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CALS Bids Bittersweet Goodbye to Rich Bonanno

Rich Bonanno with two 4-H kids and Dalton Dockery
Rich Bonanno with two 4-H campers and Southeast District Extension Director Dalton Dockery.

You can’t miss him. On campus and in the field, Richard Bonanno’s large smile and generous laugh are at the ready whether he’s catching up with colleagues or working to find a solution to a funding challenge. Approachable, practical and amiable, Bonanno has sat at the helm of NC State Extension, the university’s largest outreach unit, since 2016 — and his leadership has helped the organization flourish. 

This June, Bonanno announced that he will step down as director of NC State Extension and transition to a new role as executive director for the Association of Southern Region Extension Directors (ASRED) in late August. With ASRED, he will provide advice, regional and national coordination, and administrative support for the Extension directors in the 13 southern states, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.

“This is a bittersweet departure for our CALS community,” says Garey Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are sad to lose Rich’s steadfast leadership across our Extension community and in the college, but we are thrilled that he will continue to drive the land-grant mission forward across the Southern Region in his new position with ASRED. Extension is at the heart of our land-grant mission at NC State University, and we look forward to the next chapter of NC State Extension that builds upon a strong foundation established by Rich Bonanno.”

Bonanno received a bachelor of science in agronomy, along with a master of science in vegetable crops/weed science from Cornell University, and a doctorate in horticulture and physiology from Oregon State University. He first came to NC State as a faculty member from 1983 to 1989, serving as an Extension weed specialist and CALS researcher for vegetable crops. He then moved to Massachusetts where he owns and operates a farm north of Boston specializing in fresh market vegetables, bedding plants and vegetable transplants. In addition, he was an adjunct professor and Extension educator with the University of Massachusetts. Bonanno returned to NC State as associate dean and director of Extension in 2016. 

“It has been an honor to work with our colleagues and communities across the university and our vast Extension network,” Bonanno says. “I will be at meetings and field days across the state this summer. I look forward to seeing many of my friends and wishing them continued success with their work.”

NC State Extension offers more than 26,000 educational programs statewide, connecting North Carolinians with NC State’s cutting-edge research to create practical solutions and applications across all 100 counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The annual impact of Extension was estimated to be $2.1 billion in 2023.

During Bonanno’s time as director, NC State Extension’s annual budget increased by 37% and he launched the ambitious 2030 NC State Extension strategic plan, which will help ensure that Extension and its stakeholders continue to grow and prosper for years to come.

Dean Garey Fox is committed to a smooth transition as Bonanno departs. Prior to Sept. 1, an interim associate dean will be appointed and a national search for a new associate dean and director will initiate.