KSU Grain Science Dept. sees positive future amid key changes

by Emily Buckley
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With new leadership and a new campus underway, KSU’s Grain Science department looks to a positive future

Within the past year, Kansas State University's Department of Grain Science and Industry has undergone several changes to solidify its position as a global leader in grain research and training. The capstone for the department was the recent announcement in May that Virgil Smail, currently president and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Baking, will assume the department's top position, effective this September.

The appointment of new leadership is particularly timely for the department — the only remaining academic unit in the U.S. that offers bachelor of science degrees in baking, feed and milling — as it begins to see the fruits of its long-planned new grains science complex.

Its International Grains Program Conference Center opened in May, its Bioprocessing and Industrial Value-Added Center (BIVAC) building is completed and will be dedicated in August, and construction of the new flour mill and the bread baking research lab is slated to begin this summer. Fundraising for the feed mill will intensify this fall, and soon after for the fifth and final building that will replace Shellenberger Hall and house classrooms, offices and research.

Smail succeeds Brendan J. Donnelly, who has been head of the department and the IGP since August 1996. Donnelly, although retiring as department head July 1, will continue to work with the IGP for the next three years.

Smail recognized Donnelly as a driving force behind the new grain science complex, and also noted the leadership of Vaughn Studer, director of development for the College of Agriculture and Professor Fred Fairchild. "They were instrumental in raising needed donations and ensuring quality construction of the new BIVAC building as well as the IGP building," Smail said.

The grain science department is rooted in KSU's College of Agriculture, which also has new leadership. Beginning this August, Fred Cholick, with a background in plant breeding and genetics, will become dean of the college and director of K-State Research and Extension.

Additional leadership appointments include naming Dr. Ron Madl as head of the BIVAC department, and in late June it was announced that John Howard will lead the IGP program.

With all these changes, optimism pervades the department.

"With our wonderful new facilities and Virgil at the helm, there is no limit to what can be accomplished here," said Jon Wefald, president of the university. "He has a terrific reputation as a team player, and I know that his team is going places."

Smail, who has an extensive background in the grain industry, has been extremely successful at AIB. The group said Smail expanded the Institute's operations income from U.S.$8.4 million to U.S.$19 million, significantly increased its assets and investments to U.S.$20 million from U.S.$16 million, and heightened the Institute's role internationally.

No doubt KSU is hoping to have similar success with Smail.


Smail’s global vision for the department is driving the excitement. "He has a vision for all the components of grain science — teaching, research and extension," Cholick said. "He wants our students to be prepared to work in a global society.

Smail spoke to World Grain about his vision of making the department a "primary center for research in the extraction and processing of food and feed components worldwide." By utilizing the exceptional new grain science complex, Smail said the department will be the key trainers and extension units for industry.

"We will be capable of handling proteins, starches, fibers, oils, fermentation with substrates to improve end use products, and develop new extrusion processes to create value-added products and ingredients out of crops," Smail said. "We will integrate that with a graduate and an undergrad research program that will be the primary source of future leaders for the grain industry."

At a time when many other grain science departments across the U.S. have been integrated into food science programs because of a lack of students and funding, Smail said the university is committed to having a grain science and industry department.

"The industry as a whole needs a facility able to conduct basic research to find new ways to extract value from grains and to improve their existing processes," he said.

Smail did acknowledge that enrollment is a major issue facing the department, and said he will pursue recruitment of undergraduate students internationally and solicit scholarship arrangements with both international and domestic companies.