Going Forward

CAFNR’s division directors keep College true to its mission

Let’s make a circle. That was the suggestion of Marc Linit, interim Vice Chancellor and Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, when figuring out how the current CAFNR administrative leadership team could meet with one of his possible successors during an interview session.

“I said to him, ‘From where I sit, this is one of the nicest things about the administration of this College: We can sit around in a small circle like this, whereas at many colleges of agriculture you’d have 15 to 20 department chairs. And that dynamic is dramatically different and I think it contributes to the culture of the College,’” Linit recalls of the circle that included the six division directors and two acting deans (Linit and Bryan Garton, Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Academic Programs).

Linit adds that the understood equality of the six division directors “creates a dynamic where there’s a lot of comradery and it’s easy for everyone to speak to their values and their issues, but also understand that we’re in this together. It makes for a very collaborative atmosphere.”

We recently sat down with five of the six directors – two of whom have interim status and one, Shibu Jose, who has been newly appointed to his position – to find out more about them and their leadership styles.

“They have been and remain a really engaged, positive group of individuals,” Linit says. “That’s the current group as well as the people I have worked with in the past. The College is really fortunate to have their leadership, not only as individuals but also as a community of leaders.”

Shibu Jose, School of Natural Resources

It was a tree deserving of its own solitary space – at least that was the thought of a grade school student named Shibu Jose. After all, this was no ordinary tree. It was a sandalwood, a species so highly prized for its oils for perfumes and other extravagant uses that it was known as “liquid gold.”

Jose had received the coveted tree seedling from a government-funded program at school in his hometown of Cochin, India. His grandmother, who had curated the “homegarden agroforest” where he and his family lived, told him that the tree had to be planted next to another tree so it could thrive. In her words, “it needed a mommy.” More than 100 different of plant species could be found on the plot, which spanned about one-third of an acre – a symphony of greenery with his grandmother serving as the conductor, in a sense.

“I was in fifth grade so I felt like I knew a little more than grandma,” Jose recalls of the woman whose formal education ended after the fourth grade. “But in the end I can say grandma won because she made me plant it near another tree.”

It was not until Jose was working on his two graduate degrees in agroforestry from Purdue University in the ’90s that he learned that a sandalwood is classified as a hemiparasite, meaning it put its roots into the roots of another plants and absorbs nutrients and roots to meet its full growth.

“You need to find the time to be a leader. Otherwise you just put out the fire on a daily basis and there is no moving forward.”
― Shibu Jose

Now, about two decades later, as Jose begins to serve as the division director of the School of Natural Resources, he is hoping to serve in a similar role as his grandmother did in the agroforest so that the faculty, staff and students of SNR can thrive in their own right.

On the PowerPoint that Jose used during the interview seminar for his current job, the first quote he used came from Mother Teresa: “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” And therein lies the leadership philosophy he has used since he arrived on campus in 2009 as the director of The Center of Agroforestry and the H. Gene Garrett Professor of Agroforestry from the University of Florida. He has also served since 2014 as the superintendent of the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) near New Franklin.

“One of my proudest accomplishments was essentially to bring people from diverse backgrounds together, creating synergy,” Jose says of his previous roles, showing the the latest book that he co-edited, “Biomass and Biofuels: Advanced Biorefineries for Sustainable Production and Distribution”  as an example in which he reached out to a wide range of people to lend their insight including engineers, chemists, biologists, sociologists and economists.

“It made me a better overall administrator in the sense that I have a deeper appreciation for multiple disciplines from the bio-physical world to the socioeconomics because I have been working with a large group of interdisciplinary people,” Jose adds.

Now he is turning all of his attention on SNR, a school that has undergone recent major revisions within its academic programs.

“We’ve built the foundation for the new reorganized school, but now it is time for us to think, ‘OK, we are a good program, but how do we go from this good to great and what are the steps to take to get there?,’” Jose says. “If faculty, staff and students see their vision as part of our shared vision, then half of the work is done. That’s the way I feel about it.” Jose says that visioning process is now in progress.

Above all, he thinks of himself as a servant leader who is first and foremost part of a team.

He has another favorite quote, this one from Kathy Austin, a management consultant: “Managers light a fire under people. Leaders light a fire in people.”

“You need to find the time to be a leader,” Jose says. “Otherwise you just put out the fire on a daily basis and there is no moving forward.”

Bill Lamberson, Animal Sciences

When Bill Lamberson decided to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the mid-’70s, he became a first-generation college student from Palmer, Nebraska, who could never believe his family’s burgeoning ties with academics.

“Being a college professor is actually our family business, oddly enough,” Lamberson says. “Out of 22 adult direct descendants of my mother, eight of us are college professors.”

That list includes two of his children, one of whom is an assistant professor in communications studies at the University of California, Los Angeles – and the other of whom is an assistant professor of history at Angelo State University.

Lamberson has been at MU since 1984 as an assistant professor after finishing his Ph.D. at Nebraska that same year. Out of the current faculty members in the Division of Animal Sciences, only Mike Smith, professor of reproductive physiology, has been on campus longer after having arrived in 1980. Lamberson quickly became a fixture of the lunch group basketball pick-up games at the rec center.

“You try to be present. You try to take input from others to make decisions.”
― Bill Lamberson

“I have sharp elbows,” jokes the 6-foot-1 Lamberson.

When Lamberson, who has been a professor of physiological genetics since 1998, became the interim division director on Jan. 1, it was the second time he has taken up the title (the first being in 2013 before Tom McFadden stepped into the permanent role).

He admits that things are very different the second time around, in light of the ongoing budget restrictions. When it comes to his leadership philosophy, he sticks by a simple mantra: “You try to be present. You try to take input, make decisions and move forward.”

Still, in spite of fiscal tightening, one of Lamberson’s primary duties has been to ensure that the division retains its high level of productivity at national and international levels, while looking to get key positions replaced. At the moment, the faculty includes 18 full professors, many of whom are near retirement.

One of the division’s most recent hires is Eric Bailey, who will hold a role similar to Jared Decker, assistant professor of beef genetics extension and computational genomics, but on the side of nutrition. Although Bailey does not officially start until June 1, he has already “been burning up the pavement” reaching out to producers and stakeholders across the state, according to Lamberson.

In addition, Lamberson is leading the charge for the division to expand into the realm of online programs that would also include components of hands-on training. The first of the two main focus areas are comprised of applied reproduction, which would provide veterinarians and other professionals opportunities to gain continuing education with such techniques as estrous synchronization, artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfers. The second course would be catered to meat processing employees.

Joe Parcell, DASS

Although he grew up on a hog farm in Iowa, Joe Parcell arrived at the University of Northern Iowa with no intention of going into agricultural economics.

“I stumbled into an econ class and I did pretty well in it and my teacher said ‘Geez, you’re a math major. You’re in econ. What’s your background?’” Parcell recalls. “I said I grew up on a farm. She said you should go into agricultural economics, I said ‘What’s that?’”

That same teacher, Janet Reeves, would later guide him to Kansas State University, where he would earn two degrees before arriving at Mizzou in 1998.

“They have a scholarship in her name that I have given to because of the impact she had on me,” Parcell says of Reeves and UNI.

Parcell and his wife, Julia, who works as a service program coordinator at the Office of Service-Learning, maintain a farm operation (corn and soybeans) near Fayette, Missouri.

“We live engagement every day and we value that.”
―Joe Parcell

“It helps me keep grounded in what I do,” Parcell says of his farm. “I do a crop share so I still know all of the costs of production. I know what it takes to shop around for the best prices and what the costs of transportation are.”

Parcell became the interim director of the Division of Applied Social Sciences on Jan. 17, a little more than three months after it was announced that he would be named the first MFA Professor of Agribusiness, after having served as the department chair of agricultural and applied economics for several years.

“I have a very understanding family. I guess that’s what I would say,” Parcell says of his busy schedule. “I’ve got a great faculty and staff in the division and they really take care of themselves, so that’s the beauty; they’re opportunistic. They help me out a bunch.”

Although he has been on campus for 19 years, much of that time was spent overseeing his own programs. Now, in his current role he is amazed routinely at the diversity of research, teaching and extension that DASS faculty members are working on within the state and far beyond as he walks around all of the buildings that make up the division: “We’ve determined there’s at least one to two things a day that you hear about and you just go ‘Wow, we’re doing that?’”

Although he is not one to call himself a micromanager, he does try to do everything himself once to create a sense of empathy with that person.

“I want to make sure I can look folks in the eye and say ‘I know what you’re going through,’” Parcell says.

In spite of financial challenges, Parcell is confident the DASS faculty and staff will continue to be opportunistic when it comes to generating grants and contracts – while helping MU “facilitate what engagement means.

“We live engagement every day and we value that,” Parcell says.

Jim English, Plant Sciences

Having been on the MU campus since 1989, Jim English thought he had a good understanding of what was going on in the Division of Plant Sciences. Then he took over as interim division director about two years ago.

“I knew nothing,” English says. “I mean I did know a lot, but there is so much that you don’t know and at all different levels.

“You find out that the director works with so many people every week on individual issues and problems and helps them with those things as well as going on to understand the complexities of this division.”

“When you become an administrator, the roles broaden where my role is to assist all of our faculty members and others to be the best that they can at their particular goal.”
― Jim English

English became the permanent division director in the spring of 2016. To help prepare him for the job, he recently completed the Lead 21 leadership development program that is affiliated with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The program allowed him to take stock of how he has steadily been moving to a role of a faculty member to that of an administrator. He calls the three-session training “a very important experience.”

“As a faculty member, I can publish another paper, put out some more data, but the impact of that is going to be much less than what I can do by assisting others,” English says. “That impact will then be multiplied by magnitudes in terms of what our division will do and what our College will do.”

Although English lived in a total of 13 states growing up as the son of a businessman, he has spent the last 28 years in Columbia. He came here to research, among other things, canopy management for disease control for the state’s grape industry, before moving onto research surrounding soil-borne diseases and fungal pathogens.

“When you’re a faculty member you’re building a program that is hopefully going to develop prominence. It’s all about developing your visibility and contributing significantly. So recognition comes from your contributions, whether it’s research or in teaching,” English says. “When you become an administrator, the roles broaden where my role is to assist all of our faculty members and others to be the best that they can at their particular goal.”

One goal that has been on the minds of several people within the division has been to help finalize the allocation of funds for a $30 million greenhouse to be built south of the Animal Sciences Research Center on MU’s east campus. In addition to extra space for researchers, the facility will also include several state-of-the-art growth chambers. Although the project was approved by the UM System Board of Curators last June, as of early April, there had yet to be a final plan for the needed funding of the project, which is scheduled to begin sometime this summer.

Jinglu Tan, Food Systems and Bioengineering

There was a time when Jinglu Tan was among the young faculty members in the CAFNR family.  He arrived on campus in 1990 after finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

“Several of us were substantially younger than everybody else. We felt very young for a long time. Until you looked around and they all retired and you have become a senior all of a sudden,” Tan says with a grin.

He took over as director of the Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering in 2001. When Jerry Hazelbauer steps down as director of the Division of Biochemistry at the end of the fall 2017 semester, Tan will officially be the elder statesman of the division directors. Hazelbauer began his position a year earlier in 2000.

“I can’t believe that. I feel like I lost 15 years somewhere,” says Tan, followed by a laugh.

After completing his doctorate at Minnesota, Tan had several options, in both the academic and industry sectors.

“I had a good impression about this place and the family was young, so we came here,” says Tan, who hails from the Chinese province of Shandong in the eastern part of the country. At the time, Tan and his wife, Paula, had a son, Johnathan, who was in grade school.

“‘Stay focused on something. You only have so much energy to make an impact in something.’ That always impressed me.”
― Jinglu Tan (referencing advice from Dennis Heldman)

Tan loves to read. Some of his favorite books to pick up are biographies of “impactful people” including the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and more modern influencers such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

“Determination, innovation. Those are really two of our competitive advantages,” Tan says, looking at the U.S. as a whole.

Although Tan remembers several quotes from those standard banners of American ingenuity, one of his favorite pieces of advice that he has shared with students and non-students alike came from a predecessor of his, Dennis Heldman.

“‘Stay focused on something. You only have so much energy to make an impact in something.’ That always impressed me. To accomplish something he always said invariably, especially in science, you have to stay on something for a long time unless you stumble into something. Have a goal and stay focused to that goal. The sooner you make up your mind, the better off you’ll be.”

His division takes that sentiment to heart. Although it encompasses a large range of academic pursuits (agricultural systems management, bioengineering, food science and hospitality management, extension), the division has a single focus, according to Tan: taking agricultural outputs and converting them into useful products.

Based on the success of the recent rollout of the new precision agriculture certificate, Tan is working with a team within his division to offer the certificate on the graduate-school level. The program would provide even more connections of precision ag into the burgeoning focus areas of big data and genotyping.

“We want to be part of the technology group that develops the systems and hardware needed,” Tan says.

Biochemistry Search Update

After having served as the division director of MU Biochemistry since 2000, Jerry Hazelbauer (whose background was highlighted earlier this year) will be stepping down at end of the fall 2017 semester. When that time comes, the hope is to have his successor ready to fill the role. The search for that person is being led by Tan.

“Since these division director positions are very important positions and Jerry has held that position for 17 years, anytime you have a change of leadership after a long stable run there’s always a little concern about what will the division look like when the new person is here and his or her management style and priorities,” Linit says. “That’s probably the dynamic in biochemistry right now as it would be in any other organization when those positions turn over, especially after a long run, and that really mirrors the College.”