A research center within the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, which aims to engage students in research, named its new director Friday as the outcome of a nearly three-month long search process.
Michael Bell, a UW community and environmental sociology professor, was named to the director position for the Center of Integrated Agricultural Systems, which was founded in 1989 to build sustainable agriculture research programs in Wisconsin that respond to farmer and citizen needs. CIAS has historically provided students with opportunities to get involved in research and outreach programs, according to the program’s website.
Bell emphasized the importance of this program’s approach to these ideals since its inception.
“For over twenty years, CIAS has shown the value of an integrated approach to agriculture, integrated with land and with people,” Bell said. “Without an integrated approach, we cannot sustain either.”
Daniel Kleinman, a UW professor of environmental sociology and CIAS co-director, said the center “embodies the Wisconsin Idea.”
CIAS is unlike most Colleges of Agriculture throughout the nation that are typically more oriented towards large scale and corporate agriculture, Kleinman said.
The program’s aim of incorporating more diverse sustainable agriculture research programs and inclusion of farmers in the decision-making process also help to set UW’s program apart, he added.
Kleinman added CIAS staff members collaborate with the Citizens Advisory Council in setting research agendas regarding the needs of both stockholders in the state and farmers.
Bell said his past experience, especially with the university’s Agroecology Program he helped launch, will benefit the college’s interdisciplinary approach.
“Through my association with the Agroecology cluster and Agroecology Master’s Program here at Madison, and through my research before coming here, I have come to deeply value the interdisciplinary approach that is at the heart of sustainability,” he said.
Kleinman said he believes Bell’s influence in launching the program, experience working with farmers and level of commitment will provide the college with a fresh perspective.
The Agroecology program focuses on the intersection between agriculture and the environment, according to Bell. As a result, the program strives to bring together staff and students.
In addition to launching the program, Bell published several books, three of which have won national awards, according to the release. Bell’s book, “Farming for Us All: Practical Agriculture and the Cultivation of Sustainability,” focuses on issues managed by CIAS.
Interim CALS Dean William Tracy said Bell is an excellent choice for director due to both his personality and past experiences.
“[Bell] is energetic, thoughtful and knows the state and the college,” Tracy said. “[With his] research on Wisconsin agricultural systems gives him an excellent understanding of the diversity in Wisconsin agriculture.”
Tracy said he looks forward to the new directions the center will take under Bell’s leadership, which he believes will help improve agriculture in Wisconsin.
Bell said he would begin his term as director Monday, Nov. 14. He said he looks forward to taking CIAS in a new direction.
“My goal is to further develop CIAS’s legacy of excellence in science together with excellence in outreach to, and in-reach from, those who farm and those who eat,” Bell said.