BATON ROUGE, La. – For the past 46 years, LSU College of Agriculture Dean Ken Koonce has been associated with the university system. On Oct. 7, he will retire and open the next chapter of his life.
Through his years in various positions at LSU, Koonce has seen a lot of change. To get an idea of how long 46 years really is, a glance back at the price of various items gives a clue.
The year was 1967. A year where the average cost of a new house was $14,250. The average yearly income was $7,300. In that year, monthly rent averaged $125. A gallon of gasoline was 33 cents. In that year the average cost of a new car was $2,700; the price of a movie ticket was $1.25 and the minimum wage was $1.40.
Much has changed since Koonce came to LSU.
Koonce said his first job at the university was as a professor in experimental statistics. From there he began his climb up the administration ladder in the LSU AgCenter and the College of Agriculture.
“From 1989-1997, I was department head in experimental statistics, providing statistical support for experiment station research people,” he said.
In the AgCenter, Koonce was assistant director for intellectual property, external funding, grants and contracts.
Koonce said one of his most memorable events in that position came in the early 90s, when he was involved in the development of Clearfield rice. The variety was developed as the main weapon against red rice, which is a nuisance weed in the rice-growing regions of Louisiana.
“This was a big deal because rice farmers were struggling to control this weed,” Koonce said. “This weed is said to be able to stay in the soil for over 100 years without germinating. But once you plant rice, then here it comes.”
Koonce said he remembers in 1972 when the AgCenter was separated from the College of Agriculture. Even as separate entities, Koonce said, there has always been a close working relationship between the college and the AgCenter.
Koonce supports the decision to combine the college and the AgCenter under the same administrative structure with LSU AgCenter chancellor Bill Richardson becoming LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the college.
“Bill Richardson was dean before me, so he has sat right here in this office,” Koonce said. “He knows the issues we’re faced with here. And he knows research and extension.”
One area Koonce said he’s most excited about having been a part of during his tenure is the undergraduate research programs. They allow students to get their initial experience in completing a research project during their undergraduate years.
Koonce also said he’s happy to see the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) student organization again active on campus this semester.
“This is an organization that helps students to build networks, but it also helps to increase diverse populations in our programs,” he said.
Koonce said he is retiring as dean on Oct. 7, but he will continue to work on a grant-funded analytics project with the E. J. Ourso School of Business, where students work on a project full-time and can receive their master’s degree in one year.
Richardson said he congratulates Koonce for the great work he has done as dean over the years and wishes him nothing but the best as he transitions to retirement.
“I’m really looking forward to working more closely with the students,” Richardson said.
“One of the first things we want to do is make sure that the College of Agriculture is up-to-date with the latest technology,” Richardson said. “Things have changed in the last two decades, and we’ve got to stay out in front of it and not be behind it.”
He said the consolidation of the College of Agriculture and the AgCenter will create incredible opportunities for the students.
“There will be a lot more opportunities for internships with the agriculture community and a lot more exposure with agriculture in general. So I’d say it’s a real positive,” Richardson said.Johnny Morgan