Dr. M. Ray McKinnie, who has been serving as the Interim Dean and 1890 Extension Administrator of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University, has been formally appointed to the position. The appointment is effective immediately.
McKinnie, who arrived at VSU in July 2015 to serve as assistant administrator of Extension programs in the College of Agriculture, stepped into the interim dean position two months later after the resignation of Dean Jewel Hairston.
“Dr. McKinnie’s outstanding leadership during this past year that he’s served as interim dean has already benefited Virginia State University as a whole and its College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Research Station in particular,” said Dr. Donald Palm, VSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “He has left no doubt in my mind he will continue to direct the college to even greater accomplishments and help VSU embrace its role as a top land-grant university.” Palm also cited McKinnie’s vision for the department, his passion for student success and his commitment to faculty and staff development as key factors in the selection process.
As dean, McKinnie will provide administrative oversight for the college’s academic departments, and its agricultural research and Cooperative Extension programs. He brings a wealth of educational and professional experiences to his new position, including service as interim associate dean for agricultural research and associate dean and Extension administrator at North Carolina A&T, that spans more than three decades in higher education and other national organizations.
In accepting the position, McKinnie said he was thankful to have the opportunity to serve the university and the Commonwealth. “Agriculture is a critical component of the global economy and is Virginia’s number one industry,” he said. “VSU has a long tradition of training students to be valuable contributors of that industry, as well as of developing solutions for better food security, safety and sustainability with its cutting-edge research.”
He added that one of his goals in his new position is to help change the image of the agriculture industry. “There are tremendous opportunities in the job market for dynamic, exciting and engaging careers in agriculture and natural resource,” he said, adding that few of these jobs involve the old notion of agriculture just being “cows, plows and sows.”
According to a research study conducted by USDA NIFA and Purdue University, between 2015 and 2020 in the U.S. there will be 57,900 annual job openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in agriculture and related fields, with almost half of those in management and business and another 27 percent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But, says McKinnie, the study states on average only 35,400 are expected to graduate each year in these fields, resulting in an annual shortage of 22,500 agriculture graduates to fill the industry’s needs.
McKinnie added, “That’s why last year USA Today wrote that careers in agriculture and natural resources are among the top 10 paying jobs in the country, and the public needs to understand that these jobs represent a new era of agriculture.”
After earning his bachelor’ degree in animal science from North Carolina A&T, his master’s and doctorate degrees in animal science/reproductive physiology from Ohio State University and North Carolina State University, respectively; McKinnie began his career as an assistant agricultural agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Later as an extension specialist and researcher working with small, part-time, limited-resource farmers, he focused his efforts on the development of economical systems of production for pasture-based pork, commercial rabbit and meat goats.
Founded in 1882, Virginia State University is one of Virginia’s two land-grant institutions and is located 20 minutes south of Richmond in the village of Ettrick. It is one of only three colleges or universities in Virginia to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.