Monday, April 28, 2014

SNRE leaders discuss merger with graduate students

Leaders of merging units at UAF said April 24 at the NRM 692 graduate seminar that it’s going to take a lot of work to successfully blend the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service.

“To truly integrate it will take five to 10 years,” Steve Sparrow, interim dean of the school and interim director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said. “This is an excellent opportunity for more integration.”
Fred Schlutt (left) and Steve Sparrow

His goal is for the unit to become “one big family,” yet he is worried about people aligning themselves in silos. “I want to push to make sure there are no walls,” he said. “We’ll work around the issues and we’ll see how that shakes out. As we hire new faculty we’ll keep this in mind and research and extension will be fully integrated.”

Fred Schlutt, director of CES and vice provost for outreach, said the historic model of land grant institutions is based on teaching, research and extension. “If it works properly we’ll do research work on issues relevant to Alaska,” he said. “Extension delivers cutting edge information but we will become more integrated and have teams of folks delivering teaching, research and extension.”

The university needs better connections to local agricultural producers, Schlutt said. He also is encouraging faculty to look at who they can work with for better outcomes. He used rhodiola and peonies and examples where researchers and CES agents are working with Alaska industries.

As people get to know each other, professors will be assigned a larger extension role and extension faculty will be assigned more research, Sparrow said.

Schlutt said he is looking at how faculty can go back and forth between research and outreach. “It’s a real chess match,” he said. “We have to move the pieces around.”

“There is a lot of knowledge in this school,” Sparrow said. “It could be used by stakeholders. Courses and workshops are a way to make that happen, not dumbing it down but making the terminology understandable.”

As Sparrow and Schlutt work with Executive Officer Michelle Pope to implement the merger, they hope to get input from department heads, other faculty and staff. “I don’t have a crystallized idea how to shake it out,” Sparrow said. “Even though we are merging the roles are different.”

He wants to raise the visibility of the experiment station. “It’s the research arm of this unit,” he said. “How can we emphasize the value of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station?”
“Branding and marketing AFES is high on our list,” Schlutt added.

Each leader will continue to operate his own budget and the business office is reorganizing. The two communications units have merged.

Sparrow suggested pairing Peace Corps Fellows with extension staff in rural communities and a grad student said it would be helpful to know the research needs.

“We try to do research applicable to the state of Alaska,” Sparrow said. “Sometimes we miss the mark a bit. We work with extension people in communities and come to research and do joint projects. If we provide useful information to stakeholders they might appeal to the Legislature for funding for the research.

“Both CES and AFES have statewide missions,” Sparrow said. “If we really want to be successful we have to show our work is truly statewide.”

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