Dr. Erasmus Okine is settling into his new role as vice-president (research).
One of the country’s top agricultural researchers and a proven cultivator of undergraduate and graduate student research, Okine joined the U of L from the University of Alberta, where he served most recently in a dual capacity as the associate vice-president (research) and associate vice-president (academic).
A native of Ghana, Okine completed his Bachelor of Science (1978) and Master of Science (1981) in Animal Science at the University of Ghana in Legon, followed by his PhD (1990) in Animal Nutrition and Digestive Physiology at the University of Alberta.
Okine has received a number of awards over the course of his career, including the Alberta Premier’s Silver Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research (2000), being named a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Animal Science (2009) and Fellow of the International College of Nutrition (2006).
We caught up with him, and presented these 5 Questions.
What attracted you to the VPR position at the U of L?
I have always maintained that the success of any institution should be measured against how well we have enhanced the well-being of our fellow colleagues within our walls. For the U of L, in particular, I believe we have the ingredients for a productive R&D and business and social innovation system for the province because of a sharp focus in four areas, namely:
1) The skills and interest of the people of the academy, students, and staff;
2) The quality of its programs in teaching and integrated research;
3) Attracting and strong stewardship of the resources it gathers;
4) The stellar engagement of the community and the partners it serves.
The maintenance of a sharp focus in these areas necessitates visionary leadership and it was the leadership at the U of L that attracted me to the U of L.
Your term began July 1. What have you been most impressed with over the last few months?
I have been struck by how welcoming everyone has been towards Dr. Christine Murray and I, and I have been deeply impressed by the outstanding gains made in all areas of research at the U of L over the past few years.
I envision the U of L as gaining further renown as an institution for its excellence in teaching, research and service. Our research will provide innovation and policies that serve as a foundation for a competitive and sustainable prosperity within Alberta and in a global context. I am awed by the willingness of my colleagues to engage in this conversation about “how do you achieve this new level of success”? “How do we transcend individual Faculties and orient ourselves more fully as a Destination University and to develop new approaches to research questions?”
Let's talk about the future of research at the U of L. What are your first priorities?
Our research goal is clearly articulated in our research plan and that is to fulfill our role as a comprehensive research institution and perform and be recognized such that we are amongst Canada’s most influential universities. The efforts of senior administrators, especially President Mike Mahon and Provost and VP (Academic) Andy Hakin and the rest of the upper administration, have provided stability and support for the talented researchers here. In the future, we will have to continue our upward trajectory in the research landscape including providing solutions and knowledge that inform policies and serve as the backbone for the development of sustainable prosperity within Alberta, Canada and the world.
Indeed, within the context of transdisciplinary research, transcending individual Faculties, we need to ensure that we build platforms of knowledge translation in all aspects of research including social innovation, and building and supporting internal and external linkages that differentiate us from other universities.
Overall, our priorities include the promotion of excellence, investing our resources strategically, promoting the translation of our research output, and providing our graduate and undergraduate students with high quality research and leadership experiences. To achieve these objectives, my first set of priorities includes the creation of an office of ORIS that is open, relevant, responsive and performing at a very high level of professionalism to ensure the success of our research enterprise. Indeed, our office will continue to provide effective co-ordination of our transdisciplinary themes, provide effective collaboration, within and across faculties, create new partnerships and opportunities with our industry partners, communities, provincially, nationally and internationally. The achievements of objectives is predicated on relationships and thus, I have begun developing relationships with our colleagues and partners within and outside campus.
Why is graduate student growth such an important aspect of not only evolving as a comprehensive university, but also complementing the undergraduates experience at the U of L?
Graduate students are the backbone of research and enhance the academic credibility of any institution and particularly in a comprehensive university. By Increasing the number and quality of graduate students, we become stronger and help build the intellectual “infrastructure” for the future. A comprehensive graduate program infused with professional development will ensure that our students have the ability to perform very well in a variety of settings and circumstances and reflect the values and culture of our institution. Overall, growth in the graduate students and PDFs is instrumental as the platform of a productive R&D, business and social innovation. Indeed, we should pride ourselves as an intensive research institution as our faculty members bring their research into the classroom and actively engage students in research opportunities.
For the future we will continue to build on the strengths of the University and increase our excellent transdisciplinary graduate programs and undergraduate programs. Achieving the aims of Destination 1 and 2 will surely transform this university and will equip our students with the skills of resilience, responsiveness and adaptability to enable them to keep pace with an evolving labour market, as well as create new innovative companies and social programs that support our community, the province, the country and the world.
What inspires you as a researcher?
I am inspired by the interesting questions generated by my colleagues, collaborators and graduate students. The development of research skills, leadership and their work to provide solutions on the research and innovation continuum keeps me connected to the research process.
My research interests focus on topics relevant to Canadian agriculture, a key research priority at the U of L. For over 25 years my research group has built effective collaboration and transdisciplinary partnerships with colleagues at the provincial and national levels. With these partnerships we have endeavoured to help provide the new research expertise and knowledge aimed at enhancing the sustainability and competitiveness of the beef cattle industry through improvement in production efficiency and/or increased value of products and environmental sustainability. I have authored or co-authored over 140 referred papers, conference proceedings and book chapters and supervised and co-supervised 14 PhD and 18 MSc students since 1994. I currently have one PhD and one MSc student in my lab. This highly trained ever-changing team has produced research data which allow for the selection of cattle with lower methane and manure production without a loss in productivity. We have also shown results that indicate that we can increase beneficial fatty acids in beef and milk products which promote human health.
I am also inspired by translational research, connected directly to the community. As an example, I was the lead in the development of CowBytes, a nutrition/rational balancing and decision making tool for cattle producers and a teaching tool for agricultural colleges and universities with an estimated value of about $2.5 million in savings per year to producers/users. The reason I am very proud of “CowBytes” is that the translation of our research results into a decision making tool was made possible by the foundational research funding by NSERC and the collaborations across Canada, Australia and the USA. In my mind, research pays back in multiple ways, more than we can calculate by simple input/output ratios.
For more on research at the U of L, visit ulethbridge.ca/research