Last spring, Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources Robert M. Goodman tapped Brian Schilling for a big job: Director of Cooperative Extension at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES). Schilling joins a number of DAFRE professors and alumni who have held top administrative posts at the School and Experiment Station. Brian is not only an associate professor with DAFRE; he also earned his master’s degree in agricultural economics from the department in 1994.
We recently interviewed Brian in his new office on the third floor of Martin Hall.
DD: What can you tell us about the future of New Jersey agriculture?
DR. SCHILLING: New Jersey agriculture has been, and will continue to be, about innovation and adaptation. As a highly urbanized state, farmers face many challenges here. But we have one tenth of the country’s population and more than one trillion dollars of disposable income within 100 miles of where we are sitting right now. Strategies like diversification, agritourism, and innovative direct marketing allow our farmers to tap into this affluent local market with considerable success.
DD: How has your affiliation with DAFRE as both a student and a faculty member prepared you for this job?
DR. SCHILLING: Every single being on the planet is an economist. What I mean by that is, we all perform some form of economic calculus whenever we make a decision that involves time, money, or any scarce resource. We in the discipline simply make this decision process systematic and rational. Another thing I learned from my previous management jobs and from teaching management is the importance of communication. Members of your team or department need to have a commonality of purpose. Too often, however, the organization’s long-term goals are written in a document that nobody reads. Even the short-term goals that arise from the long-term goals are forgotten in the daily rush.
DD: What is your vision for Rutgers Cooperative Extension going forward?
DR. SCHILLING: The incredible delivery infrastructure supplied by Cooperative Extension throughout the nation is underappreciated and impossible to replicate. We have access to national, state, and county infrastructure that provides expertise in countless areas. We are also on the ground in the majority of the nation’s counties, in places where the needs of people and communities continue to evolve.
While some may be more familiar with Extension’s role in delivering science-based information to stakeholders in areas related to agriculture and natural resources, we do considerably more. Our Department of Family and Community Health Sciences shows that we can go beyond that and impact people’s perceptions and behaviors related to nutrition, health, and other aspects of their personal well-being. Our 4-H youth programming continues to cultivate young people’s growth and development in traditional agricultural clubs, as well as through activities related to STEM. In fact, extension’s potential expertise is as vast as the university’s entire knowledge base, and we continue to evolve as the needs of those we serve change.
If you think university scholarship is an “ivory tower”—irrelevant to people’s daily lives—then you just haven’t spent much time with Cooperative Extension! I think we should be thought of as higher education’s model for the future.
DD: Thank you for those inspirational words. Now get back to that Asian longhorned beetle problem.
DR. SCHILLING: Will do.