STILLWATER — 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 a student and faculty member with the Cowboys.
Westerman is set to retire on Jan. 10 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 thinks his 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,” Hampton said.
Westerman has served as assistant vice president of agricultural programs for the 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.
“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, division interim vice president, dean and director.
Westerman joined the OSU faculty as a member of the department of agronomy in 1976 and was named department head in 1991, a post he held through its reorganization into the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, before his eventual promotion to Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station 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.
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 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 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 with each new significant scientific discovery or advance in technology.
“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 said.
Prior to joining the OSU faculty, Westerman served on the faculty of the University of Arizona.
He earned a bachelor's degree and a master of science from OSU. He earned a 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.
Donald Stotts is a communications specialist for OSU.