Elbow room

Now that we’re several weeks into the fall semester it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that campus is a little more crowded compared to last year. It’s not your imagination.

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This fall, OSU’s undergraduate enrollment hit an all-time high of 20,311. That figure includes 4,220 freshmen who are part of the university’s second largest freshman class ever, and 566 of them are making their home in CASNR.

In fact, the college’s total undergraduate enrollment of 2,878 students is the highest ever.

Just before the semester began, OSU held an orientation for new faculty, including three who joined DASNR.

Kevin Wagner, associate professor of plant and soil sciences and director of the Oklahoma Water Center, came from Texas A&M University, where he was associate director of the water center. He earned his master of science in environmental sciences from OSU before completing his PhD at Texas A&M.

Quisto Settle, assistant professor of agricultural education, communications and leadership, most recently fulfilled a faculty appointment at Mississippi State University and will be teaching and advising students in agricultural communications at OSU.

Darren Hagen, assistant professor of animal science, will serve in a research and teaching role in animal genomics, which combines the sciences of molecular genetics and bioinformatics to understand the heredity of animal traits. He most recently was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Missouri.

As excited as we are about welcoming these newest members to our DASNR family, it’s interesting to note it was the smallest gathering of new faculty the university has hosted in a long time. Budget reductions have consequences, but we remain optimistic we can build back some of the faculty capacity we’ve lost in recent years.

However, the robust student population and the smaller-than-normal number of faculty has presented us with a challenging dynamic in light of the current fiscal environment.

How do we maintain and, preferably expand, our ability to provide a world-class education to a growing number of students with fewer faculty and resources? There’s no easy answer to this question and we’re certainly not the only land-grant institution wrestling with such a dilemma.

I’m a firm believer we can serve more students with fewer resources by thinking carefully about our academic programs and the way we present materials for learning. We’re fortunate to have faculty who are committed to engaging students in the learning process, and our students seem well prepared to be actively engaged in their own pedagogy.

All that said, commitment to fully preparing our students through thought-provoking experiences in and out of the classroom is unwavering. I also know our faculty – and staff – are up to the challenges and will face them with commitment and creativity.

So, despite having a little less elbow room around campus thanks to all the new faces, I’m excited about our future and I hope you are, too.

Oklahoma’s Conservation Summit

As Oklahomans, we are fortunate to have such a diverse array of natural resources, and we have a long history of stewardship protecting those assets.

Perhaps nothing captured the sense of loss and despair during the Great Depression more than images of Oklahoma dust storms tearing across the continent, fueled by soil that was loosed from poor land management practices.

Wind blowing dust and dirt across a field in north central Oklahoma near Lahoma.

Nothing captures how far we have come in our conservation practices than the absence of those dust storms a few years ago after we experienced drought even more severe than the 1930s. Our soil and water are foundational resources. We must always focus on those first as we seek to build a sustainable economy based on our state’s working lands and waters.

The conservation efforts that helped secure our soil in the early 21st century will need to adapt to changes in climate and in our society. That reality inspired a meeting of Oklahoma conservation organizations.

This group of like-minded organizations gathered Aug. 18 in Moore for the Oklahoma Conservation Summit. DASNR was one of the organizing partners of the summit. Other partnering groups included the Noble Research Institute; Oklahoma Conservation Commission; Natural Resource Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; and the Oklahoma Tribal Advisory Council.

The purpose of the event was to facilitate increased collaboration, effective communication and public recognition for the conservation efforts in Oklahoma. Congressman Frank Lucas, CASNR alumnus and chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Natural Forestry, served as the keynote speaker. During afternoon breakout sessions, we also discussed key conservation issues in Oklahoma and explored ways to enhance the efforts of each organization through collaboration and better communication.

The summit drew 145 participants. I was pleased with the robust attendance as well as the variety of organizations that chose to take part in this important dialogue.

Rather than create another duplicative organization, we sought ways of bringing this collaborative spirit to events and projects already underway, so we can multiply the impact of each group’s efforts and transform Oklahoma conservation efforts for the challenges ahead.

Nothing will happen without some careful thought, planning and hard work. However, our initial steps have positioned us well for continued improvements in Oklahoma conservation.