From The Dean – Fall 2013
Most people know me as the dean of an Iowa State college that has roots going back 155 years.
Some may know less about the other title I hold, linked to an agricultural research program that has served Iowa for 125 years.
I am director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. Sometimes it’s abbreviated to just Experiment Station. It’s 125 years old this year.
In 1888, Iowa approved the terms of the federal Hatch Act, establishing an experiment station at Iowa State. The Hatch Act offered federal aid for states to establish agricultural research stations linked to land-grant colleges. In every state, the act officiated a marriage of science and agriculture that promoted “scientific investigation and experiments respecting the principles and applications of agricultural science” and resulted in a progeny of scientific breakthroughs.
The Experiment Station is deeply woven into every aspect of how our college fulfills Iowa State’s mission. It makes possible vital infrastructure—people, facilities and programs—to meet Iowans’ needs and strengthen its most vital industry. It’s education and mentorship of students by some of the world’s leading agricultural scientists across many disciplines. It’s science-based information reaching every corner of the state through extension and outreach.
Today, the Experiment Station supports faculty researchers and scientific staff in more than two dozen departments and centers in our college. Also, the Experiment Station supports faculty in the College of Human Sciences who are conducting research on topics such as food safety, childhood obesity and the health and well-being of rural elderly. And campus-wide, the Experiment Station helps faculty through its support for high-tech research instrumentation facilities and biotechnology programs.
In all those ways, the Experiment Station truly embodies “Science With Practice.”
The Experiment Station sounds like a destination you could visit. Maybe that was true, back at the very beginning. The first Experiment Station director, R.P. Speer, led a small band of scientists (three, to be exact). To “visit” the Experiment Station today, you’d need to stop at many places on campus and around the state (including what I believe is the nation’s finest system of research and demonstration farms at 12 locations), plus you’d have to meet many people, teams and partners. To get a true sense of the Experiment Station, think of it as a diverse portfolio of people, places and programs working for the good of Iowa and the betterment of agriculture.
But if there’s only four things you should know about the Experiment Station, or when you see the director title after my name, keep these in mind:
1. The Experiment Station is Iowa’s only public agricultural research program. The Experiment Station is critical to meeting the needs of the incredibly complex, ever-shifting biological system that is agriculture. Currently nearly 750 active research projects are tied to faculty and staff supported by the Experiment Station—research on plants, animals, natural resources, food and nutrition, energy, economics and much more. These resources make possible the work of 294 faculty and 380 staff.
2. Public investment in the Experiment Station yields results. Studies by economists at Iowa State and Yale University found that the rate of return to society from publicly funded agricultural research is 50 percent and, in some newer studies, even higher—that’s a 50 percent real rate of return annually. It’s a reason why keeping Experiment Station funding reliable and growing keeps Iowa agriculture strong. That foundation is a springboard our scientists successfully leverage to win grants and contracts.
3. Experiment Station research is about today and tomorrow. The Experiment Station portfolio has breadth and depth— it’s short-term applied research that meets immediate problems and opportunities and it’s taking-the-long-view basic research that sets the table for future discoveries.
4. The Experiment Station supports economic development. A world-class Experiment Station, coupled with Iowa’s powerhouse agricultural productivity, are critical assets for the state’s economy. Increasingly, our economy depends on innovation, knowledge and technological advancement. Agricultural research supports those goals. In 2010, we tallied how many Iowa businesses, from entrepreneur to multinational, our scientists work with in a year’s time and it was over 300.
Thomas Jefferson believed agriculture to be the first in utility and should be the first in respect, and that it is “a science of the very first order.” That is still true today. Our Experiment Station represents science of the very first order making breakthroughs to strengthen a state of agriculture of the very first order.
Endowed Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences