Coming home

Coming Home

OSU claims to have the greatest homecoming celebration (and the orangest) in the country. After experiencing it last week, I can say I’ve never seen anything like it. From the moment I walked into my office on Monday morning, I could see signs of what was to come: banners hung, office doors decorated, windows (some I didn’t even know we had!) gleaming with freshly painted images, and a flotilla of chrysanthemums holding station in the lobby. As the activity built throughout the week, I was reminded to “just wait until Walkaround,” so by Friday evening, my wife and I were ready for something special. It was even grander than we expected, from the aromas of grilled and roasted food to the visual spectacle of finely pixilated tissue paper images created by fraternities and sororities. We also developed an appreciation for how much OSU Homecoming means to so many people beyond campus and Stillwater. Parents, friends, alumni and others were drawn to Walkaround like moths to light, and the stroll down University Avenue was more like a careful negotiation among a sea of shoulders.

As remarkable as the various homecoming activities were, the highlight for me was the opportunity to meet with and celebrate with alumni. We honored returning alumni who were celebrating their 10th, 25th or 50th graduation anniversary. What an impressive group!

We also recognized three alumni, Dr. Barry Pollard, Ross McKnight and Larry Shell with the CASNR Distinguished Alumni Award. I was overwhelmed by everything these individuals have accomplished since they graduated from our college. Though you can read about their achievements, I’d also like to share a few reflections from my time with these three remarkable individuals.



It was my pleasure to personally inform each of the awardees they were being honored. In those separate conversations, all three asked about the other honorees and each one said, “This is a great honor, but it’s even greater to be honored with those two individuals.” The time I shared with each honoree and with the group reinforced how special they are and emphasized their generous leadership.

Dr. Pollard graduated from CASNR with a major in biochemistry, went on to medical school and is now a very successful neurosurgeon in Enid, Oklahoma. In addition to that remarkable career achievement, Dr. Pollard and his wife Roxanne raise purebred Angus cattle and they’re partners in a business that owns and manages 19 John Deere brand farm equipment dealerships. Most people would consider the career of neurosurgery to be enough to keep busy and have a great impact on society. Dr. Pollard’s not like most people. As I’ve come to know him, I particularly appreciate and respect his curiosity and desire to learn more. He attributes his interest in genetics to his decision to raise and breed cattle. He remains a diligent and engaged student, and having come from rural Oklahoma, he sees vibrant businesses like farm equipment dealerships as key ingredients to keeping rural economies strong, ensuring a variety of well-paid jobs in those communities.

Mr. McKnight’s story is unique. Alone at 15, he worked his way through high school in Throckmorton, Texas, guided by ag teachers and coaches, and earned admission to OSU. After graduating with a degree in animal science, he has built a very successful career as a rancher, oilman and banker. He and his wife Billie are co-chairs of OSU’s Branding Success capital campaign.

Success in business comes with plenty of failures. What I found most inspiring about Mr. McKnight’s reflections was that he sees a willingness to take risks as being key to his successes, a mindset that dates back to those trying times when he was an adolescent finding his way and risking a move to Oklahoma for his education. In fact, his failures have taught him more than his successes. When asked if he worried about losing money when he takes risks, he was adamant that he doesn’t worry so much about losing money (though he doesn’t LIKE to do that), but he does worry about losing his nerve. The risks and challenges he’s faced remain important drivers of his efforts to achieve success. That need to take risks marks him as a true entrepreneur, and it’s that experience he’s most concerned remains a part of our academic programs. It’s no surprise that he and Billie have created an endowment to support undergraduates at OSU as part of their forays into leadership through the McKnight Scholars Program, which targets students from outside Oklahoma, a clear sign of their willingness to take risks.

A former agriscience teacher who eventually became CEO of the OSU Foundation and the executive director of the OSU Alumni Association, Larry Shell is a consummate leader. He also has engaged in a lot of work with youth, helping them develop leadership while learning how to show sheep. Mr. Shell was responsible for involving Dr. Pollard and Mr. McKnight in OSU’s fundraising efforts. What really struck me about Mr. Shell was his quiet, but steady manner in engaging others. I only knew of his significant role in working with Mr. McKnight and Dr. Pollard because THEY felt it was important to acknowledge. He is not one to boast about his work, but others are quick to highlight his signature leadership, and all along his career path are sure signs of his strong and steady leadership.

It was fun for me to see three alumni return to a place they have visited often and to which they have dedicated a great deal of time, energy and financial resources. I also was grateful to see very clearly this was a special homecoming to them. This is a special place, made so by special people. What an honor to be a witness to their return home to OSU.

Our three honorees, along with the other thousands of OSU alumni and friends who made it back last weekend, easily validate OSU’s claim on hosting the greatest homecoming celebration in the country.

Rodeo time!

Last weekend brought sights and sounds the OSU community hasn’t experienced in nearly 30 years. You could hear the thud of horses’ hooves pounding across the muddy arena as they galloped around barrels under the skilled guidance of their riders. You could see bulls bucking and spinning trying to dislodge determined riders working hard to stick it out for 8 seconds that seemed like an eternity. You could watch riders confidently whipping lassos over their heads as they attempt to rope speedy calves streaking across the arena.

OSU proudly presented the first Cowboy Stampede, Oct. 9-11, at the Payne County Fairgrounds in Stillwater. Sanctioned by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, it was the first intercollegiate rodeo the university has hosted in nearly 30 years. In spite of cool autumn temperatures and periods of rain, all three days drew large, enthusiastic crowds cheering on talented student-athletes representing OSU and other colleges and universities across Oklahoma and Kansas.

It was a pleasure for my wife, Rhonda, and I to participate in the Grand Entry, kicking off Saturday night’s championship performances, after which championship buckles were awarded to event and all-around winners. I also got a taste of the event from watching the opening night’s action, which was the inaugural rodeo event in the Payne County arena.

Rhonda and I were surprised to receive commemorative belt buckles marking our participation in such a great event, though I’m unlikely to ever forget the experience. As much as I enjoyed being a part of the event, I was even more pleased that our Provost, Dr. Gary Sandefur, and our President and First Cowgirl, Burns and Ann Hargis, participated in the opening ceremonies on Thursday and Friday evenings, respectively. That’s great support from OSU for this remarkable event.

I have attended rodeos before, but never an intercollegiate competition. What a thrill it was for me. And I enjoyed watching the spectators take in the event as well. On Saturday night, we had a group of visiting scholars from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Mali in attendance and that had to be a highlight of their five weeks at OSU!

Certainly I was impressed with the command of the competitors. Who wouldn’t be? And I’m awed by the athleticism, intelligence and courage of the horses. And I have to give a shout out to the OSU Rodeo Club and head coach, Cody Hollingsworth, who managed a very complex event AND put forward a strong group of OSU Cowboys and Cowgirls in the competition.

However, I am equally impressed by what these students are accomplishing outside the arena. There are more than 40 student organizations and teams under the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources here at OSU. Our rodeo team joins other exceptional student groups, such as the 2014 national champion meat evaluation team, as prime examples of students’ commitment and dedication to excelling both inside and outside the classroom.

They’ve likely heard this before, but we can’t say it enough: We’re proud of you. We’re proud of the fact that the opportunity to participate in offerings like our rodeo club, in addition to our outstanding academic programs, attracts students from across the country. Go, Pokes!

The perfect mix

It’s hard to believe fall is here already. The three months since embracing Oklahoma as my new home have flown past in a blur of friendly faces and welcoming handshakes as I settle into my role here at OSU.

However, if the cooler temperatures and slowly turning foliage weren’t big enough hints, the traditional kickoff of another OSU football season provides a can’t-miss clue.

The fierce competition on the field, the loudly cheering fans in the stands and Bullet racing across the stadium turf all contribute to the refreshing energy unique to the college football game-day experience here in Stillwater.

Not surprisingly, classroom lectures and homework assignments are hardly top of mind while students, alumni and fans are enjoying the game. That excitement makes it easier to forget that athletics is, indeed, an important part of providing a world-class educational experience at OSU.

OSU Marching Band salutes Cooperative Extension for 100 years of service.

But we all got a great reminder of this during halftime at the Sept. 6 Cowboys game. The OSU marching band helped the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service celebrate a century of service to the state by forming a triangle and the number 100.

Given Extension’s 100th anniversary, the number is self-explanatory, but what’s the significance of the triangle? The triangle represents teaching, research and Extension, the three pillars of land-grant mission.

In Oklahoma, Extension has a presence in all 77 counties, offering programming in agriculture, family and consumer sciences, community and economic development, environmental stewardship, natural resource management, local government education and Oklahoma 4-H youth development.

Last year, Extension made more than 1.1 million instructional-contact hours, which is the equivalent of 766, three-hour courses with 32 students in each class.

It probably isn’t a bad bet to guess some of those people who took advantage of those classes were in the crowd Sept. 6, celebrating both their Cowboys and Extension.

At OSU, the land-grant mission is everything and I consider us all stewards of this most important charge, including Extension’s approximately 600 employees based in Stillwater as well as county, area and district offices.

As the division’s vice president, I count it an honor and privilege to share with the state’s residents just how important that mission is to us and how hard we work to fulfill it.