Nov 11, 2019
Washington State adds new Extension director, potato pathologist

Dean André-Denis Wright has named Vicki McCracken to be Associate Dean and Director of Extension for the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), effective January 1, 2020.

Vicki McCracken. Photo: Washington State University

She will be the 18th Extension director, and takes over from current Interim Director of Extension Mike Gaffney and former Associate Dean and Director Rich Koenig, who is now chair of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

“Vicki brings a wealth of valuable leadership experience, and I look forward to working closely with her to keep WSU Extension in a place of high regard around Washington,” Wright said. “And I thank Rich and Mike for their stewardship of this valuable resource for the people of this state.”

McCracken, who has been at WSU since 1984, is currently a professor in WSU’s School of Economic Sciences and chair of the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT).

“When it comes down to it, Extension is why universities do research,” said McCracken, who will continue her role with AMDT through the Spring 2020 semester. “We want research to impact people directly and improve lives. And nowhere is science more meaningfully applied to the real world than with Extension.”

McCracken has worked closely with Extension faculty on many projects over the years. She has also held several administrative positions at WSU, including associate vice president and associate vice provost of WSU, associate dean and director of CAHNRS Academic Programs, and associate director of the college’s Agricultural Research Center.

With the new position, she will now possess the rare trifecta of having leadership roles in each of the main branches of CAHNRS: academics, research, and Extension. She hopes to use that experience to help bring the college together.

“Mike and Rich have done such a great job leading Extension, and I want to continue that momentum while building even greater partnerships between research and academics with Extension that will benefit both,” she said. “Extension faculty have these incredible links with a variety of industries around the state. If we can connect them with WSU students, that could result in more and different internships. And it could mean having Extension faculty more involved in sharing their knowledge and expertise with our undergraduate and graduate students.”

A priority for both Wright and McCracken will be expanding the growing relationship between Extension and WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

“There are great opportunities for our Extension faculty to work on grants and other projects with Medicine,” said McCracken, who has a minor role in a partnered Extension/Medicine grant that is currently undergoing USDA review. “Extension professionals have on-the-ground knowledge of what is going on at the local level. That insight, partnered with Medicine, has the potential to keep people in Washington healthier and to link back to agriculture through the food being produced .”

Her first plan after taking over will be listening. That means going out to talk with Extension professionals in person as much as possible. Extension has a presence in every county in Washington.

“I need a better understanding of what Extension is doing, from the people who are doing it,” McCracken said. “From working with farmers to programs like SNAP-Ed, Master Gardeners, and 4-H, Extension impacts tens of thousands of lives throughout Washington.”

She’s also excited to see WSU’s increased focus on its Land Grant heritage, highlighted by a day-long university event last spring.

“I think to a lot of people, ‘Land Grant’ and ‘Extension’ are interchangeable terms,” McCracken said. “But Extension is made up of programs that work every day to achieve WSU’s land grant mission. Extension has always been committed to that mission, and I look forward to keeping and expanding on that legacy.”

— Washington State University

Wheeler to join WSU as potato pathologist

David Wheeler will join the Washington State University Department of Plant Pathology in early 2020 as the new potato pathologist. Wheeler, currently a faculty member at Montana State University, was a former WSU Ph.D. student mentored by Dennis Johnson, and has extensive experience studying verticillium. As a graduate student, Wheeler was well known by the potato community for his presentations at the WSU Potato Field Days and last year’s Potato Soil Health Summit. In addition to conducting research on diseases of potatoes, Wheeler will co-teach General Plant Pathology and Plant Disease Epidemiology. — Washington State Potato Commission

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