The leader of the agriculture team at Purdue University is the Dean of the College of Agriculture. Since Extension falls under his domain, who the leader is and his or her style are also important to farmers and farm families who depend upon the Cooperative Extension Service.
Dean Randy Woodson resigned in May to become the provost, or second in command behind the president, of the entire university. "We're glad to have someone who understands our agricultural college in such an important role," Jay Akridge told the crowd gathered at the annual Master Farmer ceremonies last week. Akridge is the interim dean, who took over May 1 after Woodson assumed his new duties.
Akridge, a 20-year-plus veteran with Purdue, is an ag economist by trade, with a keen understanding of farm operations from the business side of things. He's been on the job three months now, he noted, and realizes his job is to keep things in motion at Purdue Agriculture.
"Fortunately we're going in the right direction- we've got 100 more freshmen in the '08 class coming into the College of Agriculture this fall compared to last fall," he noted. "We've been promoting, but promotion likely doesn't explain a jump of 100 students in a year from one freshman class to the next.
"I believe people are more aware of agriculture these days. You can't hardly pick up a paper without seeing some story related to agriculture, maybe about ethanol, food prices, or other issues. This is creating interests in young people as they prepare to come to college."
Akridge welcomes the increase, and says the College of Agriculture is in a very strong position right now. "But keep sending those students our way," he quipped. "We still want to invite students to come to Purdue to go to school, and especially to be a part of the College of Agriculture."
One question farmers have for Akridge these days is how the search for a new permanent dean are progressing. He noted that the committee is formed and working. It's headed by Willie Reed, the popular young head of the Vet Sciences Department.
The plan is to take recommendations until mid-September. With an aggressive date of early next year, preferably January, set by Woodson as the time for a new dean to be in place, Akridge says interviews and visits to campus by prospective candidates will likely occur in the November and December time frame.
He did not confirm or deny if he was a candidate for the permanent position.
Less than one year ago, Chuck Hibberd came from the University of Nebraska to head up Purdue Extension, replacing Dave Petritz. While he retired from that post, Petritz is back in the saddle, operating the new Beck Ag Center at the Purdue Agronomic Research Center. This year's Master Farmer event was held at the Purdue Ag Center.
Hibberd, away on business, did not attend the meeting. However, Akridge assured the crowd that he's busily working toward his goal- visiting every county in Indiana by the end of his first year at Purdue. Reportedly, he's more than halfway there. His goal is to learn firsthand how Extension is currently operating in the Hoosier state, Akridge says.