Oklahoma State ag scientist, administrator to retire
Oklahoma State University's Robert L. Westerman has seen the state and its agricultural industries change and then change again in his 40 years as first a student and then a faculty member with the Cowboys.
Westerman is set to ride off into the sunset on Jan. 10, 2013, retiring after a career of service and scientific discovery that has helped strengthen and diversify Oklahoma's agricultural industries and the businesses and communities that rely on them.
"I know of no other person who has been more loyal, not only to the university, but to all of Oklahoma agriculture; he has a true understanding of what it takes to apply research to the field," said Joe Neal Hampton, president and chief operating officer of the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association, Oklahoma Agribusiness Retailers Association and Oklahoma Seed Trade Association.
Hampton said Westerman has experienced many successes, but believes his most crowning achievement was his "tireless effort" in 1989 to get the Oklahoma Legislature to establish a tonnage fee on fertilizer sold in Oklahoma for the purpose of enhancing fertilizer-groundwater research at OSU.
"Thanks to Dr. Westerman's vision, the fee now generates almost a quarter million dollars annually to develop meaningful and applied research that for years has paid dividends to producers and related agribusiness, in terms of both the state economy and its environmental stewardship," he said.
Westerman has served as assistant vice president of agricultural programs with the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources since 2006.
He served first as assistant director and then as interim associate director of the statewide Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system, one of the cornerstones of the university's state and federally mandated land-grant mission, from 2001-2005 and 2005-2006, respectively.
"Our statewide Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system is responsible for approximately 34 percent of the research conducted at the university, and Dr. Westerman has long played a significant role in its ability to provide science-based solutions to issues and concerns of importance to Oklahoma and the region, both as a researcher and an administrator," said Mike Woods, DASNR interim vice president, dean and director.
Westerman joined the Oklahoma State faculty as a member of the department of agronomy in 1976, eventually being named department head in 1991, a post he held through its reorganization into the current OSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, before his eventual promotion to OAES administration in 2001.
"His direction and guidance to me as a mentor and the wheat industry as a whole will assuredly be missed," said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. "The OWC board and staff wish him an extraordinary retirement. We will certainly miss his organization and leadership."
Westerman--whose career has encompassed all three aspects of the land-grant mission of teaching, research and extension work--points out that one of the most constant changes over the years has been the increasingly intertwined aspect of different scientific and academic disciplines.
"We're very proud of the division's record in providing cutting-edge advances in what people think of as traditional agricultural endeavors," he said. "But we, like a number of our agricultural peers, have become equally involved in fields such as medicine, energy, homeland security, forensics and natural resource management."
The old cliche about it being a "brave new world" has always held true for OSU's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Westerman said, with the "world" literally changing--regularly and often frequently--with each new significant scientific discovery or advance in technology.
"Look at what has come out of our research, from the world's first anaplasmosis vaccine to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather analysis system, to cutting-edge technology such as GreenSeeker that essentially allows every two-foot-square of crops to be managed as its own individual farm relative to fertilizer application," he said. "One of the things of which I'm most proud is that we in the division are able to make a positive difference in the lives of people, their families and their communities."
Westerman has received a number of university, industry and national honors over the course of his career, including being selected to the rank of Fellow--the highest honor awarded--in both the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy.
Prior to joining the OSU faculty, Westerman served on the faculty of the University of Arizona from 1969-1976.
Before becoming a student at OSU, Westerman graduated from Snyder High School at Snyder in southwestern Oklahoma. After graduating, he attended Cameron University at Lawton. His family farmed north of Snyder.
Westerman earned his Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural education and his Master of Science degree in soils from Oklahoma State in 1961 and 1963, respectively. He earned his doctoral degree in soil fertility-chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1969, following a three-year stint in the U.S. Army as a platoon leader from 1963-1966.