Re-imagining the College of Agricultural Sciences institute

In early June 2019, a group of approximately 40 faculty members were invited to participate in a one-day facilitated workshop to focus on building and sustaining a community of researchers to do this work. The objectives of the workshop were (1) to envision the untapped potential of research intersections, (2) to explore “enabling" tools and expertise to facilitate interactions, and (3) to bring these ideas into conversation with one another. During the workshop's breakout sessions and panel discussions, participants identified several strategies to address the objectives, which fall into the following broad categories: infrastructure, support staff, technical facilitation, incentives/rewards, communications and outreach, and resources. These ideas are the basis of the “Strategic Priorities" defined below.


Ultimately, it was agreed that the institute will serve as a gathering place for researchers and stakeholders to incubate and explore innovative research problems that require diverse teams across all departments in the college. SAFES will provide a collective framework and identity that allows for structured proximity and exposure to related work across disciplinary boundaries, thus building the potential for advancing systems- level research at varying scales and across different sectors. A blueprint outlining these motivations was circulated within the Penn State community in September 2019.

Download the Blueprint

A diagram showing the five interconnected strategic priorities

Strategic Priorities

The institute will serve as an entry point for connecting researchers and students from diverse knowledge groups—from university colleagues to external stakeholders—with the aim to develop decision support and policy innovations through landscape-level analyses. The Strategic Priorities for the future of the college's institute support the vision for SAFES by assigning action to the purpose and mission.

  • Build and sustain a community of researchers by establishing a common framework that connects agricultural scientists within the community of expertise at Penn State to foster existing collaborations and to build new ones in the pursuit of integrating knowledge across disciplines.

  • Provide a technical infrastructure by supporting a connective interface to the technical support structure needed by institute members to take the next big step in expanding their research programs to better understand some of the planet's most pressing problems and to investigate potential scenarios and solutions to address them.

  • Coordinate partnerships and engagement by promoting a transdisciplinary approach through active and regular engagement with essential partners within and beyond the university in a productive feedback loop of co-learning and dissemination.

  • Expand educational programs by integrating efforts within the science-to-practice framework and structuring transdisciplinary opportunities to build experience in the science of agricultural sustainability, digital literacy, transdisciplinary thinking, facilitation and leadership, and landscape analyses.

  • Support a unified communication strategy by promoting a consistent message that conveys the purpose and vision of the institute as an instrument to channel complex, landscape-level scientific research into policy innovations and setting the stage for expanding Penn State's national reputation for providing smart, sustainable solutions for a changing world.