Inside the ARECS: AREC and College Farm review

In fall 2014, the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers and College Farm of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station took part in a comprehensive external review. The review team took a tour of four of the 11 off-campus centers and had many interactions with faculty, staff and administration located on the Blacksburg campus.

AREC map

In its final report, the review team noted the strong cooperation among units and between research and Extension, and also the commitment to meeting stakeholder needs. The consensus of the review team was that the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, and specifically the AREC system, is high functioning and organized to capitalize on its strengths in the future and that the stake holders and citizens of Virginia are well served by Virginia Tech’s Agricultural Research and Extension Centers and College Farm. The group did comment that facilities and equipment on the Virginia ARECs, while well-maintained, have some age and are in need of investment and that the ability of the ARECs to respond to emerging issues and meet future needs will depend upon the continued upkeep of both facilities and equipment.

A total of 28 recommendations were presented in the report. Specific recommendations included: Directors and superintendents meeting periodically among themselves; co-mentoring of graduate students and improved student housing options at some sites; and the need for a more comprehensive examination of livestock programs in the context of campus and AREC resources and meeting stakeholder needs. Specific steps have already been initiated to address some of the identified concerns and opportunities and additional initiatives are pending.

The purpose of the review was to obtain insightful, creative and critical input and specific recommendations on the programs, operations and facilities at the ARECs and College Farm. Questions presented to the review team included:

  • Do our ARECs effectively address the needs of our stakeholders?
  • Are the current facilities adequate for fulfilling our mission?
  • Is the VAES providing appropriate services and support to the faculty to facilitate translational research and extension programs?
  • Is there evidence of a sufficient level of communication and collaboration among the ARECS and between the ARECS and academic units on campus?
  • Are the AREC system and College Farm operations positioned properly for the changing role of agriculture, human and natural resources in the state, the region and the world?

This review represented a significant effort and commitment on the part of many people and we would like to acknowledge and thank all of those both on and off campus who participated in this process. Our intent is to act upon many of the recommendations of the review team to make the system both stronger and even more responsive to our stakeholders while continuing to support and maintain the integration of research and Extension in support of Virginia agricultural and natural resource sectors.

The review team included: Alan Mathew, dean, Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University; Lesley Oliver, associate director, Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station; Sandy Stewart, director, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Research Stations Division; Jack Rechcigl, director, University of Florida, Gulf Coast Research & Education Center; Gary Thompson, director, Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean for Research and Graduate Education, The Pennsylvania State University; and was lead by Eric Young, executive director, Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors.

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