By Farooq Baloch
One of the most critical issues facing America is to regain its dominance in the world of science and technology, a position it has been losing, according to Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a 2005 report by the National Academies. In its report, the Academies- an organization of science and technology experts who advise government and public on critical national issues- cautioned that America was losing the edge in science and technology. A follow-up report in 2010 reported that the situation had become worse- that addressing the competitiveness challenge could take years.
However, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) has already made notable progress in the areas of science and technology. "Our scientists are among the top quoted scientists in the world in the field of agriculture," said Ronnie Green, NU vice president and Harlan UNL vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He added that Nebraska is well-positioned to be a world leader in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM areas.
Green said due to the importance of its agriculture, its food system and its natural resources, Nebraska is capable of dealing with scientific challenges such as producing enough food for the world long-term and sustaining natural resources, as well as the energy required to produce that food. He said agriculture and natural resources, which are the fields in which many IANR scientists are researching, are heavily based in biology, biochemistry, chemistry and engineering while mathematics and statistics also are involved in these STEM fields. The IANR also is forming a more cohesive life science curriculum to ensure that students acquire greater skills and understand how science will be applied and used around the world for innovations.
Green, who joined the university in 2010 as vice chancellor, earned his Ph.D. in animal science from UNL. He described his return to the university as a great opportunity and a great challenge - in terms of world food security, in terms of world energy security and natural resource sustainability.
One of the conclusions of Rising Above the Gathering Storm was that America needed to invest more heavily in educators in STEM areas. Green said the U.S. needed to have more science, mathematics and technology areas in the secondary school system and invest heavily in education in those areas.
"I do think we have made some progress during the last five or six years in emphasizing the STEM areas, in particular," he said.
Green said the statewide 4-H curriculum has moved to a STEM emphasis, and has been a national leader in creating a robotics program in which young people build and program robots as a way of learning about science, engineering and technology. Additionally, he said, the IANR faculty is working in Lincoln schools and has achieved some early success in a variety of areas. Faculty from entomology and crop science teach fourth-graders in the Lincoln Public Schools about growing soybean plants. Green explained that students get to touch, feel, see and understand that there's science involved in that, and that science is translated into a food product. The students are then able to connect that process to something that's in their daily lives. "So I think we have made progress," he said.
Progress has been made, too, in student enrollment. The CASNR had a seven percent growth in the number of students last year, making for seven consecutive years of growth, and a near all-time high enrollment in the college over the entire history of the university.
Green said the institute has added new major areas of study, but there has been huge growth in existing majors, such as natural resources, citing fisheries and wildlife as an area that has rapidly expanded. He said the animal science program has also expanded and experienced increased enrollment during the last several years.
Goal: to be the Top Ag Institute in the World
Green said the IANR was selected to be the site of the first Fulbright symposium on food and agriculture in 2010. He added that the University of Nebraska was chosen as the site because of its history of attracting science students from all over the world.
In another example, Green said he recently led an IANR delegation to UNESCO-IHE, an international center on water education in Delft, Netherlands. The IANR and UNESCO-IHE will form a partnership in which they will jointly have graduate students from all over the world. Green said participating students would spend a year in Nebraska and be part of the university's global program.
Green said it is the quality of the IANR faculty's understanding of the issues around the world which helps them to be able to export knowledge around the world. At a recent trip to India for a workshop with the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, there were discussions about how their joint technical expertise can help Indians with agricultural water use.
Green said he believes IANR is one of the strongest research institutions in the country, particularly in agriculture, and added the goal of IANR is to be considered the top agriculture institute in the world.
Green said he sees opportunities for America to be the innovation engine of the world in terms of exporting technological knowledge to other regions of the world. Nebraska has expertise and resources, Green said, and added there are applications for UNL research to regions all over the world.
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