Kansas State University president reimagining land-grant mission one scoop at a time

Linton building academic, industry relationships with $125 million campus project

By: - March 6, 2023 8:45 am
Kansas State University president Richard Linton and colleague Valentina Trinetta shared a gesture of Wildcat loyalty during a visit to the Call Hall dairy bar on the Manhattan campus. Linton spoke of the land-grant university's future between bites of ice cream. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas State University president Richard Linton and colleague Valentina Trinetta shared a gesture of Wildcat loyalty during a visit to the Call Hall dairy bar on the Manhattan campus. Linton spoke of the land-grant university’s future between bites of ice cream. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

MANHATTAN — The food scientist in Richard Linton leans back in a purple-and-white chair in Call Hall to recite contents of his favorite ice cream.

It is cherry brick road — at least until a new favorite creation emerges from the dairy science lab at Kansas State University. The current preference was crafted while he was agriculture dean at North Carolina State University. The four key ingredients: chocolate ice cream, marshmallows, chocolate chunks and Michigan cherries.

“The two chocolates were my wife’s and daughter’s. My son was the marshmallow. I was cherries,” said Linton, who just completed his rookie year as Kansas State president. “We used to say, ‘Follow the cherry brick road.’ It was the No. 2 seller at N.C. State.”

The university educator and economic visionary in Linton appreciated the campus dairy bar, which also sells flour, meat and dairy goods produced nearby, was situated in the middle of a planned $125 million infrastructure construction and renovation project aimed at elevating reach of the College of Agriculture.

Linton said the blend of state and private funding would highlight Kansas State’s new interdisciplinary approach to attracting students, building a workforce, supporting the economy, expanding next-generation research and working closer with private industry. Kansas State raised more than $82 million in private donations to qualify for the maximum 3:1 match from the state of $25 million.

A supplemental $25 million appropriation from state lawmakers brought to $125 million the total available for development of a new Global Center for Food and Grain Innovation, Agronomy Research Center, Agronomy Innovation Center and Livestock Competition Arena. The project, part demolition and part construction, was expected to start this summer and be wrapped up in late 2026.

“It’s just amazing how the industry stepped up to be able to support this effort,” Linton said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “It’s all about bringing different disciplines together to be able to solve the grand global challenges of agriculture. Let’s take water as an example. You need to have agronomists. You need to have soil scientists. You need to have geologists. You might need to have plant scientists. All of these different disciplines can’t solve the challenges alone.”


The land-grant heritage

Linton is intent on bringing new focus to Kansas State’s status as the nation’s first operational land-grant university — a distinction held since 1863. The core function of a land-grant university has been to use research-based information to improve the quality of life for all Kansans, he said. That’s often recognized by Kansas State’s operation of the agricultural extension service.

It’s the university for the people, for the people of the state,” the president said. “What makes us different from any other university here in Kansas, is that we’re present every single day improving lives and changing communities in all 105 counties.”

Kansas State’s goal for promoting prosperity in Kansas includes creation of 3,000 jobs and addition of $3 billion to the state’s economy.

Linton was named the 15th president of Kansas State in December 2021, and displayed his new purple socks during the initial news conference. He was agriculture dean at N.C. State from 2012 to 2022, food science department chairman at Ohio State university from 2011 to 2012 and a food science professor at Purdue University from 1994 to 2011. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in food science and a doctorate in food science from Virginia Tech University.

He began his presidential duties in Manhattan in February 2022, and has made his presence felt by visiting dozens of counties during the past year.

“It’s about celebrating the partnerships that we already have in place,” Linton said. “It’s about thinking about new partnerships that could be created. And, it’s also about selling the amazing student experience that we have at Kansas State to prospective parents and students that may want to go into higher education. Ninety-five percent of success in higher education is building relationships and establishing trust.”


Kansas State University president Richard Linton, a true believer in the land-grant mission of public universities, said a cadre of new campus buildings should expand relationships with students, researchers and businesses in the state. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Kansas State University president Richard Linton, a true believer in the land-grant mission of U.S. universities, said a cluster of new campus academic and research buildings should serve to improve the quality of life for Kansans across the state. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Thinking differently

Linton said it was no secret Kansas State’s enrollment slid from more than 24,000 in 2014 to less than 20,000 last fall, and stabilizing and expanding student enrollment remained one of his top administrative priorities.

“Declining enrollment is a big issue and challenge for all land-grants. And, at Kansas State, it’s been our biggest challenge over the last eight years,” he said. “We have to adapt and think differently about changing demographics. And we need to have a balance of in-state students and out-of-state students in order to be able to fulfill the operational needs of the university.”

He said the expanding Hispanic population in southwest Kansas meant Kansas State had to consider how to serve more first-generation college students. For example, he said, some of those college-age people may not want to move to Manhattan as a freshman. They may prefer attending a community college or enrolling in online courses through Kansas State before finishing a degree in Manhattan, he said.

He said Kansas State had to consider whether students preferred a 12-month academic schedule rather than the typical nine-month course schedule requiring four or five years to complete a degree.

“What about the 45-year-old that works for Cargill that would like to elevate their career in data analytics?” he said. “How can we spur research innovation that attracts industry to want to come so that we have more jobs in the state and keep more students in the state relative to extension and engagement?”

He’s also an advocate of experiential learning whether that involved milking dairy cows, processing cheese, engaging in horticulture or any of hundreds of other avenues for personal enrichment.

“If I had my way, and I’m moving in that direction, I would have every single student have some kind of hands-on learning experience, whether it’s an internship, whether it’s an international experience, or whether it’s an undergraduate research program. That hands-on experience helps enable them to understand what they actually want to be in life. It also gives them a great jump up in the job market.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.