Titus Awokuse cares deeply about the success of what he calls the “amazing people” in his department. He is in his third year as chair of the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) at MSU. Previously, Dr. Awokuse was chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics at the University of Delaware, where he also served as Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Programs.
AFRE is a strong department with a long history (originating in 1919). Dr. Awokuse indicated that unit was known as a leader in research and teaching, but he saw areas in which they might improve, including outreach and extension, as well a need to build a greater sense of community within the department. AFRE is now ranked #4 in the world for its excellence in the agricultural and applied economics profession by the Center for World University Rankings (June 2017). And, this week, the Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) ranked AFRE first among all agricultural and applied economics departments in the world for its excellence in developing and publishing impactful research papers and articles.
Dr. Awokuse took a highly inclusive approach to developing plans for advancing AFRE. During his first semester, he met with every faculty member individually. This was no easy feat as there are nearly 75 of them, about one-third fixed-term and two-thirds in the tenure system. He wanted to learn what motivates the people in the unit, and to get their thoughts on the department – both strengths and frustrations. Dr. Awokuse then engaged the department in a comprehensive strategic planning process, and held a two-day retreat. A series of priorities evolved from this process, which by itself helped to build a sense of collegiality.
Areas highlighted by Dr. Awokuse include hiring a communications manager (with support from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) who has created a presence on social media and revamped internal and external newsletters. Preparing students for their futures has also become a focus. The department has about 85 graduate students across the M.S. and Ph.D. programs, and a new Job Placement Committee mentors those on the job market in a variety of ways, individually and as a group.
A new emphasis has also been placed on nominating faculty for awards, which has had great success. In both 2017 and 2018, AFRE faculty have been named as fellows of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, a prestigious and highly competitive honor. Importantly, these faculty members come from both the tenure (Robert Meyers) and fixed-term (Thomas Jayne) appointment systems. In our discussion, Dr. Awokuse emphasized the importance of recognizing and supporting individuals in his department, regardless of appointment type. He is working toward a situation in which “a different appointment doesn’t mean a difference in status”. He acknowledges that “this is a challenge for many, many schools. We can be a leader in this area if we make it a priority.” Dr. Awokuse finds advocating for and promoting the success of members of his unit are the most rewarding aspects of his job.