January 17, 2001 | By: Haven Miller

Early in Scott Smith's career as a University of Kentucky soil scientist he got to see first-hand how research findings could help people in the field.

"I conducted a program that combined basic laboratory research and field tests," Smith recalled. "Working with agronomists throughout Kentucky, I was able to apply my knowledge of microbiology to fertilizer application rates and improved soil fertility. And it was exciting to see that interface between scientific investigation and practical uses."

As the new dean of UK's College of Agriculture and director of the state's Cooperative Extension Service, Smith said he will encourage faculty and staff to pursue solutions that will help Kentuckians, both rural and urban.

"The College of Agriculture has creative and enthusiastic employees, people who get satisfaction out of seeing what they do in their daily jobs get translated into practical applications that make a difference in people's lives," he said.

Smith, who most recently coordinated UK's agricultural research programs as associate dean, is the grandson of a New Hampshire dairy farmer. His mother was a home economics major at Cornell University, and his father was a Cornell extension agent who later became an extension farm finance specialist. That means from an early age Smith was aware of the special role land-grant universities played in disseminating knowledge generated on university campuses out to the people of a state.

"I always made that strong connection between agriculture and education because my dad worked for Extension his whole career," Smith said. "Ironically, I didn't begin my undergraduate studies with the intention of going into agriculture. But later on when I started seeing how I could apply what I learned in my science classes to agriculture, I was hooked."

During his college years Smith spent summers working in agriculture-related jobs. One of those was assisting professor David Call, a distinguished nutritional scientist who later became Cornell's dean of agriculture.

"I still stay in touch with Dean Call, and consider him a great role model for me now," Smith said.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in biology, Smith went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees in soil science. He credits Cornell biochemist John Duxsbury with instilling in him a sense of joy in his work.

"Professor Duxsbury taught me that work is most rewarding when it's approached with a sense of fun and wonder, and I have him to thank for much of the later progress I made in my career," he said.

Smith puts a high priority on attracting outstanding young minds to UK's agriculture research, teaching, and Cooperative Extension faculty. He wants individuals who will keep the College on the cutting edge through excellence in the classroom, the laboratory, and in the field by envisioning creative ways to link new technology and real-world productivity.

"Things like biotechnology, global positioning systems, and new types of communication technologies are going to have a huge impact on Kentuckians and their families," Smith said. "As a College we're going to have stay vigilant in reaching out to different audiences and looking at new people to serve in new and different ways."

Smith said the College of Agriculture has a tremendously broad mission, one that includes not only production agriculture, but also 4-H youth development, family and consumer science, rural development, environmental quality, and a host of programs serving both rural and urban citizens. He admits there are great challenges ahead, but is optimistic about the College's role in meeting those challenges.

"We're experiencing unprecedented change in our Kentucky communities, but I think there's also a new spirit of innovation and optimism and excitement among our state's leaders, and we want to be a vital part of that," he said.