roughly 16 months after his first day on the job as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dr. Richard Linton sees the College as “the ultimate melting pot.”
“That’s what I’m looking for, the ultimate melting pot of ideas and resource sharing to be able to move the College forward,” says Linton. “We are also asking our faculty to bring together and integrate research, teaching and Extension programming so that we can maximize what we do. If we ask that of our faculty, our administrative team needs to lead by example.”
The College’s new strategic plan stresses building interdisciplinary programs, collaboration and partnership and integrating the land-grant teaching, research and extension missions. This critical tool will guide the College into the future.
Leadership for two of those missions – research and teaching – is relatively new. Dr. Steven Lommel was named associate dean of the College and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service effective Sept. 1, while Dr. Sam Pardue was named associate dean and director of Academic Programs effective May 1.
Dr. Joe Zublena, associate dean and director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, was named to lead Extension in 2011, but he recently launched an effort he hopes will redefine the Extension Service.
Linton, Lommel, Pardue, Zublena and Dr. Sylvia Blankenship, associate dean for administration, form the CALS administrative team. It is a team, says Linton, that is working hard to integrate all the CALS functions, including international programs.
So where is the CALS A Team heading?
The value of a ‘liberal’ education
Sam Pardue believes in providing CALS students a “liberal” education. But before Pardue is skewered by Fox News, listen to his definition of liberal.
“There are a lot of studies that show that people change jobs at least seven times during their careers,” Pardue says. “So gone, to a great extent, are the days in which you would go and work for one company, one organization, and retire there.”
How, then, do institutions of higher learning prepare their students for this ever-changing, fluid job market. That’s where the liberal education comes in.
CALS, Pardue argues, must “broadly educate people so that they’re able to be successful in a changing world.”
He adds, “So I’m a big believer that we need to prepare people for jobs to contribute to the economy of the state of North Carolina, but we also need to instill in them the ability to be adaptable and to survive; in one sense to be able to evolve, to not necessarily do what you’re doing today in 10 years.”
CALS helps students learn to adapt by providing leadership opportunities and teaching teamwork.
If today’s students are going to address society’s pressing issues in the future, “we’re going to have to have folks who work in large extended teams that bring in multiple disciplines … . We can help cultivate that kind of concept, I believe, in the way in which we teach, the way in which we interact with our students and in the clubs and organizations that help prepare them,” says Pardue.
“I want CALS to produce a student who is able to be adaptive and learn how to develop new skill sets,” he adds. “My idea is that a graduate of this College would not be a one-trick pony.”
Funding, or the diminishment thereof, plays a role in CALS Academic Programs, as it does throughout the university.
Pardue is hopeful the College and the university will be able to replace reduced state funding by growing endowments and by forming more and stronger partnerships with the private sector.
“As a land-grant institution, we are committed to providing access to higher education for our citizens,” he says. “I don’t want the burden of balancing the university’s budget to fall on the shoulders of our students in the form of constantly rising tuition costs. I never want us to get to a point where only the sons and daughters of the aristocracy are able to go to college.”
The university is, however, getting to the point where only those sons and daughters with high grades and test scores are being admitted, and that can be a problem for CALS. Pardue points out that in 1983, 70 percent of students who applied to N.C. State were admitted. Now, around 45 percent of students who apply get in.
That’s a problem particularly for CALS because so many of the College’s stakeholders and alumni are from rural areas, where access to honors and advanced placement high school courses is not as great as in urban areas. Students from rural areas may have good grades, but those grades often aren’t good enough.
Pardue says CALS has developed several programs designed to assist rural students.
“One that I’m really proud of is A.S.P.I.R.E. It grew out of the Department of Poultry Science, and now it’s expanded to a College-wide program,” says Pardue. A.S.P.I.R.E. (ACT Supplemental Preparation in Rural Education) aids students from rural areas in preparing for college entrance exams. (See related story.)
“We’ve got documented evidence that demonstrates to me that we’re elevating their scores,” says Pardue.
Then there’s a program called STEAM (Student Transfer Enrollment Advising and Mentoring Program). STEAM brings high school graduates to campus in the summer for two courses. These students then attend another institution of higher learning in the fall and spring. If they have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, they are guaranteed admission to N.C. State starting their sophomore year. CALS also has agreements with community colleges designed to aid students in transferring to N.C. State.
“I tell students who are really disappointed they don’t get in as a freshman that the journey – while it’s important – is not as significant as the destination. If the goal is to get to N.C. State, we’ve got a lot of different ways that we’re going to be able to get you here.”
Pardue sees CALS students in demand as the world’s population grows and more and more emphasis is put on providing a dependable and affordable food supply for that population.
“This College is preparing our students really well for what I call the ultimate currency for the future, and that’s food,” he explains. “Students who graduate with a degree from CALS are ready to address not only the future of food, but also fiber, feed, families, health, energy, water and the environment.”
At the same time, he believes the creation of the new College of Sciences in mid-2013 – which resulted in nearly half the CALS student population moving to the new college — will ultimately strengthen CALS by allowing the College to focus on the connection between agriculture and life sciences.
“I’m confident that the core expertise that we retain in this College is more relevant today than ever,” says Pardue.
Funding for research in higher education is a challenge, right? Budgets have been cut and cut again. And it appears funding will be a challenge into the future, what with the state still staggered by the Great Recession and the federal government seemingly unable to keep the doors open for more than a few months at a time.
But maybe the state of research funding in higher education is not as dismal as it sometimes seems, at least if you share Steve Lommel’s vision.
Lommel is the newest member of the CALS administrative team, named to lead the research service Sept. 1. A William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of plant pathology, he served in several administrative roles before being named research director, including interim president of the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) in Kannapolis and assistant vice chancellor for research at N.C. State University.
“The budget situation has certainly challenged us,” Lommel says. “One of the biggest hurdles we face is meeting expectations to provide science and research that we really can’t do as well as we would like due to position vacancies. As we move forward, we are going to need to think and act differently to meet the demands.”
And the budget situation, at least as far as state and federal funding are concerned, probably won’t improve soon, but look a little further down the road.
The College’s new strategic plan provides what Lommel calls “very good guidance and a very good understanding of where research needs to go.”
At the same time, Dean Linton has launched a program that provides funding for interdisciplinary programs, and the College is developing an initiative – what Linton calls a “big idea” — that will foster interdisciplinary work on plant sciences.
“We’ll be doing some directed hiring, perhaps as part of the chancellor’s cluster hires, and repositioning a lot of our activities” to focus on plant sciences, Lommel says. In addition, a fund-raising campaign is planned for a plant sciences building on the Centennial Campus.
If the campaign is successful and the new building becomes a reality, Lommel says several strategies are being considered for filling the building with people. Whole departments might be moved to the building, or selected individuals or, perhaps most intriguing, individual faculty members might be moved in and out of the building as research focuses on different topics.
Like Pardue, Lommel sees food as a consuming issue in the future.
“If you look at all the data, if you look at the most conservative data, we have to double or triple food production,” says Lommel. He predicts the need to feed an expanding global population will result in what he calls a renaissance for agricultural and life-science research.
That renaissance will lead to new funding sources. Lommel sees private philanthropic organizations with deep pockets such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and corporations stepping in to replace public-sector funding.
“I’m pretty confident we can increase our funding,” Lommel says. “I really think there are a lot of new opportunities from major philanthropic organizations.”
At the same time, he sees CALS well positioned to benefit from corporate collaborations.
“I firmly believe that while it is true everyone is going after corporate funding, we have a huge advantage,” says Lommel. “Half of the major corporations and most of the plant seed biotech companies are in our backyard. Most of their employees are our graduates. We have a geographic advantage that other schools can’t match, and we’re working very hard on large, deep, durable relationships with these companies.”
In an effort to strengthen ties with corporate partners and philanthropic organizations, the College is in the process of filling two new positions, a research proposal developer and a corporate partnership liaison. The proposal developer will aid faculty members in developing grant proposals.
The corporate liaison, who will have office space with the North Carolina Department of Commerce as well as in CALS, will focus on the Research Triangle Park, working to build and maintain relationships and partnerships with corporations.
“Both [positions] are services that will help the faculty get corporate and federal funding,” Lommel explains.
“I feel like if you click off every advantage you can have, we have them all.”
A new Extension century
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has launched a strategic visioning and planning initiative to evaluate the organization’s business model, adapt accordingly to the current economic environment and devise a strategy going forward.
“The College strategic plan challenged us to take a hard look at the way we do things and ask tough questions, like how can we best meet the needs of our citizens,” says Joe Zublena.
The Extension Service has seen recurring federal and state budget cuts of around $20 million since 2000, resulting in the loss of more than 100 positions — mostly at the county level — over the past four years.
“We are at the point where we must prioritize what we can do best with the staffing that our funding will support,” says Zublena. “The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has provided a century’s worth of education and solutions that help families and communities succeed. Through this initiative, priority one is to ensure another 100 years of trusted service for the people of North Carolina.”
As part of the strategic vision initiative, the Extension Service held a series of 12 listening sessions across the state in November and December. The organization sought input from employees, local governments and community partners as it addresses current economic challenges and positions itself for long-term success going into its centennial celebration.
Participant feedback will be reviewed continuously and will assist in the development of an action plan to better meet the needs of Extension and its partners.
A website has been developed to share information and materials regarding the strategic vision initiative and to provide people an opportunity to submit feedback:
In addition to listening sessions, a visioning committee and local meetings will help facilitate the process needed to prioritize the organization’s programs and define its future. The goal is to have a strategic plan in place by May 2014, when the Cooperative Extension Service celebrates its 100th year.
The organization has enlisted the services of FountainWorks, a Raleigh-based management and facilitation consulting firm, to assist the leadership team and committees throughout the process.
Despite the current challenges and staffing constraints, the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, part of the second-largest Cooperative Extension system in the nation, had an economic impact of nearly $200 million in 2012 and engaged more than 40,000 volunteers across the state.
“I firmly believe that the Cooperative Extension Service is as needed now as it ever has been,” says Zublena. “I also believe that if we do not change, our next 100 years will not reflect the same excellence and impacts achieved in our first 100 years. This is a journey we have to make together with our employees and partners, and I believe that collectively we’ll navigate the Cooperative Extension Service through this process to another century of success.”
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service was founded in 1914, in conjunction with the national Cooperative Extension System, as part of the Smith-Lever Act. The organization will officially turn 100 on May 8, 2014.
—Dave Caldwell, with Justin Moore
From Issue: Winter 2014 Category: Features, Perspectives