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From Dr. Messina ...

Hello Alumni and Friends:

May you live in interesting times! That is supposedly an old Chinese proverb that you say to your enemies. I now understand the meaning behind the proverb in these truly interesting times in the School of Forest Resources.

Many of you have heard that Penn State is undergoing substantial changes, and nowhere are those changes more profound than in the College of Agricultural Sciences. The Provost has directed us to reduce the number of College departments from 12 to “six or so.”

Much of my time since early last fall has been spent on a process the College calls “AG Futures.”  You can learn more about that at http://agsci.psu.edu/ag-futures. Basically, AG Futures is a College-level planning process implemented to respond to the Provost’s directive. This required many hours of meetings that culminated in an all-day session on February 25 at which six teams totaling 48 College faculty presented their plans for the future structure of the College of Agricultural Sciences. You may learn as much as you desire on the aforementioned website, but I will summarize here what concerns our School.

So far, the results of the restructuring have been fairly positive to our School. The teams of faculty assigned by Dean McPheron from across the College have recognized the unique character, opportunities, and challenges inherent in managing natural resources. Therefore, all six teams have recommended that Forest Science and Wildlife and Fisheries Science stay together in whatever the School will become in the new College. The Wood Products major, due to its low enrollment, remains problematic. Several proposals recommended moving the major to the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, but we are endeavoring to keep it here even if it becomes an option under Forest Science. We recognize the critical link between sustainably managed forests and the production of high-quality wood products. In other words, Pennsylvania did not become the national leader in hardwood lumber production by accident. Therefore, we hope to maintain the critical synergy between Forest Science and Wood Products. At any rate, the final structure of the College may be decided by the time you read this. Current plans call for the Dean to roll out the final structure after the state budget is resolved.

Another of my favorite expressions is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” In this case, that means that we should utilize this restructuring process as an opportunity to perhaps grow the School by attracting like-minded faculty from other College departments to join us. The Provost’s directive to restructure the College discussed the possibility of faculty moving to new departments in which they feel more suited. We have already had some interest from faculty elsewhere working in natural resource issues, so the end result may be that our School becomes stronger. I just hope that none of our faculty chooses to leave the School!

Another aspect of this process is that it may lead to changes in names of majors or even the School. Numerous marketing and branding studies have shown that names can be very important to stakeholders, so we cannot ignore the impact that new names may have. But we also must be mindful that our mission is just as important if not more so. In other words, our primary products – graduates, research results, and outreach efforts – must be maintained despite what we call ourselves.

Finally, I would be exceedingly remiss if I did not thank the multitude of you who have written letters and e-mails of support during this restructuring. The efforts you have made to convince the College and the University how important this School is—to Pennsylvania and beyond—makes me proud to not only be the Director, but also an alum.

I invite you to read on to learn more about what we are up to. Please stay in touch.

Warmest regards,
Mike Messina