Last week we looked at how Oregon State University changed because it felt its customers, the students, wanted a different product. This week, David Jones of Mississippi State talks about how a changing world led to changes in its approach:
Unlike Oregon State, our undergraduate program completely disappeared early on in the 2000's. It has been somewhat maintained through a concentration in forestry and through a graduate-level program. What we found was there was a great deal of confusion about what the "Forest Products Department" did or how it fit with the mission of the university. To limit confusion and align the department with current funding from grants, we changed our name to the "Department of Sustainable Bioproducts." This name encompasses the many different facets that we now cover, including lumber, composites, environmental research and biological research.
Of course, changing the name is only the first step in the process for us. Currently we are working on rebuilding an undergraduate curriculum to better cover the changing face of bioproducts. This is a difficult process, as all coursework must be carefully decided upon to make sure it will prepare students for life after the university. This includes adding courses on other materials, such as kenaf, corn stover and other plant materials. There has not been a move away from forest products, but an addition of other plant materials that have been utilized along with wood for many decades.
While the undergraduate program was in decline and eventually disappeared, we continued to provide support and outreach to the industry. This includes providing research and development for new products when it was too costly for the manufacturer. This included research in agricultural fibers as additives to traditional wood based materials. The bottom line is that the world's view (and use) of bioproducts has expanded far beyond wood, and we've expanded our reach in response.