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Three CNR alums in from of SKok Hall.

College of Natural Resources alums Leah Dornfeld ('03) and Valerie Were ('05) share a laugh with Dornfeld's fiance and state representative Aaron Peterson at the CNR Send-Off on April 27.

Natural resources programs continue under new structure

U to launch new College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences in July.

April 28, 2006

Students were the focus of an April 27 celebration of the College of Natural Resources' (CNR) 103-year history. The college's programs are being integrated with those from the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Food Science and Nutrition to form a brand new college: the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. At the CNR event, current students talked about their research projects and their community service activities with alumni, donors, and friends of the college.

It seems likely that students were also the focus of Professor Samuel Green's plans when he initiated the University's forestry degree program in 1903--a move that led to a school and later the College of Natural Resources. Green had recognized a need for educated, well-trained foresters as the nation was gripped by fears over dwindling natural resources and rampant environmental damage.

The program caught on quickly. By 1907, there were 55 students in the freshman class alone--most of whom, in the words of Professor E.G. Cheyney, arrived "without any idea of what forestry was, and laboring under the false impression that they were headed for an everlasting camping trip."

The idea of conserving our natural resources soon spread from trees to wildlife. A program in "Economic Zoology" began in 1929 at the urging of noted conservationist Aldo Leopold. A program in fisheries was added in 1946, and in the 1950s, forest products-oriented programs flourished. Today, CNR offers additional programs in recreation and tourism management, urban forestry, and the newly created suite of programs in bio-based products.

Along the way, the College of Natural Resources accomplished a great deal:

And that record of excellence continues today. Recently, CNR faculty led the creation of national standards for the safe release of genetically modified organisms in marine environments, developed a synthetic substance that may one day eliminate an invasive species of sea lamprey from our waters, made advances in breeding white pine trees that are resistant to blister rust, and began working on ways to expand the uses of corn-based plastic.

A crowd in front of Skok Hall.
CNR faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, and friends gather in front of Skok Hall in St. Paul for the CNR Send-Off. CNR programs will come under the new College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences in July.

But more needs to be done in natural resources, and the University's administrative reorganization and pursuit of becoming one of the Top 3 public research universities in the world will make it possible. The changes preserve the natural resources programs in a new structure that will promote interdisciplinary work and opportunities for growth.

"Lasting economic, technological, and resource management advancements occur when research scientists are engaged with the public, and students are involved to help spread the adoption of new ideas as they progress in their careers," says CNR dean Susan Stafford. "This land-grant university is ideally positioned to achieve that goal. It is no longer enough to teach the public about science and the environment, we have to engage them too."

As the new College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences emerges, the faculty and students will have their hands full. There is growing agreement that global warming is occurring; an expanding world population is straining our natural resources to produce clean air and water, healthy food, raw materials for products, and an abundance of recreational opportunities; and progress on conserving and improving natural habitat is slow.

Because these issues are interconnected, interdisciplinary work at large universities like the University of Minnesota will be key to addressing our environmental problems. So, it would appear that the need for education, research, and public engagement around natural resources issues remains strong; 103 years after the University of Minnesota entered the field. The need for future leaders who can think critically and act globally has never been greater.