Q&A with Dr. Shannon Washburn

Dr. Shannon Washburn will be joining ACEL as the department chair on July 1, 2020. To get to know him better, our students submitted questions and below are his answers.

Some questions are fun, while others are more serious! Thank you to our ACEL graduate and undergraduate students for submitting questions!

[ACEL student]: What plans do you have to get to know the students?
[Dr. Washburn]: Getting to know students, staff and faculty is my biggest priority for the first few months in the position. To meet students, I hope to be able to attend as many of the student organization meetings as possible and I always have an open door policy. I would also like to schedule small group appointments with students throughout my first year to share a brown bag lunch, grab coffee or ice cream and just chat.

What are your thoughts about starting a leadership role in a time of crisis like this?It definitely isn’t ideal to start a new leadership role at a new (to me) university during a global health pandemic and it certainly is presenting some challenges to my planning for relocation, but I know we will get through those challenges. In many ways though, the time when leadership is needed most is when times are difficult and I have been so impressed with the leadership I’ve witnessed from afar from University and CFAES leaders as well as the outstanding team in ACEL. Times like what we’re experiencing now really help you see what people are really made of and I’m tremendously impressed with the way ACEL faculty, staff and student leaders have stepped up in this time of crisis. I know we will learn much from these experiences and I look forward to using those lessons to help our department think about how our innovations and responses to COVID-19 can introduce lasting changes to “who” ACEL becomes moving forward.

What does being a Buckeye mean to you?
This is an interesting and challenging question because I’ve spent a total of less than two weeks of my life on the Ohio State campus. As of today what being a Buckeye represents to me is lots of opportunity for learning and growth in an environment with long, deep and rich traditions for excellence and global leadership. Throughout my 22 year career in higher education, the ACEL faculty and students I’ve been able to observe have always been respected for their tradition of excellence, innovation, talent, institutional pride, and their approachable collegiality. I’m thrilled to have a chance to join this incredible family and I look forward to learning so much more about what it means to be a Buckeye.

What is your plan for admitting more graduate students?
The biggest limiting factor associated with growing our graduate student population is our faculty capacity. I believe the most important thing we can do with graduate education to continue to build on our tradition of excellence is to make sure the students we admit receive outstanding experiences and support. There’s a limit to how many students each faculty member can serve while ensuring an excellent education. We have plans in the very near future to add a faculty member with expertise in Agriscience Education and another in Agricultural Communication. This should enable us to add some advising capacity. I also hope to be involved with the graduate program as an advisor for a few students. Beyond that, a great deal of planning and discussion with the graduate faculty team and learning more about the ACEL graduate experience will be necessary to refining longer term plans for growth.

What’re your plans for increasing diversity among ACEL graduate students?Growing diversity in any form will always be a function of continually striving to foster a more inclusive culture. Diverse candidates for any position have a keen sense for whether a place can become a home for them where they can really develop a sense of belonging where their ideas and perspectives are welcome. If we don’t foster such a mentality among current graduate students as well as our staff and faculty, it will be very difficult for our graduate program to reflect the great diversity of our country. Beyond that though, it is critical that we actively recruit for diversity as we hire faculty and staff and as we seek to proactively find the graduate students we want to invite to join the ACEL family. Making diversity a priority in admission and assistantship decisions will help with that as well. Ultimately, whether in ACEL or any other aspect of life, the sooner we recognize that welcoming and valuing diversity is a learned behavior that can be improved upon, the better we will be at doing so.

What’s your life motto or a crucial principle you live by?
My life motto for many years has been “Success isn’t measured by how high you climb, but by how high you bounce when you fall.” While no one enjoys failing, I’ve never struggled with embracing failure as a learning opportunity and a motivation for trying something new. I think that probably comes from growing up on a farm where things rarely go as planned, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. I think as leaders, communicators and educators working with learners of all ages, we can do a much better job of sharing about lessons learned from failure to help other people realize that failure is part of the human condition and we shouldn’t allow it to be an impediment to taking on challenges.

What made you want to be the next ACEL chair?
This position offered an outstanding opportunity to gain experience in departmental leadership with a ridiculously talented team of faculty and staff in the premier program of its type in the United States. It also presented a new challenge at a time in my career when I was ready for one and at a time in my personal life that a move to another state seemed possible.

If Ohio State and Kansas State ever play in a bowl game, who has your support?
I would love to see that matchup because it would mean my Wildcats have achieved elite status in football and it would be a fun game to watch. While I can’t win with an honest answer to this question, it would be a no lose situation because either the team representing two of my diplomas wins or the team representing my mortgage payment wins!

What will you miss most about Kansas? Kansas State?
The answer to both questions is family. My family roots, my parents and one living grandmother are still in Kansas and my mother-in-law is there as well. Both of my daughters will continue their undergraduate educations at K-State so what I will miss most will be weekday lunches and chats with my girls on campus.

Tell me about your family?
My parents still operate the farm that my maternal great-grandparents established outside of Norton, Kansas (population 2,800) they grow wheat, grain and feed sorghum and registered Shorthorn cattle. My mom is retired from a career as the receptionist for the medical clinic in town and now spends a lot of time trying to keep up with her 92 year old mom. Andi is my wife of almost 23 years and she holds BS and MS degrees from Kansas State in English Education and was a high English teacher when we met. Most recently she has worked in Digital Marketing. She is an amazing baker, a tremendous mom and my best friend and she’s excited to start this new adventure with me. My daughters are Anna – a sophomore at K-State studying English Education with a Theatre minor and Kate – a freshman at K-State studying Music Education and a trumpet player in K-State’s marching band.

What was your job before getting a PhD?
When I completed my degree in Agricultural Education from K-State, I became a high school ag teacher in Southwest Kansas. After three years in the high school classroom, I had a really unique opportunity to become a full-time instructor in Agricultural Education at K-State while finishing my masters degree. That is where I discovered how much I love working with college students and in the higher education environment.

Are you an early bird or night owl?
I can really be either one, depending on how late I am on completing a project!

Will you teach in addition to being chair?
I’ve had one semester since 1995 when I didn’t teach. My wife can tell you that wasn’t a pretty semester – I missed being in the classroom. I’m excited to continue learning in that way as well with my new position.

What’s your favorite vacation destination?
Anyplace with a beach and fresh seafood.

What’s something you’re really good at – big or small?
I love applying my expertise in agricultural education to international ag development settings and have had awesome opportunities to do so repeatedly in Egypt, Haiti, Ethiopia and Ghana. I am a lifelong student of other cultures and really enjoy meeting people in agriculture from around the world. I’ve traveled enough to know that no matter where you go, there are many more things that make people similar than there are differences, so I find it very easy to connect with people in developing countries.

Do you like to read? What are you reading now?
Kindle is about the third most used app on my phone, but I spend so much of my professional life reading that when I want to read for pleasure it is to escape in fiction. Right now I’m reading the latest in a long series of Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I’m also a huge fan of anything Stephen King and would highly recommend his Dark Tower series, and there isn’t a Jack Reacher book (by Lee Child) that I haven’t read.

Do you have any hobbies?
Andi and I both have a sick obsession with DIY home improvement that really is our only true hobby.

What is your favorite band/musician?
There are too many great bands to have a single favorite. It really depends on my frame of mind whether I listen to James Taylor, Billy Joel, AC/DC, Red Dirt Country, Contemporary Country or pop. My main Pandora Stations are Train, Journey, Plain White T’s or Zac Brown Band.

Do you sing karaoke? Go to song?
I’m not really musically inclined, but in the right mood, I could sing anything Billy Joel, George Strait or Garth Brooks.

Is it pop, soda, or coke?
You’ll find me using pop and soda interchangeably. Coke only comes in red.

What is your favorite kind of food?
I love food of many varieties and think food is one of the most fascinating parts of culture so I enjoy trying lots of new foods. If I had to pick a favorite though, having grown up on a Western Kansas cattle ranch, I would choose steak.

You see someone wearing Ohio State while traveling of out state. What do you say to them?
I’m pretty sure the best way to strike up a conversation with anyone wearing scarlet and gray anywhere in the world would be to simply say “O-H…”

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Dr. Washburn! Now, it’s your turn to answer some of Dr. Washburn’s questions for you. Visit go.osu.edu/washburnasks to share some of your favorite spots on campus, the best hidden gems in Ohio and more!


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