Today is the third day of our tour of south-central Washington with Washington State University President Elson Floyd. The trip has been filled with a variety of events including stops in Prosser, Yakima, and the Tri-Cities for meetings with alumni groups, editorial boards, WSU faculty and staff, economic development committees, and other key stakeholders. It has been a whirlwind tour with eight to ten stops a day and events beginning at 7:00 am and running until 10:00 pm. One thing is certain: President Floyd is a true “road warrior.” Wherever he goes, Dr. Floyd is welcomed with unbridled enthusiasm and a true appreciation for his message.
I thought it would be interesting to write a short blog entry about some of my reactions to the tour, because although I spend much of my time interacting with stakeholders around the state, this tour provided several unique opportunities and generated some new and different perspectives.
Regardless of the venue, Dr. Floyd stresses three programmatic emphases for WSU: (1) agriculture, (2) economic development, and (3) global reach. Building our capacity in the agricultural sciences and serving the state’s food and agriculture sector is not a theme that he emphasizes only in front of agricultural audiences; this message is reaffirmed across all venues and all stakeholders. The broad topic of agriculture not only includes CAHNRS programs, but also important initiatives in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Floyd’s message is that we will build upon our strengths. Obviously, this is great news for CAHNRS, but it does not mean business as usual. It is great to be recognized for the strength of our programs in ag sciences, but the operative word is build.
An interesting, and somewhat surprising, outcome from the tour was the importance of WSU agriculture programs to all groups whom we visited. Granted, south-central Washington’s economy is strongly influenced by agriculture, but this topic was a top priority for all groups – economic development councils, newspaper editorial boards, alumni, etc. The dominant themes within agriculture are clear: water and labor. People in south-central Washington recognize these two issues as being the limiting factors which can greatly impinge upon the future success of this sector, and they see research as an important means to address these topics. It was also clear that while people recognize agriculture as a WSU strength, they don’t hear much about it. Over the last two years, we have allocated a great deal of effort telling our story to, and developing stronger connections with ag stakeholders. It is clear that we need to do a better job telling our story to the public at large.
President Floyd is making a strong push to deepen the engagement of WSU in the economic development activities of the state. Obviously, community leaders are very supportive of this mission, a mission which should pervade everything we do in teaching, research, and extension.
Clearly, there is great interest in expanding academic programs to place-bound students across the state. For CAHNRS, this translates to exploring additional programs delivered at regional campuses and through the network of learning centers across the state. On the research and extension front, this engagement will take on a variety of dimensions, most notably the dissemination of new technologies and practices to industries served by college programs. Significant need was also articulated for enhanced involvement in assisting communities and regions of the state address critical policy issues (e.g., water supply, labor availability, environmental stewardship).
This is the first of several tours that Dr. Floyd will be taking across the state. In late September, he will be visiting the Wenatchee area to visit stakeholders, faculty and staff at the TFREC, and dedicate our new research orchard. A trip to northwest Washington is likely in October.