College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Alan L. Grant announces retirement
With thoughtful and resolute leadership, Grant has served the university for 15 years and guided the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences into a bright future.
Alan L. Grant, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) since 2009, announced his retirement effective fall 2024.
Grant will have served 15 years as a dean at Virginia Tech and will have spent 44 years of his educational and professional careers at four different land-grant institutions across the United States.
“It takes a team,” Grant said. “I have received an immense amount of support throughout my career. At Virginia Tech, there is a culture of collegiality and collaboration. People want to do great things, and they want to work together.”
Under his leadership as dean, Grant mentored faculty, students, and countless colleagues with great compassion. By fostering an environment of respect, support, and humility, he has built a college-wide team that is both knowledgeable and caring.
“Alan has always aligned his vision for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with the tenets of Virginia Tech’s land grant mission and our commitment to serving students, faculty, and university partners,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “His outstanding leadership not only helped the college advance institutional goals and priorities, it enhanced CALS’ standing as an integral part of the comprehensive educational experience we offer students and a beacon for faculty talent and expertise. I want to thank Alan for his years of distinguished service and leadership as well as his friendship and wish him the best in his retirement.”
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with the College of Natural Resources and Environment, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, and Virginia Cooperative Extension, make up Virginia’s Agency 229. Together, with partners across the commonwealth and around the world, scientists bring innovation and secure agriculture, food, and health through basic and applied research.
Since Grant arrived after serving 19 years at Purdue University, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has experienced substantial growth across the board. In 2009, the college’s undergraduate student enrollment stood at about 2,400 and has since risen to close to 3,000. Graduate student enrollment has risen to about 700. Sponsored research funding has increased from less than $40 million to nearly $75 million annually. During his tenure, the college raised more than $100 million in philanthropic support.
Grant was engaged in the university’s largest grant to date, an $80 million grant awarded to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and funded in 2023 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funding will be used to pilot a program that will research climate-smart practices and pay producers to implement climate-smart practices on farms of all sizes and commodities.
Grant was also instrumental in launching the CALS Global office, expanding the college’s impact beyond the commonwealth and showcasing the university as a global leader and influencer of innovative and effective agricultural practices.
Grant oversaw the formation of the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture, a bold, transdisciplinary initiative designed to drive innovation and advance agriculture and food systems. The list of faculty affiliated with the center has grown to more than 150 researchers from across the university.
“Alan never lost sight of the vital role that College of Agriculture of Life Sciences plays in a land-grant institution,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “His leadership not only helped the college cement its role as a foundational bedrock of Virginia Tech, but also set a course for its increasingly important role as we look to the next 150 years. We owe a debt to Alan and thank him for his leadership — the impact of which will resonate for years.”
Agriculture and life sciences, at home and beyond
Across Virginia, Grant championed funding to update facilities and equipment at the university’s 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. There, faculty work together with Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists to develop best practices and technologies to assist growers. Developing and sharing methods to serve and better the lives of others is paramount to the mission of land-grant universities, Grant said, and a big reason he has been a part of these institutions for decades.
As an integral part of both Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, Extension works in communities across the commonwealth to share knowledge, support businesses and implement research that advances the well-being of all Virginians.
Today, Extension also operates out of 107 local offices, 11 research and extension centers, and six 4-H centers across the commonwealth. Agents, specialists, and volunteers work to assist businesses, educate youth and adults, and guide responsible resource management.
“Land-grant universities like Virginia Tech are making positive impacts on communities and businesses, in urban communities and rural communities, and not just in Virginia – well beyond the state lines,” Grant said. “To me, a land-grant institution is all about serving the needs of others and working with communities and businesses to help them succeed.”
Virginia, Grant said, is well-positioned to meet the challenges of the continuously changing agricultural and life science industry, thanks in part to the work of those in Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and the university’s partnering land-grant institution, Virginia State University.
And, no doubt, thanks to Grant’s dedication to and appreciation for agriculture and the life sciences.
As a land-grant university, Virginia Tech works in partnership with federal, state, and local government stakeholders and industry to meet evolving agricultural needs in Virginia and around the world.
Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, which has an economic impact of $82.3 billion annually. When combined with forestry, these two industries contribute $105 billion to the state economy and provide more than 490,000 jobs. Virginia Tech, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, and Virginia Cooperative Extension offices are critical in supporting Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries.
“Since becoming dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dr. Grant has been an innovative leader and strong proponent for enhancing and strengthening Virginia’s agricultural industry,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr. “Under his leadership, Virginia Tech has been a national leader in performing new, cutting-edge research, while positively impacting Extension and supporting effective innovations and discoveries in academic programing.”
Nationally, Grant has served on numerous boards and committees with numerous government agencies and organizations, including the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence, of which he is a founding board of directors member.
At Virginia Tech and at affiliated locations, he oversaw construction of state-of-art facilities — including, in Blacksburg, new equine and teaching facilities on Plantation Road and new dairy, swine, and beef research complexes at Kentland Farm as well as the $53.7 million Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building I — in addition to renovations to existing infrastructure. Since Grant came to Virginia Tech, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has added close to a half million square feet of new infrastructure to campus and affiliated locations.
He is a frequent face at university events, especially those organized for students. His positive presence is always appreciated, said Susan Sumner, associate dean and director of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“Students love meeting him,” Sumner said. “He is their true champion – always smiling and encouraging.”
Grant often speaks of the “CALS culture,” one of collaboration, hard work, and service that is shared among faculty, staff, and students in the college and the entire university.
“I think it’s ingrained here, and I’m happy that we’ve been able to preserve that spirit over the past 150-plus years as an institution,” Grant said.
Internally, a major undertaking of Grant’s – and one of his proudest accomplishments – has been the integration of faculty, students, research, and Extension to create a cohesive working and learning environment.
“I can state with great confidence that Dr. Alan Grant is one of the hardest working, most even-keeled, honest, committed academicians to ever step foot on a university campus,” said David Gerrard, director of the School of Animal Sciences and longtime colleague of Grant. “His loyalty to this university and the spirit of the land-grant mission is unparalleled.”
To his colleagues and friends – near and far – Grant epitomizes what a land-grant university should be, what leaders aspire to be, and what Virginia Tech’s motto is: Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
Grant earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science at Cornell University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in animal science at Michigan State University. He served 19 years at Purdue University in both faculty and administrative roles, including as department head of animal sciences. Grant’s research expertise involves the identification and characterization of cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the growth and development of livestock.
Grant will remain in his role until fall 2024, during which time a search will be held to find a new dean to fill his very big shoes.