ATI director enjoys changing lives through education

Kris Boone ATI
Kris Boone, director at ATI.

Kris Boone knows the difference a college education can make for rural people. The newest director at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute, and its first female director, Boone has been involved with education most of her life.

She grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in Texas, where they raised stocker cattle. It was a small farm, but one that helped build her rural foundation and a love for agriculture.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in ag communications at Texas Tech, followed by a master’s and doctorate at Ohio State University, from 1990-1994.

Working with students

As director of the ATI, she works with a wide range of students — some who may be happy with a two-year associate’s degree, and others who choose to take their education further.

Whatever their choice, Boone feels the ATI and its hands-on teaching provides a unique experience.

“It’s this radical idea that very quickly, you can change someone’s socio-economic status, for a relatively limited investment. I think that is a profound thing,” she said.

The two-year programs at ATI offer a lower-cost option for students interested in the technical sciences, and the degrees are closely paired with job skills employers are looking for.

OSU’s ag college as a whole, places 96 percent of its graduates with jobs, and most of the students who earn applied associate degrees from ATI have jobs before graduation, Boone said.

And if you want to hire an intern, she recommends searching a year or two in advance, because that’s how quickly positions are filled.

Getting involved

Although she holds the top spot at ATI, Boone enjoys the simple things, like interacting with students and visiting the university’s livestock barns. Recently, she traveled with a group of ATI students to Purdue University.

“What fun, just to get to know them and spend some time with them,” she said.

Like many of the students at ATI, Boone participated in 4-H in her youth. Her passion were horses and barrel racing, although she admits to trying still projects like cooking and even sewing.

“I did sewing once, and it was really, really not a good experience for anyone. Not for me nor the judges,” she said.

But horses and rodeo were a good fit, and she earned a college scholarship through the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

While she was finishing her graduate degrees at Ohio State, Boone spent a couple years as a watershed Extension agent in Union County.

One day, Kansas State University called with a job opening, and that’s where she stayed for the next 22 years, eventually heading up the K-State Communications and Agricultural Education department. Her two daughters, Ellie and Meg, currently attend K-State.

Back to Ohio

But in April, Boone came back to the Buckeyes and brought her leadership skills to the ATI.

“She was a great leader at that institution (K-State) for many, many years,” said Jim Kinder, who served as interim director at ATI prior to Boone’s hiring.

Kinder said Boone is a great fit for ATI, and sees “tremendous opportunities for growth at the institute.”

Like Boone, Kinder said the ATI offers a unique education because of the amount of curriculum available to students, as well as the hands-on opportunities.

In addition to classroom curriculum, students have access to university-owned livestock farms, research labs, private farms and agribusinesses, and the adjacent campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Multiple campuses

The OARDC serves primarily research and graduate studies, but the two campuses are both part of OSU, and work cooperatively.

Boone said she looks forward to working with Dave Benfield, director of the Wooster OSU campus, on making both the ATI and OARDC campuses more accessible and navigable.

She said it’s important that all parts of the ag college continue the “one university” theme, even though they each serve a different purpose.

“The OARDC, Extension and academic programs all need to work together,” she said. “We’re here to improve the lives of Ohio people, and we need all three of those functions to do it.”

A big focus is making sure ATI students who want to continue their education at main campus can do so as seamlessly as possible. The university employs transition staff, who work with students and faculty to make sure classes line up for degrees.

“It’s not a transfer,” when students go to main campus, Boone said. “It’s a ‘transition.’ We try to make it as easy as possible.”

Personal life

Boone’s husband of six years, David Payne, works in Wooster as a behavioral health specialist for a local nonprofit.

Boone also enjoys reading, exercising and gardening. Although she’s not an expert at gardening, she works with experts every day.

“I have the coolest job,” she said. “I don’t have a real green thumb, but everybody around me does.”

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