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MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ diverse footprint benefits the world

Ron Hendrick is dean of Michigan State University’s renowned College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He joins Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman on this edition of the MSU Today podcast.

“I made kind of a circuitous route back to the university, Bill,” Hendrick says. “I did my bachelor's and PhD degrees here and left in 1992. I did a post-doctoral fellowship in Alaska, and then I went to Georgia for 16 years. That's where I spent most of my active faculty career then migrated back a little bit north to The Ohio State University for about seven and a half years. I came back here in the summer of 2016 as dean.

Ron Hendrick

“It's an interesting and exciting time for our college, and we do a lot of different things you would expect, of course, related to food and the environment. But I have everything from interior designers to soil microbiologists on my faculty and everything in between. And so my responsibility really is to empower my leaders at many levels in order to do the teaching, the research, and the outreach missions. We are a little different than other colleges because we're also the home for MSU Extension and our statewide presence there. And then also AgBioResearch, which is our agricultural experiment station as Michigan's land grant university. We have a very big international footprint as well and are literally on every continent and in many parts around the world and have remained that way here through the pandemic as well.”

Hendrick tells Beekman how the pandemic is impacting the college’s efforts.

“We do have a very big footprint. I think we are definitely the university's biggest tenant in terms of acres occupied. When the governor's executive order initially came out, there were exemptions for things related to food and fiber production, including research. So we had both the fortune and the big lift of getting our research adapted to this new operating environment. And one of the things that couldn't go interrupted at all was all the care for all the things that we have custodial responsibility for. All of us have been focused on the two legged, right? It's about keeping ourselves and our colleagues and our students and those around us healthy. But I've got a lot to care for with four, six, eight or even 100 legs. And I have entomology and fisheries and wildlife and packaging.

“So there are spins and feathers and furs, and all those things require care. Some require more than others. Some it's feeding and watering and looking after basic medical care. But at our dairy facility, those cows need to be milked every day and now we're milking them twice a day. And so much credit to my staff and the staff leaders and faculty and my administrators for keeping all those things going. And we've been remarkably uninterrupted, but it was a very big lift early on getting things going. When we moved to remote work in late March, we were right on the cusp of the start of the growing season. So crops and other things need to go out and not just ours to support our work, but our stakeholders, we're a very agriculturally diverse state.

Bill Beekman

“We are working with our partners and on farms and with them and in their facilities year round. But particularly during the growing season, we can't let insects or disease problems that might decimate an important food crop, for example, get out ahead of us. And we're always on the outlook for animal and wildlife diseases and other sorts of things. So it was a very big lift but with the help of the university and senior leadership and my folks within the college, I think we've done a remarkably good job.”

Of the colleges brand around the world Hendrick adds “it's less about the brand and I think more about the positive impact we've had in so many places around the world and continue to have today. It’s a real point of pride for Michigan State that a lot of people probably aren't aware of.”

And Hendrick says the college faculty had been innovative and really stepped up when the pandemic arrived.

“I think finding the proper blend and balance of the hands-on and the distance or remote learning is going to be important for us to find. And that'll take a while to figure out, but the faculty have been very ingenious and the students have been very engaged and accommodating.”

MSU Today airs every Sunday morning at 9:00 on 105.1 FM, AM 870, and however you stream at home. Follow and subscribe at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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