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Embracing Change

When I arrived on campus as a freshman in the summer of 1972, an ice cream cone at the Creamery cost 35 cents. One-way traffic on College Avenue was still new and students routinely shouted and gesticulated to perplexed drivers attempting to go against the flow. The area now inhabited by ASI, Forestry, and the Food Science buildings was known as the dreaded Parking Lot 80 where rumors of howling winter winds and snow drifts kept East Hall students from making their way to 8 a.m. Saturday morning classes in Deike. I bet most students, then and now, would agree that eliminating Saturday morning classes was a positive change.

Ask nearly anyone familiar with the college about what’s happened over the past year and invariably the word “change” will be part of their answer. Opinions may vary as to what and why, but not about the fact that the college is a different place.

Cartoon man looks over iPad with back toward a pile of books. PHOTO: JOHN S. DYKES FOR THE ISPOT.COM

PHOTO: JOHN S. DYKES FOR THE ISPOT.COM

We often monitor change by looking at the landscape, noting new buildings or the disappearance of old ones. A quick look at the “Then and Now” feature in this issue (back cover) offers a dramatic example. For the college, though, the changes have been more fundamental—and far reaching.

1. During the past year, academic departments were reorganized and renamed to meet changing needs of students and agriculture. These changes were a direct result of the Ag Futures process by which the college engaged stakeholder groups, faculty, and students, looking at what employers expect of our graduates, what parents and students expect for their tuition dollars, and what the ag industry, government agencies, communities and the people of Pennsylvania need from the college.

2. Penn State Extension has been engaged in a restructuring process to strategically position itself to meet the needs and expectations of their clientele.

3. Changes in state funding for higher education resulted in reductions in staff—a painful fact still fresh in many
memories. 

Then, this past fall Dean Bruce McPheron left the college to take on new challenges at Ohio State as vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. His unexpected departure raised questions about what might happen next. Barbara Christ, senior associate dean and professor of plant pathology who’d already been an integral part of the ongoing changes, was chosen to be interim dean to continue to lead the college through a complex process of change affecting research, teaching, and extension programs.

A few weeks ago I asked Dean Christ about the departure.

“The college is undergoing dramatic changes in structure, culture, and operational processes,” she said. “Despite Bruce’s leaving it’s my job to keep things moving forward. It wouldn’t be fair to a new dean for us to stop and wait for their arrival. We’re always looking at the big picture. The college’s leadership team is continuing discussions regarding the vision and future of the college, what strategies we need to put into place, and how we’re going to implement them. We need to make sure we’re all on the same page—speaking with one voice—so we can be successful.”

Meanwhile, a national search for the next dean is under way and the University has enlisted the help of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search and recruiting firm, to assist the search committee in finding the right person.

Rob Pangborn, interim executive vice president and provost, describes the kind of person Penn State is looking for: “a forward-thinking, visionary leader capable of building upon the college’s significant regional and global impact in the food, environmental and socioeconomic sectors.”

As the leader of one of the largest integrated academic and outreach units of its kind in American higher education, our dean has a tough job.

Change is an essential part of successful systems. I may pay more for a cone at the Berkey Creamery, but I still get the same great chocolate ice cream.* And I continue to marvel at the range of activities the college is involved in and how that work affects our daily lives. The changes that have already taken place, and those to come, will ensure the college can continue to meet the needs of agriculture and remain relevant and responsive in a constantly changing world.

 

Steve Williams
Editor
sfw3@psu.edu

 

*Ask Tom Palchak, Berkey Creamery manager, how “Death by
Chocolate” was born.