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UBC, Faculty of Land and Food Systems: A place to grow

Returning to familiar ground, Dr. Rickey Yada takes on his new role of Dean of the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems with a passion equal to that of the most focused student. An alum of the Faculty—BSc. (Agriculture), MSc. and PhD (food science)— Yada returned to UBC in October 2014 after spending thirty years as a food scientist at the University of Guelph.

“Researchers in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems are working on issues that are high in the minds of the public—everything from climate change and food security to the relationship between food, nutrition, diet and health,” says Yada. “It’s exciting to be part of that.”

The Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS) is a leader in integrated research and education that addresses global issues surrounding health and sustainable land and food systems. It’s home to several important research facilities, including the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre (www.dairycentre.landfood.ubc.ca) in Agassiz, BC, as well as the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) at UBC Farm, a unique research centre that aims to understand and fundamentally transform local and global food systems towards a more sustainable, food secure future (www.ubcfarm.ubc.ca).

LFS also offers a diverse range of undergraduate and graduate programs in areas such as food, nutrition and health, animal welfare and agriculture economics.

“Our programs use a uniquely integrated approach that unites scientific knowledge and interdisciplinary studies,” Yada says. “Experiential learning is a core philosophy. We give our students the opportunity to develop their skills, expand their horizons and use their knowledge to enhance their community. As a result, they graduate from their programs job-ready.”

Although Dean Yada’s research focus is food science, much of his experience is in multidisciplinary settings. He’s held various high profile positions throughout his career, including Professor of Food Science and Canada Research Chair in Food Protein Structure, Scientific Director of the Food Institute, and President of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST).

Now that he’s taken on the role of Dean of LFS, Yada plans to focus on creative ways to build and leverage operations. Partnerships and synergies between academic researchers, business minds and government officials are necessary to the operation of a funding body and he has served his time on enough boards to know that evidentiary milestones are crucial to success and fiduciary responsibility. Metrics of success fund programs, and Yada wants to attract students, faculty and staff who will ensure success.

“I don’t believe in hiring commodity specialists; I believe in hiring the best scientists and researchers, because if you’re good enough, you’re able to be adaptable and flexible,” he explains. “What I’ve seen in my career as a scientist is the notion of the movement away from islands of knowledge, to a cluster of islands working together toward a goal. No one has all of the expertise.”

Yada will also look at how the Faculty is utilizing its resources and find innovative ways to generate excitement about trans-Canadian projects and networking building opportunities. He sees the future of LFS as a keen investment and he encourages students entering the Faculty to “Come learn, contribute and be part of socially and economically relevant issues to the world.”

New students considering which university would be best for them may be swayed by an institution’s commitment to research and helping them develop their own business, rather than following the traditional academic route. The entrepreneurial spirit abounds, and the ability to shift gears and explore the possible rather than stay on the proven track is what differentiates the scientist from the research adventurer.

Dean Yada admires the spirit of those willing to reach out and try new things. “I like out-of-the-box thinkers,” he says, adding that he was part of a travelling workshop that toured Canadian cities extolling the virtues of entrepreneurialism to future students. He understands that the crossovers between entrepreneur and academic create a hybrid mind perfect for a future in agricultural research. Farmers must be abreast of the latest in developments and technologies while creating sustainable businesses and having their finger on the pulse of world markets. They must be willing to explore and be creative and brave.

Yada has a simple philosophy: “Don’t be fearful of failure.” Taking chances and reaching for the unknown is how we create a world of endless possibility. “If you’re standing at the edge of the cliff, you’re too far away; take the leap. Just make sure it’s a calculated leap.”

He spoke enthusiastically about his idea to spearhead an industry and community advisory board at UBC. He would invite speakers to share their stories and help build a network of like minds. Inspiring future scientists to work like entrepreneurs may open more doors for them.

“We are trying to foster cooperation and communication,” he says. “This faculty has the ability to reach out to others on campus to work on relevant issues based on good fundamental science.” It’s about making connections—within the faculty, within the campus, between schools, and around the world.

The future state of our food systems could be considered to be the business gauge for success, and we need to think about what we are willing to invest for that success to be realized. Time, money, education and careers—all necessary expenditures to ensure a return more than the investments. The return we want is a healthier planet inhabited by healthy people, animals and plants. The UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems is a good place to plant your feet and reach out to the world.

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