A week or so ago, we hosted the University Board of Trustees on our CFAES Wooster Campus. We appreciate their interest and support for our work. Besides welcoming them, President Drake asked me to comment on our land grant mission. I think most of us are familiar with the two general purposes which drove the creation of the land grants:
- Meeting the needs of the people through translational and applied research as well as through applied and “practical” education AND
- Equal access to that education for Americans.
The creators of the land grants knew that our country, and its citizens, needed scientific and technical knowledge. At first, this knowledge was focused on agriculture and engineering, as most of our citizens were rural and engaged in farming for basic subsistence. The impact of our land grant universities over the past 150 years has been profound, not only successfully addressing the challenges of our young nation in being able to feed itself but growing into a wide spectrum of world-wide impact and technological advancements. Many of those changes began with agriculture but led a revolution in our nation’s technology transfer and our economic and scientific successes.
Now, 150 years later we face a vastly different world with new educational and research needs. We face a world where the interdependency of a global society and the complexity of issues have magnified. We also face a world where innovation, discovery, and creativity contribute to an accelerated tempo of change unlikely to slow. To manage that, takes balancing specialized scientific preparation for students with a broad education engaging humanities, and the arts. It takes depth in research expertise with breadth of disciplines.
In research, it’s no longer enough to have a single discovery to enhance yield, create greater mechanical efficiencies, or vaccinate a population. Now, research must blend bench science with applied approaches and its tandem collections of economic and social adjustments – and yet, find that balance point that still frees bench science to take us to ideas that today we cannot even fathom.
For example, about 80% of cancers are based not in genetics but lifestyle, making the food we consume, the exercise we manage to squeeze into our day, our environment, and the ways we manage stress – all critical tools. Our food alone is critical not just for nutrition, but for benefits which go beyond nutrition to prevent and even treat some cancers and other metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, dementia, and heart disease.
The ability of our comprehensive university with our depth and breadth across multiple complex systems both internally- such as our microbiome and metabolomics, to the larger local and global systems such as food supply chains and economics—are critical to finding solutions. It will be the integration of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches that will lead to the greatest innovations, the most powerful solutions, sustainable models, and revolutionary cures. Not just from medicine and within food, agriculture and environmental sciences—but information technology, data science, social sciences, engineering, and public policy.
Our university –and our college– is uniquely positioned to lead nationally and globally. Our comprehensiveness and our commitment to engage across disciplines creates the conditions for the next land grant revolution. See you there.