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Elson S. Floyd leaves a legacy of inspiration for CAHNRS

Posted by | June 29, 2015

Elson S. Floyd didn’t grow up on a farm, but he recognized the value of agriculture and Washington State University’s role in supporting farmers, ranchers, and the industry as a whole. Before classes had even begun during his first academic year at WSU in 2007, he was on the road touring the state to meet with and listen to agricultural stakeholders, editorial boards, economic development committees and alumni as well as faculty and research staff.

Regardless of the venue, President Floyd’s message emphasized excellence in agriculture, economic development, and global reach for the University. Building our capacity in the agricultural sciences and serving the state’s food and agriculture sector was a theme that he shared beyond agricultural audiences. President Floyd was clear that we would build upon our strengths, and the key word was build.

Clip from President Floyd’s first State of the University Address, Feb. 25, 2008.

In his too-brief tenure, President Floyd’s leadership and support catalyzed the growth of CAHNRS even as our university, state, and nation struggled through the largest recession in 80 years. CAHNRS streamlined operations while growing student enrollment, programs, and facilities.

President Floyd’s call to “aspire higher,” along with his dedication to agriculture and its industries, resulted in reinvigorated partnerships with the tree fruit, wine, and grain industries; the hiring of a new vice president of research to support our drive for excellence in research; and the expansion of research facilities and the number of research faculty positions.

The list of accomplishments at CAHNRS inspired by his leadership are numerous. A few highlights include:

• A nearly 50 percent increase in undergraduate student enrollment and a 35 percent increase in graduate student enrollment with, currently, more than 2200 undergraduate, 570 Master’s, and 361 PhD students.

• An unprecedented alumni, friends, and industry engagement and success in raising over $242 million for CAHNRS in the Campaign for WSU.

• The creation of twelve new endowed research chairs.

• The formation of two new schools: the School of Design and Construction, and the joint Washington State University/University of Idaho School of Food Science.

• Chartering of the Presidential Land Legacy Council to steward land gifts to WSU.

• Establishment of world-class centers and facilities, such as the Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities, the WSU Puyallup Low Impact Development Research Program and Demonstration Center, the Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership in Pullman, and the WSU Plant Growth Facility.

Joe Poovaiah, Regents Professor and interim chair of the Department of Horticulture says of President Floyd’s influence, “One of his many accomplishments is the specialty crop research team. Dr. Floyd helped us to build something truly special, a unique partnership with the tree fruit industry in Washington. This led to one of the largest donations to WSU in its history, which is helping CAHNRS create five endowed professorships. Dr. Floyd empowered the Department of Horticulture to attract not only the best and the brightest researchers in the world but also to compete for local and federal funding, which has increased nearly ten-fold.”

Industry leaders around the state remember President Floyd, even from that first road trip, as an effective and charismatic leader who brought a powerful message.

“I first met President Floyd right after he came to WSU. The Washington Grain Commission wanted to introduce ourselves and speak with him about the future of research and extension at WSU. We found that he was deeply committed to the land-grant mission of the university. He spoke candidly of his goals and how we might be a part of them,” wrote Randy Suess of the Washington Grain Commission, in a tribute to President Floyd.

President Elson Floyd meets with members of the Washington Wheat Commission (2008).
President Elson Floyd meets with members of the Washington Wheat Commission (2008).

Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission agrees, writing, “The Washington tree fruit industry is immeasurably grateful for President Floyd’s commitment to [agriculture] and WSU’s land-grant mission. He was a genuine leader whose clear vision and powerful actions helped redefine CAHNRS. He set high standards and expected the same of others.”

As we honor President Floyd’s memory and his achievements at Washington State University, CAHNRS must carry forward his legacy to aspire higher and grow from the roots of our strength, looking forward while building on the past.

In honoring Dr. Floyd’s accomplishments and legacy, Dean Ron Mittelhammer states: “Dr. Floyd was a tireless and deeply devoted leader of our great university, and his impact on WSU, ever since assuming the helm in 2007, has been truly legion. This spans the gamut, from such basic things as the very look and feel of the university, to the depth, scope and quality of our programs; the positive impact we are having on our students, citizens, industries, and economy of our magnificent State; and the overall reputation of Washington State University throughout the state, region, nation, and world. I consider it both our obligation and privilege to now follow through on the important initiatives he began but did not have time to complete, and indeed there is no better way to honor our late President than to do exactly that.”

Please join us in honoring President Elson S. Floyd by sharing your own stories and tributes here. And celebrate with us the accomplishments of this remarkable leader who, in such a short time, contributed so much to the growth of CAHNRS and Washington State University and the well-being of the state of Washington.