BRUCE MCPHERON/Penn State University photo
COLUMBUS — When Bruce McPheron got dressed in the early morning hours to catch a plane at 4:30 a.m. yesterday, he grabbed a suit, shirt and tie without thinking, and left State College, Pa.
Landing in Columbus, Ohio, he realized his clothing choice — gray suit, gray shirt, red tie — was a fortuitous pick for the public announcement of his new job with the Scarlet and Gray faithful.
McPheron is the new dean of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and vice president for agricultural administration. The announcement was made late Thursday of his selection to succeed Dr. Bobby Moser, who has held the position since 1991.
For McPheron, who is currently dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, it’s a chance to come home to the Buckeye State. He and his wife, Marilyn, were both born and raised in Hardin County, Ohio, (in fact, they met as 4-H’ers at the Hardin County Fair).
“This is a chance of a lifetime,” McPheron said Friday. “I’m going home.”
Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee said McPheron “brings a global view and worldwide experience back to Ohio to lead one of Ohio State’s most important educational programs.
“I am delighted that we have been fortunate enough to attract him back home.”
McPheron went to Ohio State as an undergrad, and graduated in 1976 with a degree in entomology. His interest in insects stems, he says, from his second year 4-H rabbit project that had ear mites (he got a B on his project because of the mites).
He went to the University of Illinois where he received his master’s in biology in 1980, started his career as a 4-H agent in Clermont County, Ohio, from 1980-83 — he often calls himself a “recovering county agent” — then returned to the University of Illinois for his doctorate in entomology.
He joined Penn State in 1988 and rose through the ranks, becoming director of its Agricultural Experiment Station in 2002, and then dean in 2009.
During his tenure as dean at Penn State, McPheron had to deal with severe budget cuts that hammered the ag college, experiment station and Extension, and triggered layoffs, an early retirement option, and a reorganization of the college’s departments and Extension.
“I think we set a good course,” he said of the ag college’s current standing. “We’ve made some positive changes that weren’t easy, but that college will be successful.”
Even though Penn State’s financial situation was stressful and the lure of the Ohio State job was strong, the decision to accept the Ohio job wasn’t a slam-dunk, and McPheron said he thought long about the opportunity before saying yes.
“I feel so much respect for the people who helped us get to where we are at Penn State,” he said, “and I respect everything they’ve given our organization over the last several years.”
Plus, he added, “our kids grew up over there, and we’ll leave behind a lot of close friends.” He and his wife, Marilyn, have two children: a son, who is a Navy rescue swimmer, and a daughter, who is a senior at Penn State.
The respect is returned. “Bruce McPheron connects as easily with the farmer in the field as he does with the scientist in the laboratory,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl T. Shaffer, in a statement released upon the announcement of McPheron’s move. “We know why Ohio State University wants him back home.”
McPheron is known globally for his research in insect genetics, including the development of new genetic tools for monitoring the spread of invasive fruit fly species.
McPheron has a national reputation in agricultural leadership that includes serving as chair of the experiment station component of the Board of Agriculture Assembly of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU). He now serves as chair-elect of APLU’s policy board of directors of the Board on Agriculture Assembly.
McPheron will officially start at Ohio State Nov. 1. Until then, he’ll be working with Penn State University officials to start the transition for an interim dean. A national search will be conducted to find his successor, and Penn State officials say their goal is to have a new dean in place by July 1, 2013.
But the new Ohio State dean will return to State College with a few more scarlet and gray clothing items in his suitcase — his announcement visit yielded a college alumni pin, two Ohio State ball caps, and an Ohio State tie. They will match his gray suit.
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Read Dr. McPheron’s blog post about his new position.