Q&A with Dean Pardue

Photo by Corey Nolen

Dean Sam Pardue took the helm of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in March. Here, he shares with Southscapes what he sees for the future of CAES and agriculture.

Q: What do you see as the top three priorities for the college in the next decade?
A: Moving forward, I trust that we will honor our past and build upon that great tradition and history while embracing the emerging challenges in agriculture and the environment. Our priorities are numerous, but chief among them will be creating access to CAES degree programs at each of our three campuses, providing focused research and Extension initiatives that support Georgia agriculture and attracting the finest cohorts of students, faculty and staff. If you would allow me a fourth priority, that would be engaging our alumni and expanding our fundraising efforts to provide the best opportunities and experiences for our students and our college.

Q: What challenges do you see for the future of agriculture? 
A: Just as was true for our priorities, our challenges and opportunities are also numerous. Major challenges facing agriculture in the future include access to water resources, labor and immigration policy, and regulatory issues. There are certainly many more and another list would likely be as relevant as these three.

Q: How is the college preparing to answer those challenges?
A: Many of these challenges will require that we develop interdisciplinary solutions. That will require working across departmental, college and university boundaries. CAES will strive to foster collaboration to seek the best answers to problems. To do so, we must bring the best minds into the agriculture arena. Our goal is to convince this generation of students that the field of agriculture can provide them with a meaningful and fulfilling career, a career that addresses some of the most fundamental challenges of our age.

Q: What does the growing interest in sustainability and urban agriculture mean for the college? 
A: I think it is a great development. It connects us all to where and how our food is produced. For many from urban areas of the state, it is their introduction to food and agricultural issues. In the future, we will likely need to produce more food on less land, with less water and fewer inputs. To prepare for that scenario, we must begin to think of new and better ways to meet the global demand for food and fiber. Creativity and real change often comes from the periphery, so I hope we will encourage nontraditional agriculture students to engage with conventional producers to find viable alternatives. I am, however, reminded that the first word in sustainability is profitability. If it isn’t profitable, it is difficult to sustain.

Q: How do you expect undergraduate- and graduate-level enrollment to shift in the coming years, both in overall numbers and in terms of majors?
A: Enrollment trends are always difficult to predict. One factor that impacts our projections is the fact that CAES programs and units have given rise to six other colleges or schools at UGA. CAES is, in a very real sense, the “cradle of colleges.” The most recent example was the migration of CAES’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering to form the College of Engineering in 2012. Assuming that we retain all current programs and departments, I anticipate that we will see modest growth at the undergraduate level and a more robust expansion of graduate opportunities. We currently have nine departments in the college. I expect that all will be nationally competitive in attracting students.

Q: What is the college doing to attract a diverse student body, especially those who may not be from an agricultural background?
A: The Office of Diversity Affairs uses multiple pathways to attract a diverse student body to CAES. Programming in K-12 outreach, community engagement, CAES STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiatives and graduate recruitment all impact our commitment to diversity. I define diversity to not only include race, ethnicity and gender, but geography as well. Our goal is to be a college that reflects all of Georgia and beyond.

Q: What can be done to raise the college’s reputation in the U.S. and around the world?
A: It all starts with people. Students want to study with faculty who are thought leaders in their fields, and we have outstanding faculty who make a difference every day. We also need to do a better job of promoting the excellent programs we have. Those in agricultural disciplines are typically somewhat modest. Bragging is just not in our DNA. However, we can seek new ways to tell our story, and it is a great one.

Q: What is the college doing to embrace the universitywide experiential learning requirement that started this fall?
A: This isn’t new to CAES. It has been our tradition and history since 1859, when the college was founded. We embraced experiential learning long before it was prominent in academic circles. Our Deans’ Promise states: “Every student in our college will have the opportunity to enrich their college experience beyond the classroom.” Whether it is through study abroad, service learning, internships, undergraduate research or leadership development, we want to make these experiences available to every CAES student. The Deans’ Promise is not only our commitment to students to provide these opportunities, but donors can have a direct impact on students’ experiences by supporting funding for the Deans’ Promise.