I recently had a chance to interview Bruce McPheron the new vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
McPheron comes to Ohio from Penn State where he was the Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. He replaces Bobby Moser who announced his retirement last fall and agreed to stay on the job until a replacement was found. Moser served as vice president for agriculture since 1991.
One of Moser’s most visible accomplishments was the renaming of the College of Agriculture to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. The process included a major retreat with all aspects of the state’s agriculture included. As a participant I recall lots of brainstorming, breaking into small groups with ideas scribbled on flip sheets. I don’t remember a specific name change coming out of the meeting, but I know the idea that the focus of the college needed to be redefined did result from the weekend session.
So I asked McPheron what he thought of the name. “I like the name,” he replied. “It resonates very well with me.”
He went on to note that it does not dismiss the school’s fundamental role of teaching and researching how to produce food for the nation and the world.
“The fact is a name means what you make it mean,” he said. “Society thinks about and understands food. They don’t necessarily think about agriculture. Having food in the name connects with what people understand.”
He also noted that having a link to environmental sciences helps society to understand that what is done at the college reflects on the quality of people’s lives. He’d even like to take that aspect further.
“Health is an important part of eating as well,” he said. “Much of the current health care debate relates to chronic problems with the way people eat.”
He promised to encourage joint efforts with other areas of the university including the medical faculty to collaborate on research projects to improve diets and health.
McPheron graduated with a degree in entomology from Ohio State in 1976. As it would happen I was a graduate student in entomology finishing my Master’s degree that same year. We discussed numerous professors we had both taken classes from. He went on to get a master's degree in biology and doctoral degree in entomology from the University of Illinois. He began his faculty career at Penn State in 1988 as assistant professor of entomology. He became associate professor in 1994 and professor in 2000. McPheron's scholarly research and teaching interests were diverse and focused on agricultural biosecurity, systematics and international agriculture. In 2002 he was named associate dean and director of the agricultural experiment station. He was appointed dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences on July 1, 2009.
McPheron said he misses his time as a scientist. He even keeps a microscope and a glass jars of insect specimens on his desk and Penn State, he added.
After his undergraduate years, he became a 4-H county extension agent in Clermont County from 1980 to ’83. “Of course I was called on to more than that,” he said. “Anytime there was an insect question I was the office’s specialist.”
McPheron has high expectations for the college. He notes that the school has a reputation for being one of the top five in the country. He says he expects it to be the No. 1. He saluted Moser for his leadership nationally and internationally and his ability to work with the stakeholders. “The best view of the future comes from the shoulders of the people who have gone before you,” he said. “We have a firm footing and clear view of the future.”
McPheron will start his new assignment Nov. 1, pending approval by the OSU Board of Trustees.