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New Ohio State president tours university’s Waterman lab

Conversation with CFAES students and faculty includes racial justice and the future of research

For Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson, an active first week in office included a tour of Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory and conversations with students, faculty and staff from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“I think the reason it’s important for the new president to come over here is because we’re the cornerstone college of this comprehensive university,” said Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of CFAES Cathann Kress. “Ohio State University started out as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical, and it’s still really important to think about the foundation that our disciplines provide for everything we’re interested in here at our university. We have deep partnerships with all the other colleges.”

The 260-acre research site on west campus includes Waterman Dairy, the Honey Bee Research Lab and student-led fruit and vegetable gardens. Kress said it was helpful to have the new president get a closer look at a part of campus undergoing incredible change.

“Waterman really is the anchor on this side [of west campus] for our Innovation District,” she said. “[We’re] thinking about how we work with our partners, how we put our focus on making sure that science gets communicated and can help solve the problems that all of us are looking at and knowing that we’re going to have to tackle.”

Fourth-year natural resource management major Ansley Watkins appreciated the chance to learn more about Johnson and her priorities for Ohio State.

“I think it was a good kind of foray into her time here at Ohio State,” she said. “I was excited to get the invitation to see what’s going on.”

Students and faculty shared details with Johnson about their research programs. They also discussed the importance of racial justice on campus, how to make diversity and inclusion a priority, and a job market made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think our students are really concerned about a number of really pressing issues right now. Obviously, COVID, we can’t get together, we’re in masks and social distancing,” Kress said. “[We’re] concerned about what that’s going to mean for our university and our ability for them to get their degrees. Some of them are also talking about what comes next. What will it look like for me to get a job and pursue my career in this time?”

For Watkins, it was important to hear that Johnson supports increasing diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“I have been in some STEM organizations myself because my major is a STEM major, and those have been really important,” she said. “I think fortifying such programs would be a good foundation for the university and other universities moving forward. I think listening to those constituents and making sure that things are followed up on and continue to progress is really important.”

Johnson also addressed the need for collaborative research to solve complex problems. Kress said those partnerships across colleges and with industry are part of the culture at CFAES.

“The types of issues that we’re struggling with and the things we’re trying to understand are so complex. … To solve those kinds of problems, you can’t have one discipline,” Kress said. “The more good brains you can get around something like that, the better you’re going to be able to do at finding the solution.”

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