Washington agriculture happy with WSU ag dean

André-Denis Wright is the new dean of Washington State University's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Science, effective June 1.

Agriculture leaders say they are enthusiastic about the new dean of Washington State University’s agricultural college.

André-Denis Wright, currently director of the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Arizona, will assume his new duties at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences June 1.

“We welcome André Wright in his new position and look forward to working with him as dean of CAHNRS,” said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.

Ritzville, Wash., farmer Mike Miller, a commission board member and a member of the university’s search committee, said Wright will bring “a fresh perspective” to the position.

“He has a great support system in CAHNRS and will be able to use them so as to hit the ground running,” Miller said.

Mike Willett, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, was also on the search committee. He was drawn to Wright’s experience.

“CAHNRS is a very complex college,” Willett said. “Andre has a lot of skills to work across all the disciplines in the college, and he’s extremely personable. That’s going to make a big difference in giving him a level of comfort in reaching out to industry stakeholders.”

Before joining the University of Arizona in 2014, Wright was professor and chair of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Dairy Center of Excellence.

Jay Gordon, policy director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said he was “tickled” by Wright’s hiring.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “It took a while, but it sounds like the extra time was well worth it.”

WSU began the search for a new dean in October 2016. Provost Dan Bernardo, who was dean of CAHNRS from 2005 to 2013, extended the search in June 2017.

Current dean Ron Mittelhammer first became interim dean in 2013, and was later appointed dean for a two-year term.

The entire land-grant university system has gone through many changes, Gordon said, with state funding declining, intense competition for federal funding and increases in student numbers. Farmers need more research “faster and better,” he said, which requires finding funding and people to work together.

“I think everybody thought (Wright) could look out and say, ‘How do you deal with all of these changes?’ and really look to see new directions,” he said. “How do you change the ship, not necessarily just chart a course for it. What does that ship need to look like?”

Gordon said Wright has a “really nice, broad, diverse resume.”

Willett and Gordon both point to the diversity of the state’s agriculture industry.

Every commodity has its own important issues, Willett said.

“The most important thing is the dean gets out and gets the chance to understand what those are,” he said.

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