While wanting to transition quietly from the MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience director’s role to faculty member, Warren Gill still had to face the music and the accolades.
Campuswide and beyond, dozens of people attended a celebration July 30 honoring Gill’s eight years leading the department as it grew from 300 to nearly 500 undergraduate and graduate students.
Gill, 64, is stepping down, moving to the classroom as full professor with tenure and wanting to continue stem cell and “modern genomic research to benefit humans and animals” with Vanderbilt University’s James West, Gill said.
“I’m doing it under protest, but already looking forward to it,” Gill said before the department’s chocolate cake and MTSU chocolate milk event for him Thursday. His last official day as director was Friday.
“My time here has been wonderful,” he said. “It’s had its challenges. When I first got here (fall 2007), we were in a financial bind. There was some talk of selling our new farm, but a lot of alumni, students and friends of the university were asking to keep that.
“Not only did President (Sidney) McPhee keep the farm, he gave us $4.4 million to develop the farm into an outstanding education and research facility.”
The MTSU Farm and Dairy officially are called the Experiential Learning and Research Center on Guy James Road in Lascassas, Tennessee.
“It gave the community, students and alumni a feeling of ownership not only for the farm, but the whole program,” Gill said.
At a faculty retreat Gill scheduled his first fall at MTSU, someone asked “what would we like to be known for,” he recalled.
Their agreed-upon response: “Hands-on, but scholastically rigorous.”
“Not many people knew about our program,” said Gill, who came to MTSU after working for the University of Tennessee Extension. “We have an excellent program and great teachers.”
Interim Director Jessica Carter, his successor beginning Aug. 1, explained how Gill “brought a lot of enthusiasm to the program. Through his networking, he was able to accomplish a lot of things. … He always has a smile on his face. That helps with department morale. The students notice his positive attitude as well.”
Ron Cooper (Class of 1964) has known Gill since joining the MTSU Ag Alumni Board five or six years ago.
“He has done a super job,” Cooper said. “I’m very impressed with him. He’s student-oriented. He’s been a bright light since he’s been here.”
A graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for his bachelor’s and master’s in animal science and animal nutrition, respectively, and the University of Kentucky for a doctorate in animal nutrition, Gill said he plans to teach freshman orientation, beef production and “ag in our lives” for upperclassmen.
Tennessee agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson was among those attending.
In the spring, College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer recognized Gill, aerospace chair Ron Ferrara and Department of Military Science professor Joel Miller. All were stepping down from their leadership positions.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)