Feature Story: 

Dear colleagues.

I am honored and humbled to have been selected for the dean's position, and I look forward to working with you to sustain the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University as one of the University's leading colleges. I start in my position on August 1, 2009. I wish I could be there sooner, but I first must complete a few initiatives here at Purdue University.

These are challenging times - I don't think any one of us has seen such an economic climate and budget constraints, which are going to require all of us to step up to help deal with the same. I look forward to working with you, along with the College's administrative leadership team and the University's central administration, to deal with the same in a transformative manner. The College has a tradition of excellence, with outstanding faculty, staff, and students. We can build on the College's tradition to achieve our vision.  

Over the next several weeks I will be engaged in the process, working with Interim Dean Bill Boggess and the College's leadership team to develop ways to deal with the immediate and significant challenge of the state's budget shortfall.

At the end of the day, however, these are truly exciting times for agriculture and natural resources in terms of the opportunities we have to address in a sustainable manner the food, fuel, fiber, health, and economic needs of humanity.

I interacted with some faculty, staff, and students during the interview process, but many likely don't know much about me. I thought I might tell you a little bit about myself to give you a sense of where I come from.

As the youngest of four boys, I was born and raised by our mother in Bangalore, one of India's largest cities.

All of my education and career has been associated with agriculture. I received a bachelor's degree in agriculture, as part of which I raised several row crops and also learned animal husbandry. My master's degree is in entomology, and my thesis research was on an insect that is a devastating pest of multiple crops. I received my first two degrees from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India. I received my Ph.D. in entomology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Although my dissertation research was on cockroaches, I was afforded the opportunity to work on Colorado potato beetles, gypsy moth, house flies, and other insects.

As part of continuing education and professional development, I have participated in numerous administrative workshops, and am a graduate of the University of Nebraska's New Academic Chair's Program and Harvard University's Management Development Program.

After a short stint as a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University where I worked on spruce budworms, a serious pest of spruces and firs, I was on the faculty at Mississippi State University from August 1982 through 1997. As an insect physiologist, I worked on the integrative reproductive biology of insects, and contributed to enhancing fundamental knowledge of how insects reproduce; additionally, our research resulted in outcomes that are being used even today to help cotton farmers save significantly in control costs by the use of pheromone monitoring programs or diagnostic kits to identify key pest insects. In Mississippi I was also involved in working on insects on soybeans, corn, sorghum, and other crops, along with mosquitoes.  Along the way I did a sabbatical at Cornell University.

I moved in 1997 to Kansas State University to become the head of entomology, where I was named a University Distinguished Professor. I maintained a research program in Kansas that addressed fundamental insect biology and the needs of row crop agriculture as well as stored products.

Most recently, I have been serving as the director of Agricultural Research Programs and associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. I provide leadership for research programs in agriculture, food, and natural resources at Purdue, including fiscal management, and regulatory functions assigned by the Indiana State Legislature. In my role at Purdue, I also liaise with various commodity organizations and commissions, the Farm Bureau, various state departments, Congressional and legislative representatives, alumni groups, donors, corporate entities, and non-governmental organizations.

I have been the recipient of grants for my research from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Agency for International Development, along with state agencies, commodity groups, and industry.

Over the years, I have mentored a number of students and post-doctorates, and we have published nearly 150 journal articles, book chapters, and a book.

I have received a number of awards and honors, including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and Distinguished Graduate Alumnus at Rutgers University.

I am married to Gita, who worked for a number of years as a professor of textiles, and is currently an associate dean in the graduate school at Purdue. She will be working in the graduate school at Oregon State University.

Our daughter, Megha, is a recent Ph.D. in sociology and public health from City University of New York, and son-in-law, Andrew Park, is a medical resident at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx in New York City. They will be relocating to Kansas City this summer, where Megha will be starting her career as an assistant professor in preventive medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Andrew will be working as an ER physician at the KUMC hospital.  

Our dog, Atuk, is an Alaskan Malamute.  

In addition to my professional interests, I enjoy reading, crossword puzzles and Sudoku, the theatre, and music - mostly Rock and Roll, Jazz, and Blues. I ride a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Hugger - my wife and I enjoy riding in the backroads, and we are looking forward to the beautiful environs of Corvallis to ride around in.

Once again, I am honored to have been selected to serve as the next dean of the College, and my wife and I are looking forward to becoming part of the Oregon State University family.  

I know I will have a steep learning curve - I will need your help - I look forward to listening and learning, to achieve our shared vision for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

In the meantime, please do send me any ideas you may have - about the budget or about how to make the College the best there is or anything you wish to share. I suggest you address those ideas to AGSCI@oregonstate.edu. To ensure that your ideas get a wide audience, I ask that you cc your unit leader on such messages as appropriate. Thank you.

Go Beavs!

Sonny