For Sreekala Bajwa, NDSU professor of ag engineering, and chair of agricultural and biosystems engineering, the Montana job offer was an opportunity she could not pass up.
“I was asked to apply for the job of Montana State University vice-president of agriculture,” Bajwa said.
That in itself is a huge honor. MSU considers the job to be one of its top agricultural positions at the university.
Bajwa travelled to Montana, met scientists, producers and others at MSU Ag Experiment Station, at the college and those on the commodity boards.
“It was a very good experience – everyone was so welcoming. I met a good group of faculty members, really good students, good staff. The people you work with are so important,” Bajwa said. She agreed to be considered for the position.
In the end, after a national search, Bajwa was selected. She will start as vice-president on Jan. 14.
“I was very excited even though I am leaving a great job,” she said.
At NDSU’s ag and biosystems engineering department, Bajwa was instrumental, along with her team, in creating a new major and minor at the university in precision ag. She has been chair of the department since 2012.
“We have already hired one faculty member and are in the process of hiring another,” she said. “Of all the work we did at NDSU, I am most proud of the precision ag major we developed. It was a great accomplishment for all of us.”
Bajwa would have like to have been around to see the new classes start in precision ag in January.
The class will be directing the new Smart Ranch concept at NDSU’s Dickinson Research Extension Center. There may be GPS collars placed on cattle, cameras placed in calving barns, drones flying in the air to find cattle, and soils evaluated in new computer software, along with using all kinds of precision ag equipment on the ranch.
“We worked a long time to create this new major and it is a sign that NDSU is addressing the future of agriculture for its students,” Bajwa said.
Her areas of expertise at NDSU included remote sensing, precision agriculture, unmanned aerial systems and bio-composites, among other special qualifications.
However, she feels the position in Montana is a bigger draw for her, and will be a new challenge.
Bajwa will lead a teaching, education and research network across Montana, including seven research centers, five academic departments and five Bozeman-based campus farms and ranches.
She will be overseeing not just new crop varieties and cropping systems, but livestock systems in the university and research centers.
“I feel like I am getting into this great position at MSU and I want to help advance the mission of the land-grant university, and help with all the education and outreach programs,” she said.
The current MSU vice-president of ag, Charles Boyer, who will retire in December, said, “Our faculty scientists have deep experience, which provides the foundation for developing varieties that meet challenges and desires not only of Montana grain growers, but to the world market as well. Our university breeding program is vital to the state’s highest-grossing industry, and we’re committed to working with and alongside our producers for a robust grain industry in Montana.”
Boyer went on to say he enjoyed working at MSU.
“What makes the College of Agriculture so successful, in part, is the meaningful relationship between our alumni and Montana’s agricultural community and our programs, research and students,” he said.
Bajwa will oversee the Montana Ag Experiment Station that includes the MSU breeding program, which develops varieties specifically bred for Montana’s climate and pests. At the same time, the cultivars are developed to be high yielding, and have exceptional baking quality, so they perform well for Montana’s growers and customers.
“Montana has a good crop breeding program for Montana producers and is very strong in livestock, with strong genetics,” Bajwa said.
Bajwa was previously named a fellow of American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the organization’s highest honor.
“It was a great honor to be selected by my peers to be a fellow of the ASABE,” Bajwa said.
Bajwa earned her bachelor’s degree at Kerala Agricultural University at Tavanur, India, and her master’s degree at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, India. She received her doctorate in agricultural engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Waded Cruzado, MSU president, said, “Our search produced many strong candidates, but in Dr. Bajwa, we have found someone extremely qualified to lead agriculture at Montana State into its future through her pioneering vision for new applications in agriculture and natural resources.”
Bajwa was chosen after a national search conducted by a six-person committee, chaired by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Bob Mokwa.