Jack's Insights June 2016

By Jack Whittier, Director
UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

“The acquisition of the Hiram Scott facility by the University of Nebraska will be a most significant landmark in the continued progress of agricultural research and extension activities in Western Nebraska.” These are words of John Weihing, then Director of the University of Nebraska Panhandle Station, on Feb. 1, 1974, at the ceremony for the transfer of deed of Hiram Scott College (HSC) facilities to the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Jack WhittierLater in the same address, Weihing said, “The availability of these land and building resources has placed before us the challenge to develop the most advanced off-campus agricultural center in the U.S.  This is our goal.”

June 1 marked two years since I arrived as the current Director of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC), as the “Panhandle Station” is now called. This has caused me to reflect on the goal set forth by John Weihing in 1974 to be “...the most advanced off-campus agricultural center in the U.S.”  So, how are we doing towards this goal?

While it may be difficult to fully judge our progress and status, I, for one, feel good about what has taken place with these resources since they were transferred to the university in 1974. Let me reflect on some of these.

I’ll begin by paying tribute to the local civic leaders who envisioned Hiram Scott College in the first place in 1963. Last August, the Star Herald published an article written by Steve Frederick titled, “Five decades ago, Hiram Scott College transformed Scottsbluff” (Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015). This article provided a wonderful overview of the inception, progress and impact of Hiram Scott College. The article was invaluable to me as a newcomer to the Scottsbluff Valley in better understanding the significance of their vision.

I recently re-read the  article while reflecting on Weihing’s earlier statements about how the HSC building and land resources became what is now PHREC. Many of the concepts for HSC have carried forward into concepts and practices I feel are present today at PHREC. I’ll list a few of these by using quotes from Steve Frederick’s 2015  article:

HCS Concept No. 1: “…the college called for innovative teaching by top notch instructors…”

Jack’s Insight No. 1: While the mission of PHREC is research and extension, compared to the mission of undergraduate teaching of HSC, similarly, innovative research and extension education is a major principle for current Specialists and Extension Educators at PHREC.

HSC Concept No. 2: “…Hiram Scott hired the best teachers and the best coaches. They were excellent instructors who cared about the students.”

Jack’s Insight No. 2:  It has been my good fortune during the time I have been director here at PHREC to recruit, interview and hire four very talented, innovative, energetic research and extension specialists. Likewise, we have been fortunate to hire several new exceptionally capable Extension educators located in county offices across the Panhandle District. When we set out to hire someone, I state my goal to recruit and hire the best people in existence at the time.  I may be biased, but I think we have been successful in doing just that.

Unfortunately for us, our irrigation and water management specialist at PHREC, Amir Haghverdi, recently accepted another position with the University of California.  We wish him well in his future pursuits; his skills will continue to contribute to the irrigation engineering profession throughout his career.  Even though he was only here a short time, his impact on innovative irrigation principles and resources will carry on at PHREC into the future.  We are currently moving forward to fill this position and hope to have a replacement in place for the 2017 cropping year.

Our newly added specialists and educators have joined a strong cadre of experienced professionals who have served the Panhandle District for years and also reflect the intent stated for HSC instructors to be excellent teachers who care about our learners.

HSC Concept No. 3:  “The campus was destined for a 440-acre sugar beet field on the north edge of the city (of Scottsbluff).”

Jack’s Insight No. 3: The article by Steve Frederick describes the construction of the HSC campus.  We are fortunate today to occupy the primary building built back then. The J.G. Elliot building, as it is now known, houses the Panhandle Research and Extension programs, as well as Extension personnel for Scotts Bluff and Morrill counties. We have tried to be good stewards of these facilities. A major interior facility upgrade was done in 2013, plus we are currently updating and refurbishing some exterior areas.

If you happened to come by the Elliot building this week you saw the renovation going on at our main entrance. Later this summer you will also see driveway and parking lot upgrades at the Center.

The Arboretum, plantings and landscape surrounding the Elliot building will be the subject for a case study semester project for a landscape design class taught by Kim Todd on the Lincoln campus during the spring 2017 semester.  We currently have two UNL summer intern students at the Center who are gathering data for this case study.  We feel this is a great way to continue the objectives set forth by HSC, plus it will bring a nice facelift and curb appeal to PHREC.

The 160-acre irrigated land resources surrounding PHREC deeded to the University from HSC have contributed many, many significant research findings to the agriculture industry of western Nebraska and surrounding states. I’m certain this will continue well into the coming decades.

So, how are we doing in accomplishing John Weihing’s challenge “…to develop the most advanced off-campus agricultural center in the U.S”?  I suppose this is left to you to decide and for we at the university to continue to strive toward. However, I feel I can safely state that the land and building resources deeded from Hiram Scott College to the University of Nebraska have not been for naught.

During the heyday of the ‘60s, Sports Illustrated dubbed Hiram Scott “The College in a Cornfield.”  Frankly, I think we wear that badge proudly today as well. And thanks for allowing me to be part of all of this for the past two years.