The Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors has appointed Gary Thompson as executive director. Thompson works at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station in Fayetteville.
This is the first time the SAAESD executive director has been posted in Arkansas. The Agricultural Experiment Station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
The SAAESD is the association of experiment station directors from 13 southern states plus the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is one of five regional affiliates of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
As executive director, Thompson said his job now includes facilitating research collaborations among the regional member institutions. He also helps establish collaborations nationally with members of the other four regions, private research organizations and government research bodies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service.
“Experiment station directors take a local look at research needs within their respective states,” Thompson said. “I take a regional look, and a national one, and help state experiment station researchers build relationships and collaborations that benefit a broader public,” Thompson said.
He also helps coordinate research with extension and academic programs that bring scientific results into education and practical application. Thompson helps keep experiment station directors up to date on emerging issues that can be addressed by research, and federal law and policies that have an impact on research. He will manage the SAAESD office, supervise the organization’s website and represent the regional organization to APLU, other organizations and government policy and decision makers.
Before joining SAAESD, Thompson was associate dean for research and graduate education at Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station. Before that, he was a professor and head of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Oklahoma State University.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Thompson and his wife to Fayetteville and to host his office within the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station,” said Jean-François Meullenet, senior associate vice president for agriculture-research and director of the experiment station. “It will allow our administration to interact with Gary more directly and I am sure that his experience as a former director of the Penn State Agricultural Experiment Station will be invaluable to me. We all look forward to working with him and facilitating his role as the executive director of SAAESD.
Meullenet is chair-elect of the SAAESD Executive Committee. He begins a two-year term as chair of the committee in 2021.
“It’s a great benefit to have Dr. Thompson right next door,” said Nathan McKinney, associate vice president for agriculture and assistant director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. “It will be very helpful to be able to walk over and have a conversation about issues or collaborations that benefit Arkansas research.”
Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, and a doctorate at Purdue University. He served a post-doctoral research appointment in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona.
His research career specialized in the molecular biology of plant vascular systems and the genomics of plant-insect interactions.
Thompson worked as a research and teaching assistant professor, and later associate professor, at the University of Arizona. After that, Thompson was a professor in the department of applied sciences at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an adjunct research professor for the U of A System Division of Agriculture.
During his time in Arkansas, he served two years as a program director for the division of integrative organismal systems in the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation. He also served a year as a visiting research professor in the department of plant biology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Thompson left Arkansas for his positions at Oklahoma State and, later, Penn State, before returning to Arkansas for his new post with SAAESD.