SPOKANE — André-Denis Wright plans to connect Washington State University Extension more with urban populations and interests while strengthening it in rural areas.
Wright spoke during a Washington Grain Commission meeting Sept. 26 in Spokane. He began June 1 as dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, or CAHNRS.
Wright said it’s important to have extension — originally formed 100 years ago when populations were more rural — become more connected with urban populations today, working with city planners on stormwater drains, transportation and at-risk youth, among other issues. At the same time he would like to see extension’s presence strengthened in rural areas.
Wright said he’s also looking for opportunities for CAHNRS to work with WSU’s new medical school in Spokane, emphasizing human health, the environment, healthy soils and healthy plants and animals. The WSU Extension network could help and become more involved with the WSU College of Medicine’s community health network, he said.
Wright has visited the university’s four research and extension centers and all of WSU’s campuses. He hopes to visit all 40 extension offices, but “I want it to be more than a one and done,” he said.
Wright plans on an external search for the new associate dean of extension. He told commission members it’s not a reflection on current Associate Dean Rich Koenig, who is also interim chairman of the crop and soil sciences and horticulture departments.
“Rich is doing the job of three people, and it’s just not sustainable from a health point of view,” Wright said. “I wanted to make sure Rich was happy doing what he was doing.”
An outside associate dean would bring in a fresh set of eyes and new ideas, Wright said.
Wright estimated filling the position by July 2019.
He anticipated opening searches in February for an associate dean of academics and in May or June for an associate dean of research. The current associate deans, Richard Zack and Scot Hulbert, will be encouraged to apply, he said.
Wright said he will give CAHNRS members the opportunity to apply for open leadership roles.
“It’s a lot easier to achieve things and get people on board with a shared vision when they’re part of the process than when it’s coming from the top down,” he said. “I would much rather celebrate the hiring of someone than have to defend their hiring.”
Koenig also told commission board members that CAHNRS hopes to advertise early this month for an extension agronomist, a position formerly occupied by Ryan Higginbotham and currently filled by Aaron Esser.
The primary responsibility of the position is to lead the cereal variety testing program, Koenig said.
A search committee for the position met last week, Koenig said.
Approval to search for a new barley breeder is on deck, Koenig said.