Looking over the leafy top of OSU’s campus from his sixth floor office, Edward Ray seems right at home. The challenges of university administration, the land grant mission, even the initials “OSU” are familiar to him. But Ray is the first to admit he has everything to learn. After a long association with Ohio State University, Ray moved to Corvallis this summer to become Oregon State’s 14th president.
“The land grant mission is something I have a real passion for,” said Ray. “That mission is to serve the people, and that hasn’t really changed since Abraham Lincoln signed the law that created the land grant university system.”
Ray’s understanding of land grant universities grew from 33 years at Ohio State, where he taught international trade and economic development, and later served as the university’s executive vice-president and provost.
“Yet, after all those years at one land grant university, I was surprised to learn how different each land grant is, with different strengths and areas of focus,” said Ray. “At Ohio State, there is no forestry. There’s no ocean. The breadth and depth of work in natural resources in Oregon is beyond what I had imagined.”
Ray expresses obvious delight with what he’s seen and learned about Oregon’s agriculture and natural resources. In his first weeks here, Ray toured the state, escorted by university leaders including Thayne Dutson, director of Oregon’s Agricultural Experiment Station.
“We visited with seed growers and learned why Oregon is one of the best places on earth to raise all kinds of seed. We toured the Food Innovation Center, and learned how they use taste-test data to calibrate sensors that sort apples according to precise characteristics of sweetness and crispness. And I learned that in Astoria, the Seafood Lab is developing entirely new methods to process shellfish.”
At every stop across the state, Ray learned something new that he was eager to share.
After a forestry education tour, Ray came home to his wife Beth, and asked her if she knew what a “snag” is. Beth Ray earned a law degree from Ohio State, where she went on to serve as an academic advisor and as assistant dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Science. She is highly educated, intelligent, and well-read, but she didn’t know what a “snag” is.
“So I triumphantly explained to this former 4-H girl from Prairieton, Indiana, what a ‘snag’ is,” Ray laughed.
Ray clearly enjoys discovering and sharing what Oregon State has to offer.
“Not only is Oregon State totally different from most universities, we are different from most land grant universities…the combinations of things we do, and do extraordinarily well, don’t even exist at some other land grant universities,” said Ray.
A visit with OSU Extension staff near Warm Springs got him to thinking more about the land grant mission.
“The lesson of Extension is the lesson of the entire university,” said Ray. “If you want to know what people’s concerns are, you go out to where they live and work, and you ask them. Then you come back and figure out ways to help.”
In that way, according to Ray, Oregon State can be an engine of economic growth.
“I am an economist, and I know about the ‘new economy’ and the ‘knowledge economy.’ But as an economist, I know there is no silver bullet,” said Ray. “In fact, the surest path to sustainable economic prosperity is to have a diversified economy, and to employ best practices and cutting edge innovation in everything we do.
“In terms of the high-tech knowledge economy, we can go up against the best, and we can win. But it’s important to remember that everybody else is in that high-tech game. Not everybody has an ocean, forests, good climate and soils, and such broad-based agriculture and natural resources.
“So if we are going to be among the winners in the coming century, we need to be able to go up against anybody, any place, in this country or around the world, in technology and the new economy. And we need to recognize how we can be best-in-class in traditional industries, throughout agriculture, forestry, and other areas of natural resources. We need to be the leader that sets the example for the rest of the world,” said Ray.
“With the incredible bounty that we have in natural resources, we can show the world how to be good stewards for future generations while bringing resources to the service of economic and social well-being of the people of Oregon,” said Ray.
“It is a challenge, but few other states or places in the world have what it takes to meet that challenge.”