UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Gary Thompson, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Oklahoma State University, has been named associate dean for research and graduate education and director of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The appointment is effective April 1.
Reporting to the dean of the college, Thompson will administer an annual research budget of nearly $100 million and oversee 16 graduate education programs as well as the college's participation in seven intercollege graduate degree programs.
"Gary Thompson has an impressive record of scholarship and creative leadership at three different land-grant universities," said Bruce McPheron, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. "His success as a scientist and administrator and his thorough knowledge of the research-funding landscape will help enhance the college's growing reputation for high-quality, interdisciplinary research in agricultural, food and natural-resource fields."
Thompson's research has focused on the molecular biology of plant vascular systems and the genomics of plant responses to insect feeding. His work has been supported by agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"These are challenging times for research programs at land-grant universities, requiring faculty members to rethink traditional approaches to funding their research programs," Thompson said.
"With the challenges, however, come opportunities for agricultural research institutions to develop broad-based, systems-oriented programs in the areas of climate, health, energy and food," he said. "I hope to contribute to an environment that both encourages and rewards innovation, flexibility, entrepreneurship and productivity."
Thompson earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska, his master's from the University of Wisconsin and his doctorate from Purdue University. He began his professional career in 1989 as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona, where he joined the faculty in the Department of Plant Sciences in 1991. During his 10 years at Arizona, he also taught in the undergraduate program in microbiology, which included faculty from eight departments.
In 2001, Thompson moved to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he was a faculty member in the Department of Applied Science and a research professor in the Division of Agriculture. There, he managed a federally funded research program and served as the founding director for the interdisciplinary Applied Biosciences doctoral program.
During his tenure in Arkansas, he also was a visiting research professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, from 2003 to 2004 and served as a program director in the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation from 2004 to 2006. While with NSF, he defined program goals, determined funding priorities and allocated resources among a broad spectrum of research projects in diverse biological areas.
In 2007 Thompson moved to Oklahoma State, where he has overseen a department that serves about 250 undergraduates in three pre-professional programs that span two colleges. The department also offers master's and doctoral degrees to students from a wide variety of backgrounds.
The first of the colleges established at Penn State, the College of Agricultural Sciences awarded the nation's first baccalaureate degrees in agriculture in 1861. The college is widely recognized as one of the nation's premier institutions for agricultural research, extension and resident education programs.
The college's research addresses problems at local, state, national and international levels, focusing on such topics as environmental sustainability, bioenergy and bio-based products, plant response to environmental stress and rural community vitality.
Recent college initiatives include providing leadership in livestock reproductive biology, studying the underlying causes of colony collapse disorder in honey bees, developing new tools for extracting fuels from renewable feedstocks, breeding new crop varieties adapted to climate change, and identifying weed-management methods for organic and reduced-input agricultural production systems.