WOOSTER – The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has long held a major presence in Wooster.
It’s a place where science and research are valued, where discoveries really mean something for the advancement of Ohio and the world.
College officials and leaders are hoping a rebranding of the 4,200-acre local campus, now known as CFAES Wooster, will further solidify that presence, better make known “who we are and what we do,” as a land-grant institution and lead to more collaboration and discoveries, said Anne Dorrance, associate dean and director of the Wooster campus.
“We’re doing everything we can to break the silos down,” Dorrance said. “We do, as a land-grant university, have a research mission, a teaching mission and also an outreach or extension mission. Having everything we do here exemplify those missions is really our goal.”
Cathann Kress, vice president of agricultural administration and dean of CFAES, said the start of the year felt like a natural time for the name change, which has been brewing for a while and will connect more fully the research and student-focused pieces.
Instead of the Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI), the two-year, associate-degree-granting program within CFAES, and research being done by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) feeling separate, much more collaboration and resource sharing is underway, she said.
“We think of ourselves as one college with three campuses: Wooster, Columbus and our statewide campus,” with extension across Ohio’s 88 counties, Kress said. “That’s about 11,000 acres in total.”
Some people are unaware of the OARDC’s farms and agricultural research stations across the state, which include locations in Caldwell, Coshocton, Custar, Fremont, Jackson, Kingsville, South Charleston and Willard, according to the CFAES website. “We want people to know our research is expansive and serves Ohioans throughout the state,” Kress said.
New science building unveiled
With the rebranding also comes a new, sparkling science building on the CFAES Wooster campus, located at one end of the large parking lot across from the Fisher Auditorium.
The 60,000-square-foot, $33.5 million building, unveiled Thursday during a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony, will house the department of entomology, undergraduate chemistry classrooms for ATI students, teaching and research labs, office spaces and a cafe on the first floor. The department of entomology’s Bug Zoo alsowill be located inside, as a place for visitors and school groups to tour.
Campus signage and road names, along with infrastructure changes, are already in the works too. It was difficult to get from ATI to the other side of campus without getting on a main road, Kress said, so she is looking forward to modifications.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said CFAES Wooster has “a lot to celebrate,” including entrepreneurship. “Agricultural leaders and farmers are at their very heart entrepreneurs,” he said, especially for the health and success of Ohioans.
“Because of the work we did in the state legislature, we’ve been able to make a wise investment of taxpayer dollars in this facility. … As great as the building is, it’s what’s going to happen in this building that really is going to be transformational,” he said.
Dorrance is excited about having ergonomic benches in the modern labs. She remembers having a pair of students in one of her labs, one who was short and the other tall, but there was no way for them to adjust the height of their benches. “Little things like that are nice,” she said.
Students will begin using the science building when Ohio State University resumes in-person learning Jan. 25, Dorrance said. (The first two weeks of spring semester classes are online.) The cafe is scheduled to open in mid-February.
“We have a placeholder name,” she said. “We’re calling it the Wooster Science Building. We have three open labs and want to wait to see who else takes ownership and moves in before we actually name it.”
CFAES Wooster: More teamwork, efficiency afoot
The need for efficiency and collaboration in agricultural research is always growing, as “research is an expensive endeavor,” Dorrance said. The rebranding and new science building will help facilitate, CFAES leaders explained.
“It’s already happening,” Dorrance said, giving the example of sharing dairy herds and beef units. “We milk over 200 cows here. One group was research only, one group was teaching only. You can do a lot more on both sides with 200 versus 100.”
The efficiency expands beyond Wooster. Most of the sheep used for classes on the Columbus campus spend their lives in Wooster and travel when they’re needed for lessons, Dorrance said.
“The whole goal is to get the research done on the right field so you get the right data,” she said. “Often, people had been limited to a specific site and it might not have been the right sight for the right research.”
Graham Cochran, CFAES associate dean of operations, also highlighted the beef cattle handling facility on the Wooster campus, part of the Grace L. Drake Agricultural Laboratory. It was primarily used for ATI students and faculty, but now the animal sciences department can make use of the space too, he said.
“For ATI students, this will expand opportunities for hands-on learning experiences on our farms in Wooster,” Cochran said, including working more closely with CFAES researchers. “They can use the equipment and have access to animals.”
As for the future of research, changes at CFAES could lead to important discoveries. Many researchers used to focus on productivity and yield, but complex challenges facing today’s world, such as water quality and food security, are often “multidisciplinary problems,” Kress said.
One discipline won’t solve the problem, hence the need for innovative thinking, growing partnerships and updated facilities.
“It really creates a great breadth that will position us very well to address the challenges facing Ohio and the world,” Kress said. “We really see this as continuing this trajectory of our land-grant mission to have our science making a difference. Our mission is that we sustain life.”
Reach Valerie at [email protected].
On Twitter: @valerieroyzman.