The National Advisory Council for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Aquaculture/Fisheries Center received an update from center director Carole Engle during the group’s annual meeting Thursday afternoon at the Waterfront Center in Regional Park.
The group also received an overview of the selection process that led to the hiring of Laurence Alexander as the next UAPB chancellor from UA System President Donald R. Bobbitt.
“The biggest news to come out of the last year is that we got the PhD program up and running,” Engle said. “We currently have five students with a sixth who will enroll in June. We have the potential for the first graduate from our program in May 2014. Two students have defended dissertation proposals; three students have formed dissertation committees; and three of them have filed plans of study.”
Engle said the Arkansas Department of Higher Education set the maximum number students to be accepted into the doctoral program at five for the first year; with three more students accepted in the second year; and two per year for three years after that.
Engle said the Aquaculture/Fisheries Center has hired new staff members to take the place of several who have retired, including Trace Peterson as a fish pathologist; Jeonghwan Park as an aquaculture engineer; and Scott Jones as a small impoundments instructor.
Small impoundments are bodies of water that include ponds and lakes of approximately 1,000 acres or less.
“Scott Jones is also the new coach of the UAPB competitive fishing team, which he also founded,” Engle said. “He is working on a grant proposal to fund a new boat for the team. We’re excited about the recruitment potential represented by the team. We already have two who have applied to UAPB for the fall who did so because of interest in the fishing team.”
Bobbitt said the chancellor search process netted between 40 and 50 applicants that were winnowed down to 10 before four finalists visited UAPB during the last week of January and the first week of February.
“It is a challenging time right now for education and for agriculture and it’s difficult to look to the future with any degree of certainty,” Bobbitt said. “I want to thank Dr. Calvin Johnson for his service as interim chancellor. He has not only kept things going during this transition period but has worked to improve the university. The search process for the next chancellor was a very rigorous one, with search firm Asher and Greenwood, one of the top three firms in the United States.”
Council chairman Neal Anderson called the meeting to order and vice chair Mike Freeze presented a summary of the group’s 2013-2018 strategic plan for the aquaculture center which was approved by a vote of the Council.
“Our previous five-year plan talked a lot about meeting a number of goals and now the wording in the current five-year plan speaks of maintaining the goals that we have now met,” Freeze said. “A big goal in our current plan is securing funding for a new Aquaculture/Fisheries Center building on Lake Saracen. There are many who say that this goal is not attainable but many said the same thing about the PhD program and look at where we are now with that.”
Eric Park, president of the Arkansas Bait and Ornamental Fish Growers Association, said it is important that the success of the program not be allowed to distract from its mission.
“You don’t want to lose sight of what got you here,” Park said.
Longtime catfish farmer Joey Lowery praised the aquaculture/fisheries program.
“It has been a pleasure to watch this program grow,” Lowery said. “When it comes to personnel, Carole [Engle] tries to hire the best and from what I have experienced they really want to see us succeed. Research must be practically applicable in order to be worth anything and the information that comes out of this program is second to none. In order to continue this success you must make sure that your administration maintains funding of the program at current levels because anything less will weaken this program and this university.”