New Ontario Agricultural College dean is big on environment, alumni

If you wonder where agricultural education, research and service is headed in Ontario, meet Rob Gordon.

Gordon is the new Ontario Agricultural College dean. He arrived this summer from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College where he was dean of research, and held a Canada Research Chair in agricultural resource management. Wednesday night, at his first public presentation as dean, he enthusiastically rolled out an ambitious, multi-faceted plan that relies heavily on the vast and storied network of Ontario Agricultural College (Aggie) alumni.

Gordon, a Guelph alumnus himself, knows his fellow graduates are among the most influential leaders in Ontario agriculture. He knows they're just waiting to be asked to be involved in something meaningful, something that will benefit current Aggie students, as well as their alma mater and their sector.

Enlisting their assistance makes a lot of sense. Gordon needs strong support from what he calls the college's "institutional ambassadors."

Here's why. The role of Ontario Agricultural College dean is huge. Whoever holds the position is seen as not only a leader in agriculture and agricultural education, but by necessity, a visionary as well, given the college's essential role in the university and in the province's agriculture and agri-food sector.

He (or she, in the case of interim dean Mary Buhr, who served in the role before Gordon) must look beyond the present –which is complicated enough — and determine the sector's needs years from now.

The dean must set an appropriate course for teaching, research and service within the extremely broad and diverse agricultural college.

Students need to be equipped with skills that will serve them as soon as they graduate, and help them nurture their careers for decades. Research conducted on the main campus and at the regional campuses of Alfred, Ridgetown and Kemptville must be pertinent locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. And the service provided to the agri-food sector, through initiatives such as disseminating research results, must be efficient and swift.

Against that varied backdrop, Gordon offered his plan to a packed audience assembled at the university's Lifetime Learning Centre. He stated his commitment to the college's four overarching pillars — environment, agriculture, food and rural communities. And he asked for the alumni's help, as well as that of staff, faculty, students, and other partners such as commodity groups, to drive his agenda.

In the teaching arena, Gordon wants to establish domestic and international programs that reflect new market realities in agriculture such as bio-resources, and underline the vast employment opportunities in the sector.

In part, this means appealing to non-traditional students, such as those from cities who normally don't look to an agricultural college for a career, despite its applicability to many of their urban interests, especially the environment (which is also particularly dear to Gordon).

On the research frontier, he told the meeting attendees he favours a capacity-building approach over project-based research.

That's a perfect fit with long-term research capabilities the University of Guelph enjoys as a result of the enhanced partnership agreement with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It helps the institution build the intellectual- and human-resource capacity needed to anticipate problems and solve them, rather than take a flavour-of-the-month, unfocussed approach to research.

Gordon also noted among the new partners for the college are the 440-plus municipal governments in Ontario that face unprecedented challenges as they grow and grapple with issues such as land use and the environment, major interests of the college.

I like Gordon's commitment to communications. Expect to hear a lot more from the Ontario Agricultural College, and about the way its faculty, staff, students and alumni are making life better here and abroad.

About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.