Kumar Venkitanarayanan Credit: Peter Morenus

For CAHNR’s newest associate dean, this position is about increasing the scale of his life’s work. Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Kumar Venkitanarayanan has demonstrated success in obtaining research grants, supervising graduate students through to completion and supporting CAHNR as a team leader and player. “Now, I can use all my skills and experience and do it on a bigger canvas for the College,” he said about the new role he started in May.

Faculty is part of the picture

The portrait that he wants to paint as associate dean will include two main subjects, reflecting the “research” and “graduate studies” in his title. For example, Venkitanarayanan hopes to provide CAHNR’s research faculty members with increased funding opportunities to help them reach their goals in spite of the current economy. “I want to make it easy for them,“ he said.

One of his solutions for budgetary constraints is to “spread our wings wider.” This means he wants to identify previously overlooked programs, to apply for grants offered by different federal agencies and to cooperate with other universities in seeking funds. He thinks that the College has enjoyed much success with USDA grants, but it needs to diversify to improve the probability of receiving funding.

In addition, Venkitanarayanan observes that most of the granting agencies are looking for interdisciplinary, multi-university and/or international collaborations in the research projects that they fund. To help faculty members be more competitive in receiving grants, Venkitanarayanan plans to mentor them in forming successful partnerships.

Students matter, too

On the bigger canvas that he envisions, Venkitanarayanan allots plenty of space for future graduate students, as well. Ten years of interacting with students as chair of the graduate program in animal science prompts him to say, “I know what it is like.”

One of Venkitanarayanan’s recruitment strategies to get the “quality and quantity” he desires is to target students for grant monies, like those provided in the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants. He is familiar with these programs after serving as a member and manager on various USDA proposal review panels.

Furthermore, Venkitanarayanan will not ignore students after they enter graduate school. He thinks they need mentoring and professional development opportunities as well as training in leadership and grant skills. “I want to play a role in shaping the next generation of the work force,” he said. He adds that he is proud when former students find meaningful careers in academia or industry.

“Graduate education and research have always been my passion,” he said. When Venkitanarayanan came to the College’s faculty in 1999, he was the first person to study food safety. As he takes up the associate dean title, his animal science research into natural antimicrobials as controls for food-borne pathogens will continue with his current graduate students (two PhDs and two masters).

Venkitanarayanan’s appointment brings the College’s total of different associate deans up to three, which has not been the case for a long time, according to Interim Dean and Director Cameron Faustman. However, Faustman adds that it is important to have “an individual dedicated solely to championing the research cause.”

“Our College has enjoyed significant growth in its research portfolio during the past few years and that, together with the need to increase cross-disciplinary approaches and meet evolving compliance requirements, more than justifies Kumar’s position,” Faustman said.

With Venkitanarayanan as an associate dean, one suspects that the picture is about to grow even bigger.

By Patsy Evans