WHEN: Oct. 30, 2012
WHERE: Eastern 4-H Environmental Education Conference Center
Nearly 100 people came together Oct. 30 to welcome the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ new dean, Dr. Richard Linton, to northeastern North Carolina and to share their ideas on the College’s future.
The event, held at the Eastern 4-H Environmental Education Conference Center on Bull’s Bay in Tyrrell County, drew farmers and agribusiness professionals; county commissioners and legislators; North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents, specialists and volunteer advisers; young people from 4-H and FFA; and others.
The reception capped the fourth day of Dean Linton’s tour of North Carolina. He covered a lot of ground in eastern North Carolina, starting his day with a breakfast at the Wilson home of agribusiness leaders Jerome and Diane Vick of Vick Family Farms. The Vicks hosted a small group of vegetable and row-crop producers and agribusinessmen who offered their insights on the important issues facing agriculture and how the College can help address them.
Later, Linton traveled to Greenville to meet with Lawrence Davenport, a 1965 graduate of N.C. State University and president of the agribusiness J.P. Davenport and Son. Davenport is also a member of the university’s Board of Trustees.
Linton arrived at the Eastern 4-H Center in the late afternoon, as the clouds that had lingered behind Hurricane Sandy began to break. As the dean learned on his tour of the modern buildings and beautiful grounds, the center came through the storm unscathed.
The 250-acre facility, opened in 2001, is North Carolina’s newest 4-H camp and conference center. Lee Scripture, center director, explained to the dean that it “fulfilled a promise that was made to the people of North Carolina when they closed one on Roanoke Island in the 1960s. The promise was to open a new center to serve this part of the state.”
And fulfill that promise, the center has: Extensive boardwalks and nature trails give visitors the chance to get close to nature as they explore woodlands, meadows, pocosin forests, wetlands, creeks and rivers. The center operates year-round, serving both children and adults, Scripture added.
“We do team-building programs for schools. We do environmental education programs. And we do adult conferences and programs,” he said.
The center also serves as the site for innovative 4-H camps, including one aimed at curbing childhood obesity. That 3-week camp, called Take Off 4 Health, was offered for four years in partnership with East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, Scripture said.
Its goal: to provide overweight boys and girls ages 12 to 18 the chance to learn healthy lifestyle habits so they could lose weight, build self-esteem, reduce their risks for developing chronic diseases and, ultimately, lead healthier lives.
Linton said that the obesity camp and, indeed, the center as a whole provide a “great example of how we can reach out through Extension to the community and of how we can reach out to youth to provide a great environment for learning.”
That reaching out is mutually beneficial, Linton added, because it gives the college a chance to introduce young people to the educational opportunities at N.C. State and to careers in agriculture and the life sciences.
After Linton’s tour, a reception took place in the center’s conference building. As the crowd assembled, they were treated to a large buffet featuring local foods, such as sweet potato pie, shrimp, ham biscuits and North Carolina peanuts.
The dean then offered formal remarks focusing on five areas he considers important in the College’s future — innovative research, impactful extension and outreach, new approaches to teaching, partnerships for progress, and the deeper integration of these activities.
He explained that his visit was, in the end, about exploring ways to make CALS the nation’s premier college of agriculture and life sciences.
“I’m in learning mode. And I’m doing what I can to get out internally to find out what’s going on in my departments — the research, teaching, extension and international connectivities,” Linton said.
“And I’m also doing what I can to get out in the state to learn what’s going on in agriculture and the life sciences, to understand what kind of capabilities we have in the state and what kind of needs we have, and how we can put all this information together to have the best college of agriculture and life sciences in the country,” he said.
One of the things that already distinguishes the College, Linton said, is the strength of its connection with local communities. “We do that through community relationships, and we do that through Extension,” he said.
When it came to questions and suggestions from the audience following Linton’s speech, raising awareness of agriculture was perhaps the dominant theme.
Linton said he would encourage both faculty and staff members on campus as well as Extension educators across the state to take every opportunity they can “to impart the importance of agriculture in this state — information (such as) it’s 17 percent of the economy, it provides real value — and provide real examples so people in the local communities start talking about it and … so the state legislature understands it.”
He also said he intends to create in his office a communication specialist position to “find new and novel ways we can communicate the value of agriculture and the value of what our college is doing.”
Linton says he sees a bright future for agriculture and for the College for two reasons: One is the fact that a rapidly growing population will place increased demands on food production, and those demands will create new opportunities. The other reason he cited is the level of passion that he’s seen among people at N.C. State and among the College’s stakeholders.
“The passion I see among the people I have met — both the people at N.C. State and among the external stakeholders — has been overwhelming. Look at the room — we have a filled room of people who are passionate about what they do,” he said.
“I see this almost every single visit that I do. It gives me great confidence as we move forward. I think always with great people who are passionate about what they do, there are great opportunities — great possibilities — for the future.”