ATHENS, Ga. –The University of Georgia College of Agricutlural & Environmental Sciences (CAES) Interim Dean Joe West and dean designee Nick Place reviewed the college’s operations and fielded questions from Georgia Farm Bureau leaders during an Oct. 20 installment of “Digging In,” the GFB Public Policy Department’s webinar series.
The discussion included how the state budget affected CAES, areas that Place plans to pay particular attention to when he starts as the new dean in January and how the college has functioned under pandemic conditions.
Place is a Pennsylvania native who is finishing his stint as dean and director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. He said training students in the growing technological aspects of farming, conducting advanced research to identify and address farmers’ needs and delivering research and information to the public through Extension would continue to be CAES’ focus.
“All three of those missions are critically important for our college of agriculture and environmental sciences. That’s sort of the way that I’ll be looking at going after this job and looking for ways that we can advance all three of our critical mission areas,” Place said.
He noted that that there is a push to advance the college’s work relating to precision agriculture and food systems.
“We certainly see that as a tremendous opportunity for us in Georgia to position our college and university such that it is the leader for innovation in precision agriculture and all of the different kinds of new technologies that are out there,” Place said.
During a question and answer session, Place was asked about efforts to increase interest in CAES from rural youth. While CAES applications are funneled through the university’s central application system, he said the college could encourage students to apply and help them strengthen their applications.
“That’s something I’m very passionate about, coming from a rural area myself and understanding some of these issues that are facing rural youth today,” Place said. “I think there are some things that we can do moving forward about utilizing 4-H and FFA as ways that we can get and train young people so they have really strong applications as they apply to the University of Georgia and first of all making sure that young people apply to the university. If they don’t apply, they’re certainly not going to get in. So, we certainly need to be addressing that aspect, as well.”
West reviewed CAES’ enrollment for fall 2020 semester, noting that the college saw a relatively small decline in enrollment. Undergraduate enrollment was down by approximately 20 students, while CAES’ graduate programs had slight enrollment increases.
“Compared to some of our sister institutions, we held our enrollment very, very strongly. So, we think that’s a good sign. There was so much uncertainty associated with the fall semester that we really didn’t know what to expect, and we feel really good. Overall the University of Georgia has maintained enrollment very well,” West said. “Though it looks different, we’ve been able to maintain in face-to-face teaching for our students, which we think is very, very, very important.”
CAES was subjected to budget cuts just as every state agency was, and West said the college handled much of this by not hiring people to fill open positions. The staff reductions left the college with the challenge of meeting its mission goals with fewer people. For example, the UGA Cooperative Extension has 280 agents statewide, down from 315 a year ago, according to UGA Associate Dean for Extension Laura Perry Johnson.
“We’re cautiously addressing positions on an as-needed basis,” West said. “So, whether it’s research, extension or teaching, we recognize that when we lose positions like that it creates holes. So, we’re working very strategically to apply the resources that we’ve got to try to address those holes that we know we have.”
–Georgia Farm Bureau