"Agriculture is changing and it is not an easy change," Sharron S. Quisenberry, dean of the college, told a group at the Tidewater Agriculture Research and Extension Center Field Day in Suffolk, Va. "We must tailor our program to meet these needs." Quisenberry is the first woman to be named as dean of the College. She was previously dean of the ag college at Montana State University and head of that state’s agricultural experiment station since 1999. Previously, she headed the entomology department at the University of Nebraska. She holds four degrees, including two Master’s degrees (and Ph.D.). Recognized nationally and internationally as an expert in plant and insect interactions and plant resistance to insects, she has concentrated on wheat, rice, bermudagrass, tall fescue, alfalfa and livestock insects. Quisenberry has published more than 165 professional papers. She was recently appointed by President Bush to serve on the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development. She is a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America.
On the job a little less than a month, Quisenberry has hit the ground running and generated a positive reaction among researchers and Extension personnel at Virginia Tech. She was at the field day in southeastern Virginia talking to producers and Virginia Tech employees alike looking for ideas of what the College needs to be doing.
"If we don’t bring an entrepreneurial-type mentality to our job, we are not going to succeed," Quisenberry says.
She comes to the job after several years of cuts in research and Extension personnel at the Virginia Land Grant University. More than 100 county agents and Extension specialists, 22 teaching positions and 50 researchers have been lost due to budget cuts. This year, the state General Assembly will be asked for funding in a Critical Staffing Initiative to restore about 39 county agents and 17 Extension specialist positions. "Next July, money will start to be returned that will allow us to begin filling critical teaching, research and extension positions.
"We have to look at the foundation we have left," Quisenberry says. "It is a time for thought, planning and rebuilding. We have started the process to evaluate where we are, where we want to go and how we need to get there. Part of the process is listening to what you have to say and what you feel are critical needs."
She cited nine critical areas: value-added products; human and animal nutrition and health; bio-based products; rural and urban interface; environmental protection; economic development; food safety and bio-security.
She says she wants to see a "systems approach" to agriculture in the state, one that leads from genetics to production to product development, nutrition and marketing to food policy. "It’s not going to be easy, but it’s essential."
"It’s essential that our teaching, Extension and research programs at Virginia Tech address production agriculture, the sustainability of our land and water resources, marketing in a global economy, and in particular, quality of life," Quisenberry says.
She said that research and Extension centers are equally important to that mission. "These centers address a wide variety of crops, livestock and aquaculture and serve not only as key field research sites, but also field training facilities for undergraduate and graduate training," Quisenberry says. The role of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech is to serve the needs of the people in Virginia.