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Cathann A. Kress, Dean, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

CFAES dean addresses opportunities and challenges facing college

The legacy, impact, and people who make up The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) were celebrated Jan. 10 during the annual State of the College address.

Cathann A. Kress, vice president of agricultural administration and dean of CFAES, delivered the address at Ohio State’s Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center. She noted that while Ohio State is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, CFAES is also celebrating its remarkable 150-year history.

“We belong to the college which originally gave our institution part of its name and has been a critical force in shaping our comprehensive university,” she said. “But just as our university has changed and evolved in its 150 years, so have we.”

Kress said CFAES plays a critical role in improving the state of Ohio and will continue to play an important role in confronting the challenges of the future.

“Through our research, Extension, and teaching, our college is a contributor to our state’s economic development and social well-being. Our work has evolved over a century and a half,” Kress said. “With students being educated to become thought leaders, and an incredible number of innovations and discoveries.”

Originally focused primarily on agricultural production methods and conducting agricultural research, CFAES today has remarkable scope ranging from production, to metabolomics, food safety, carbon sequestration and ecosystem sustainability, international trade, and biopolymer exploration. As Ohio State’s largest college in terms of breadth and depth, CFAES encompasses three missions — research, teaching, and Extension — across three campuses: Columbus, Wooster, and statewide with Ohio State University Extension personnel in all 88 Ohio counties.

Kress said helping prepare the future workforce and future leaders in the food system and agricultural and environmental sciences is a big part of the CFAES teaching mission. This year alone, the college has 3,054 undergraduate students and 507 graduate students.

Kress said preparing these students for the future often begins at a young age. CFAES is the home of Ohio 4-H youth development, a program that engages more than 167,000 young Ohioans in more than 500,000 educational experiences every year, often with those students engaged for nearly 10 years.

“We are working to create increased value in 4-H by incorporating more peer exploration, connecting them more to our science, and recognition of the educational impact of those experiences,” she said. “(Ohio) 4-H is essentially our youth’s first class in our college.”

Kress also discussed the college’s work with community partners, noting recent recognition from the Urban Land Institute for helping improve the Weinland Park neighborhood in Columbus. As a member of the Weinland Park Collaborative, OSU Extension educators worked with developers and community leaders to renovate housing and improve neighborhood services in an area that faced severe challenges.

“That neighborhood evolved from a distressed, low-income neighborhood with one of the highest violent crime rates in the city to a mixed-income neighborhood experiencing its first population increase in almost 70 years,” she said. “OSU Extension was a key, on-the-ground partner.”

Kress also painted a vision for the future. She said the college has developed a new strategic plan that focuses on two core priorities: improving the college’s operational and organizational position, and strengthening the ability to address grand challenges through innovative scholarship.

“Our purpose has driven 150 years of innovation, and it is as strong as at any time in our history,” she said.

Kress said CFAES is making a significant, long-term commitment to the future of the college and the state by investing more than $100 million in infrastructure. So far, 18 capital projects in Columbus, Wooster, and other college locations throughout the state were started or completed in the past year.

“Our work not only advances science, it advances solutions,” Kress said. “The people in our college are drivers of discovery with over $44 million of research projects underway. We are getting increasingly better at translating our research so it can be used in ways that change practices, change the bottom line, and change the world.”

For example, she noted that about 140 CFAES researchers are working on some aspect of water quality—an extremely important issue for Ohio and other states. Others are looking at how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, recreation, tourism, and agriculture.

Other projects Kress highlighted included the college’s work on preventing foodborne illness; studying how energy conservation strategies impact different populations; reducing food waste; research on urban coyotes; and providing farmers with accurate and detailed weather forecasts to help them save both money and the environment by knowing when to apply fertilizers and pesticides.

One of the 2019 CFAES projects that Kress singled out was the Rural and Farm Stress Task Force. With historic rainfall in Ohio, 2019 was a particularly challenging year for Ohio growers and producers. Teams of faculty and staff across several departments, including OSU Extension, convened the task force to address concerns and offer the best science-based recommendations to state citizens.

Using face-to-face meetings, webinars, and digital resources such as newsletters and websites, the task force offered advice and research reports about the ag crisis, farm stress, agronomic crops, dairy and livestock, as well as fruits, vegetables, and wine grapes.

“Our ‘Lean on your Land-Grant’ message says it well. We want Ohioans to know our university can be depended upon to help, to educate, and to be a trusted source of information,” said Kress.

She also said the college faces grand challenges in four areas that will require interdisciplinary effort to solve and must be addressed for humans to survive. Those challenges include sustainability, one health, the rural-urban interface, and preparing the future workforce.

“Our goal is to run more empowered, focused programs with maximum impact,” Kress said. “We have strong fundamentals from which to build in our four grand challenge areas.”

While there are many innovations in the CFAES legacy, the work of the college today remains important and impactful.

“What we do is not only essential for our industry, not only essential for Ohio, but essential for the human species and our world,” Kress said. “Our work not only advances science, it advances solutions.”

In concluding her State of the College address, she said, “The potential for our college and our work is unlimited. We remain deeply committed to advancing our science, advancing our people—and we share a common purpose—we sustain life.”

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