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Ruttan Hall: A New Name, New Opportunities; Old Traditions

October 18, 2010 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

Millions of people will go to bed tonight worried about where their next meal is coming from. Thousands of Minnesotans will go to bed tonight worrying about where they may find their next job, and if it will be a good one.

This is the paradox we find ourselves in with the global and national economies sputtering along. 
Generations of University of Minnesota researchers and thinkers have been working to resolve and correct these challenges and disparities in access to food, jobs and health care.  This research, heavily funded through public investment, has helped establish Minnesota as a center of North America's food and agribusiness.  However, American research institutions are falling behind in educating people needed in all of these food, natural resource and health related sciences, Penn State University, another Big Ten school, has pointed out.
Today, the University of Minnesota celebrates past achievements and future opportunities in the fight against global hunger.  Early in the afternoon, the University is holding a mini-symposium on "Sustainably Feeding the World." That's fitting because the U has all the interrelated sciences involving food, agriculture, natural resources, human and animal health, public health and supportive sciences in close proximity either in St. Paul or Minneapolis. The Twin Cities campus is one of less than a handful of research universities in America with this wide a swath of disciplines.
Following the mini-symposium, the University will present Ruben Echeverria with its highest honor for international alumni who have attained unusual distinction as professionals in their careers.  Dr. Echeverria is a Uruguayan who came to Minnesota to earn a master's degree (1985) and PhD (1988) in agricultural and applied economics.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture recently named Dr. Echeverria as its director general.  It is through such international research work that Echeverria's path keeps connecting with the University of Minnesota. The late Vernon Ruttan mentored him in his economics studies, and while enrolled here he did doctoral dissertation work and served as a research fellow for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.
University of Minnesota alumnus Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work at CIMMYT that started the so-called "Green Revolution," headed the latter research program. The Borlaug Hall science building on the St. Paul campus salutes his distinguished career in science and his contributions to humanity.
Today, the University community also gathers to dedicate Ruttan Hall, home of the Applied Economics department formerly called Classroom Office Building. Just down a hillside from Borlaug Hall, Ruttan Hall is nearly the center of the St. Paul campus and is where Professor Ruttan had offices and held classes while mentoring up and coming international stars like Echeverria.
Minnesota 2020 has written about the importance of Ruttan for Minnesota and for world economic development in the past. For instance, he and a Japanese colleague (Yujiro Hayami) developed a theory of Induced Innovation to explain technological adaptation around the world, and how that theory can be adapted for useful purposes here at home. Their concept has also been applied to induce institutional change; scientists and students of culture are giving it new looks as well.
These theories began being developed when Ruttan headed the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. This brings the major global research centers for wheat (Borlaug's connection), rice (Ruttan's) and now tropical agriculture (Echeverria's) right back to our doorsteps.  
Ruttan taught us much about ourselves here at home. Yet his greatest achievements were that as an educator who touched the world through prolific writings and through his students. This is the tradition that needs to continue.
This is where recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data and Penn State analysis show importance for Minnesota. By USDA assessments, 54,400 jobs will be needed annually between now and 2015 for people with bachelor's and graduate degrees in food sciences, renewable energy and environmental specialties.
Enrollments in research institutions like the University of Minnesota point to a shortfall of qualified job candidates, with universities able to fill only 54 percent of those jobs. The American Agriculturalist quotes Penn State associate dean of agricultural sciences Marcos Fernandez as seeing special shortages in plant geneticists and plant breeders, climate change analysts, and food safety and food security specialists.
Of the 54,400 annual ag related job openings, Fernandez said 74 percent will be in business and science fields, 15 percent in agriculture and forestry production areas, and 11 percent of the jobs will be in education and communications.
All of these are University of Minnesota strengths, or were. We can't keep this tradition alive no matter its relevance to global and Minnesota industry needs if we keep cutting back operating and research support in state budgets.
But perhaps visits by Echeverria and the naming of Ruttan Hall will help us remember Minnesota strengths before we do too much damage to our research and graduate education capacity.
That may be possible. Brian Buhr, head of the Department of Applied Economics, told friends of the University and the department in a letter that today's schedule marks the beginning of the department's centennial year. More events, he said, will help celebrate "the past, present and future of Applied Economics and Ruttan Hall."
That it should. The past is wonderful. The present and future represent needs, however. And the USDA data and Penn State analysis shows how opportunities are being thrown our way, if we are in a receptive mode.        
Reference: The story from the American Agriculturalist can be found at

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