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CALS Dean greets visitors at Arlington Soils field day

Sept. 6, 2012 | 0 comments

It's been six months since the appointment of Kathryn "Kate" VandenBosch to the position of Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In that time she has learned about the research being done within the college and has built some close relationships with researchers and farmers.

"As an incoming 'freshman' dean I'm filled with anticipation, but it already feels like home."

She was a special speaker Aug. 29 during the annual Agronomy and Soils field day at the UW's Arlington Agriculture Research Station.

The relationship between researchers, the college and the farming community, she said, are highlighted by the field days held at the college's many research stations like Arlington.

The give and take between the college and the community is one of the things she wants to concentrate on as she moves forward as dean. With 260 faculty members in CALS, there are 18 members in the National Academy of Sciences - a very high percentage - she told the Arlington audience.

Those staff members bring in $110 million in research funding and $20 million is supported by private industry, she added.

New varieties of vegetable crops with longer and safer storage capabilities and a variety of management practices are among the projects she highlighted.

Student numbers in the college are on the rise, about 10 percent over last year, mirroring a trend seen at a number of U.S. colleges. Biology is the largest major.

Many of the incoming students are driven by job potential but many are coming into biological fields, she said, over concern about the "grand challenges" facing the world and its inhabitants.

One of those grand challenges will be how to feed 9 billion people by mid-century.

Half of the college's undergraduate students participate in research and 42 percent of them will go forward with their education to graduate school or to a professional school.

VandenBosch pointed to the integrated dairy facility at Arlington as one of the ways the college is moving forward with relevant research.

Other building projects that will soon take place will be a remodel and expansion of the Babcock Hall dairy plant, which is home to the Center for Dairy Research.

Another upcoming project is the new livestock and poultry processing center, set to replace the meat and muscle laboratory on the Madison campus. The projects were just approved by the UW Board of Regents and half of the funding for the buildings has already been raised from private sources, she said.

Funding is the greatest challenge facing CALS, she said as the state continues to diminish its financial support. Tuition is up as a result of state funding cuts.

The reductions in state support have contributed to the loss of faculty since 1980 and UW-Extension has taken an even "harder hit," she said.

"I'm deeply committed to a strong UW-Extension presence as a way to extend the knowledge from the University to the community," she told several hundred farmers, crop consultants, county agents and students during a lunch break at the Public Events building at Arlington.

The college, she said, has unique sources of information and it is important to translate new knowledge and innovation from UW sources to commercial adaptations.

Extension has been a good mechanism for technology transfer.

VandenBosch commented that the state's rural students do as well academically at the college as their urban counterparts and find it as easy to get in to the school, but the number of rural kids has been dropping as a percentage of applicants.

Prior to assuming the helm of CALS, she was a professor of plant biology at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul where she had headed the plant biology department since 2001, with a brief hiatus in 2006 to serve as interim dean of the newly formed College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Her research focused on the genetics of plant-microbe interactions and nitrogen fixation in legumes. In 2009 she was named a fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

She took over as CALS dean on March 1.

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