The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will hold its Spring 2019 Commencement on Thursday May 23rd at 3:00 pm in the Reckord Armory building. This year, Dr. J. Scott Angle of the United States Department of Agriculture will be speaking as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). We caught up with Dr. Angle for a preview of what to expect on Thursday, and to discuss the future of science in agriculture and natural resources.
Q: Can you briefly describe your role as director of NIFA and what excites you most about your job?
A: I oversee a nearly $1.8 million budget that supports research, teaching, and extension at the nation’s land grant universities. My job is to assure that resources are deployed efficiently and effectively. What I like most about my job is that I am required to remain cognizant of all agricultural and environmental concerns so that resources are used to solve the nation’s most pressing problems.
Q: What motivated you to enter the field you did as a student, and how did your aspirations guide throughout your career and into your current role?
A: I had no agricultural background, growing up in Baltimore. However, I wanted to be a golf course superintendent, and this subject was taught in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I never made a conscious decision, but I gradually drifted into the discipline of soil science where I finished out my time in graduate school. Therefore, my aspirations and where I ended up were far from one another – a change everyone should be open to and prepared for.
Q: What was unique about your educational experience at UMD, and what inspired you to come back and spend 24 years on our faculty?
A: I was an average undergraduate. However, during my master’s degree, I was lucky to have a UMD mentor, Dr. Duane Wolf, who turned me on to the importance of knowledge and the joy of learning and discovery. At that point, I became a good student. That is when I decided to become a professor and spend my career in discovery. The University of Maryland turned out to be a perfect location to be a professor, as I was so close to decision makers in Washington, DC that had a profound impact on my career. Ironically, I am now one of the main decision makers in agriculture in DC, which gives me the opportunity to pay it forward. In addition, during my early years at the university, the interactions between the Chesapeake Bay and agriculture were just beginning to be understood. Getting into this area early and studying an important estuary jump started my career.
Q: When you think about educating the next generation of leaders in agricultural and natural resource sciences, what do you think is our most critical priority, locally and globally?
A: How do we double food production by 2050 when there is no more new land to cultivate, probably less water than is available today, and do all this with less impact on the environment? Technology is the only possible way forward. Nearly 200 years ago, many were saying humanity could never keep up with food production. They were wrong then, and I believe those same voices will be wrong in the future. I am confident that students who have graduated from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are up to the task.
Q: What advice would you give the next generation of young professionals in agriculture and natural resources?
A: Do not assume someone else will solve these critical problems. We are counting on you. The needs are great, but the opportunities are enormous and will only continue to grow. It is a great time to be associated with agriculture and natural resources.