Celebrating Global Acclaim and Progress Amidst Challenges during Leadership Transition in MSU’s CANR
Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) was recently named, yet again, as one of the top 10 colleges of agriculture and forestry in the world. Outgoing Dean Ron Hendrick joins Kirk Heinze on this edition of MSU Today to reflect on his CANR tenure as he passes the deanship baton to incoming Interim Dean Kelly Millenbah, who also joins Kirk.
Regarding CANR’s rankings in the 2021 Quacquarelli Symonds World Research Rankings, Hendrick is justifiably proud. “It’s an honor for us to be in the top 10,” says Hendrick. “If you look at where we sit within the U.S., we're still in the top handful of programs and always have been. Really, what this measures is our scientific impact, the quality of the work we do, the amount of scholarship we do, and the impact that has globally in terms of both generating basic knowledge and then also applying that to solve problems related to food and the environment. It speaks well to the long history of what we've done here and to the innovation that our faculty continue to do with the support of our staff in partnership with our graduate students, and in many cases, with additional help from undergraduate students as well.”
Hendrick details the scope, scale, and impact of CANR’s academic programs, which range from the traditional disciplines in agriculture and natural resources to the home for the School of Packaging, the country's first packaging program, and the only one that awards PhDs, to programs like interior design and dietetics.
“We're a broad, diverse, and well-rounded college. And then of course we have AgBioResearch and MSU Extension that really help amplify the work that we do in terms of the breadth of our research scholarship and our creative endeavors. And then we get the information that we produce out to the communities, farms, families and big and small cities and rural areas around the state.”
Millenbah, who previously served as CANR senior associate dean, underscores the importance of the ‘all hands on deck’ culture in the college, especially over the past 12-14 months. “It's been absolutely quite a year we have had to navigate as a result of the pandemic,” Millenbah says. “And I cannot extend my thanks enough to our faculty, staff and students for their ability to adjust. For example, we had to pivot essentially in three days to an online environment, which meant that a lot of our faculty had to get trained up on how to deliver in an online space. I can’t tell you more how proud I am of everyone who stepped forward and been able to deliver our curriculum to ensure that our students are still having really strong learning environments.”
Hendrick describes some of the challenges he and his team faced during his tenure.
“Yes, we have had our share of challenges here,” Hendrick tells Heinze. “Some were imposed upon us, and, unfortunately, in some cases, there are things we've imposed upon ourselves or have made worse. The Nassar challenge certainly, I think, fits the latter category. My approach since I got here really has been to focus on making this a place where people would feel welcome and could come and be their best. It's the reason we have focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The work that we got started in 2016 and into 2017 served us well in the college. We were able to have open conversations about things that were happening on campus. We were able to address issues and circumstances when people didn't feel that they were welcome or included. But similarly, people who are affected directly, and we had a number in this college, or indirectly by the crisis, it felt like they had a place where they could feel welcome, where they had support from their colleagues, and from administrators, and from their professors or advisors.”
“The efforts that have been ongoing in the college, in particular, over the last couple of years have been the absolute best work that the college has done in DEI,” Millenbah adds. “We always will have more work to do. That is something I think is starting to become more of the fabric of our culture, the recognition that this is not work that is one person's job, and this is not work that ever is done. I truly believe more and more people are recognizing it's on all of us to be able to make the necessary changes that all of us are looking for and desiring.”
“I feel good about a lot of our other successes,” says Hendrick. “We have many very distinguished mid-career and late-career faculty in this college, and we've hired some really outstanding early-career faculty as well. I arrived here at the same time as many of them. To be able to watch them progress, to go through reappointment, or go forward for promotion and tenure, that's been very rewarding to watch and to be able to support and be a part of.
“We've had very strong support from our stakeholders and the legislature. I’m proud of the funding we've been able to get, with help of advocacy of our stakeholders, for the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, for example. We have also made major renovations to our fruit and vegetable lab. And we have purchased and outfitted a mobile lab for a food processing program that will allow us to not only deliver the program on campus, but also to our 12 community college partners around the state.
“As a land grant university, providing access is still an important part of what we do. And those things we do both on campus and off campus, in partnership with others, has helped to foster and grow that access. We continue to advance our research and our outreach missions. It’s heartening to see the support we have in the counties, thanks to the great work done by our Extension team, both in terms of programming, but also their advocacy. I think we've had 11 or 12 successful millages passsed around the state in the last few years to support the work that we do in MSU Extension.”
As Millenbah takes the helm of the college on July 1, she looks ahead to some of the opportunities and challenges CANR will face. She hopes to see much of the college’s infrastructure upgraded and modernized “to really enhance the work that we're doing and expand the high quality work around research and teaching that's already happening in those spaces. That mission definitely sits front and center for me.
“There are other things that we'll continue to work on, which include our greenhouses. That's been something that we need to see some improvement in. And we've got a lot of people who have been advocating and pushing for that, not only here at MSU, but with our stakeholders, who've been just phenomenal partners in helping with regards to some of our infrastructure needs. And not unlike other institutions, our infrastructure is probably one of our greatest challenges. And there will likely be other things that we will need to start focusing in on to ensure that we do have some of those state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.”
Hendrick, who becomes Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Texas Tech University, July 1, will apply his experiences at MSU in his new role. “I wasn’t looking to leave, but opportunities, as they tend to do, came along,” says Hendrick in closing. “The more I explored, the more it looked like a good fit for me, and I think, for Texas Tech. I'm hoping to take things all that I've learned here and other places and work with the colleagues and the faculty and staff at Texas Tech to put that to greater benefit for them as well, just as we've done those things here.”