Dr. James Kells named professor emeritus.

Honoring Dr James J. Kells, Professor Emeritus, PSM.

You may have noticed that, recently, Dr. James J. Kells shifted to Professor Emeritus, but continued roles as Assistant Director, AgBioResearch and Coordinator, Project GREEEN. Here we take a moment to reflect on his 40+ years of service to PSM, to MSU, and what the future in CANR holds.

Jim was raised on a family farm in Michigan and always knew he would study agriculture science. “One of my first courses at MSU was with Dr. Taylor Johnston, who made the class particularly fun and I knew I was in the right place,” Kells says.

“I also had the good fortune to take a soil fertility course with Dr. John Shickluna, and he offered me an opportunity to be a teaching assistant for a soil chemical analysis course which gave me a chance to try teaching and I found that I really enjoyed being in the intersection of learning and science.”

Kells also names Dr William Meggitt as a significant influence. “Bill helped me identify a good graduate program at the University of Kentucky, where I completed my Master’s degree”. Kells then learned that a job opened at MSU as an Institute of Agricultural Technology Instructor and was encouraged to apply.  “I also worked on my PhD with Dr. Meggitt, and with great timing and luck, an ideal faculty position opened at the time I was ready.”

In 1982 Kells began working in a position that started as research and extension and then quickly expanded into teaching an undergraduate weed science course.

“I feel especially fortunate to have secured a faculty position in my home state,” he says. As part of the faculty, Kells mentored 25 PhDs and taught several hundred undergrads. “I really enjoyed advising students –Instructors can have huge impacts on students. It may be difficult to measure the impact, but the interactions with the students is the most rewarding part of a faculty position.”

In 2005 Kells was Associate Chair of the Crop and Soil Sciences Dept and Dr. Doug Buhler was the Chair. When Dr. Buhler moved to AgBioResearch Kells became Acting Chair and then was selected as Chair, where he served for 14 years.

As Chair, Kells had a key role in the integration of departments, forming the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. “It was one of the most challenging but worthwhile projects of my career, and I am very pleased that it was so successful,” Kells says.

Currently, Kells can be found in Morrill Hall of Agriculture, serving part time as Assistant Director of AgBioResearch, in which he oversees all the Research and Extension Centers, and part time as Coordinator of Project GREEEN, in which he supports the annual competitive grants program. “This year we are increasing the annual funding limit to $50K for research proposals,” Kells says. “We support applied and basic research along with extension projects and we are very responsive to industry priorities– we try to address immediate and long-term needs of plant agriculture in Michigan.”

For new students coming in, to new faculty joining the department, to seasoned faculty seeking funding to further their research goals, Kells has a bit of advice: “Find your passion—find what excites you and focus on it. Become an expert. Stay focused and don’t be discouraged by challenges and difficulties. As well, Kells recommends “Everyone needs a circle of confidants, and mentors. I have always benefitted by having someone I could go to and connect with.”

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