For Dean Kopsell, newly appointed associate dean for academic affairs for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), moving to Athens is like coming home.
Currently professor and chair of the Environmental Horticulture Department at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Kopsell, a two-time UGA alumnus and devoted Georgia Bulldog fan, is eager to return to the Classic City and excited about the opportunity to serve his alma mater and the students of CAES.
“I was on campus from 1993 to 1999 getting my master’s degree and Ph.D. in horticulture — it was a really great time to be in Athens. There were certainly a lot of opportunities to have fun while getting a great education at UGA,” Kopsell said. “The atmosphere in Athens was unmatched and the school, professors and horticulture department were excellent.”
A native of northern Illinois and the son of a nursery owner, Kopsell grew up surrounded by the horticulture industry. After many years of working all aspects of the nursery, Kopsell developed an interest in the business side of agriculture, earning a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from Illinois State University in 1992 and returning to work with his father at the nursery. Eventually he began to consider pursuing an advanced degree in horticultural science.
“I did my undergrad at a non-land-grant university that didn’t have any graduate school options for me, but there was one faculty member in my department who had connections to UGA and encouraged me to apply,” Kopsell said. “My identical twin brother and I were both planning to go back to school and started applying for assistantships together at UGA. Eventually we both accepted assistantships working with onion research.”
During his six years as a UGA graduate student, Kopsell began to see the value of expanding his understanding of horticulture, taking his knowledge of landscaping and ornamental horticulture and applying it in new ways as he studied onions and other row crops around Georgia. This exposure to the land-grant mission, one that emphasizes cooperation between excellent teaching, research and Extension, has influenced him throughout his career and will inform his work as associate dean for academic affairs at CAES.
“The most unique thing about our work in land-grant universities is the focus on the three missions — they are not silos. They all work together to create a well-rounded student and a stronger agricultural system,” Kopsell said.
Considering his goals for the future at CAES, Kopsell cited his desire to introduce students to the vast array of career opportunities in agricultural and environmental sciences. Specifically, he wants students to understand all three mission areas when choosing a career in agriculture and the many ways they can make an impact.
“One area where we’re missing opportunities at land-grant universities is encouraging students to consider a future in Extension. We pursue worthy goals such as increased enrollment, greater experiential learning and other opportunities for growth in CAES academics, but I want to make sure we’re helping students see how all three of our mission areas are integrated and how our ability to do those well impacts the citizens of our states,” Kopsell says. “We’re trying to find ways to help them find jobs and have meaningful opportunities, and Extension is a great tool to support teaching programs.”
Kopsell will assume leadership of the Office of Academic Affairs on Feb. 1, 2024, taking the reins of an office which handles all scholarships, experiential learning, student advising, internal and external recruitment, and academic programing for CAES.
As students consider expanding options in agricultural and environmental sciences, programming for students is continually shifting to address increased emphasis on sustainability, the growing role of technology in agricultural production, and an expansion of career opportunities available in the industry — all areas Kopsell believes will motivate students to consider a future in agriculture.
“Students are always evolving and changing, and our ability to meet their needs is critical to our success,” he said. “The college is in a unique position to help students make connections, now and after they graduate. Teaching is really where it all starts.”
To learn more about the breadth of services and programming available through the Office of Academic Affairs, visit caes.uga.edu/students.