Dr. Gerald Arkin is a respected scientist in the fields of agroecosystems modeling and agricultural meteorology, Dr. Gerald Arkin became assistant dean of the University of Georgia Griffin Campus in June of 1987. He came to the campus from the Blackland Research Center in Temple, Texas where he had served as resident director for the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station since December of 1983. Prior to this, Dr. Arkin served as a research agricultural engineer at the Blackland Center. He earned his B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Cornell University, his M.S. in Agricultural Engineering from The University of Georgia and his Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois. Throughout his career as an agricultural scientist, Dr. Arkin has authored or co-authored numerous scientific publications. He fostered the creation of many management-oriented crop simulation models that are used worldwide.
- Dr. Robert Burns is a Senior Lecturer at Georgia State University
Interview with Gerald Arkin
BURNS: So, uh, so I just want to ask some questions about the Griffin campus. I am now working on the past 30 years which of course two thirds of which you know pretty intimately around here.
ARKIN: That which I can recollect.
BURNS: That which you can recollect.
ARKIN: And observe.
BURNS: So Dr. Carly – I am going to jump – I have a bunch of niceties here but I am going to jump into the middle of the thick. Dr. Carly says that when Curtis Jackson came the funding structure for the campus changed; that the funding came through Athens and that there had to be more accountability for where the funding went so that professors were rated on their productivity on a numerical scale, but that perhaps it was a good thing because the easy-going culture of the station changed into this culture where people were actually expected to publish and to prove that they were actually working. You would have stepped in right in the middle of that. Is his model accurate, and the funding was all coming through Athens when you came here, right?
ARKIN: So you said a lot of things in a lead-up to what you are trying to get at so by the time I talk about those other things you’ll remind me what the point of your question was. Dell Carly predates me and Curtis certainly does. I came after Chuck Laughlin who came after Curtis. Chuck was here briefly – a little over a year- and when I came indeed the model was that Curtis had responsibility the faculty budget lines. That’s the case. The issue about accountability and whether or not that’s what Curtis had to do to comply with the university in this new budgeting structure – I don’t know if it was – I never got involved in that. I don’t know Curtis hardly at all. I’ve only met him a couple of times and I think I have given you before an example where Betty Roberts who is now Betty Rowe worked in Ag economics back then and she told me – because when I came she was my administrative secretary, she came to like him and know him very well and said that he was a very, very fine person with a very difficult job to do, and I think I heard the same thing from Berma Corley who had worked with Curtis for a very long time. She too came too like Curtis and respected what he did. I think if not for Curtis Jackson, we would not have the USAID Peanut CRSP here and that program is over 20 years old and back when – and I don’t know the details of this – but I attribute the university’s engagement still in the Peanut CRSP program the result of Curtis’ leadership and at that time it took strong leadership on his part to do this. I cannot imagine if what I have heard is that the peanut industry was not interested in having University of Georgia faculty working to help people working in developing countries learn how to grow peanuts even though it was the furthest thing from anybody’s imagination that they would compete and what they were trying to train them and help them to do was to grow a staple crop so they wouldn’t starve to death.
BURNS: That would be the last thing that the industry would…
ARKIN: The industry was not happy at all with that and I am surprised that the industry didn’t tar and feather him. They probably wanted to and what it showed to me was there was a person with vision, a person with compassion, a person who was willing to be bold and take leadership positions in spite of what everybody else probably told him to do, he brought a program to this campus that I think set the course for the campus for the decades to come, particularly as it relates to diversifying the campus. We have people in academic leadership roles because of Curtis that have ethnic backgrounds from almost every corner of the world. That USAID Peanut CRSP program helped to do that.
BURNS: Helped to do that?
BURNS: And what other things might have helped to do to diversify the staff here because it’s very.
ARKIN: Well I think that’s the number one thing. Curtis was able to bring people from around the world to work here to attract leaders from different parts of the world. We had department heads – Tommy Nokyama was here when I came; Brom Firmrough -their names reflect their ethnicity. So we had people in leadership roles with international backgrounds that prior to Curtis I don’t believe would have happened. So you have to give him an enormous amount of credit and people now talk about globalization and internationalization – we’re talking 30, 40 years ago that this man did that.
BURNS: Dutch Cry (sp?) and I both agree that in the trajectory of the station into the future he was at the originary point of the internationalization of the station so I don’t want to.
ARKIN: It was a major turning point. It’s not to say the the faculty and others here didn’t help to make that happen but he walked the walk. He took the step.
BURNS: He’s always listed as being a defining point in the history of the campus, somehow.
ARKIN: In that way.
BURNS: In talking to retirees, yes.
ARKIN: I think in that way he really was. I believe I’m correct on this also – and it’s hearsay – I can go back in the records and look – but I have heard that Curtis played a signal role in the Man and the Biosphere Program. Think about that. Back when he was the director here the type of programs that we were engaged in on the Griffin campus and had somebody in a leadership role providing the insight and vision and then the leadership for a national program that dealt with how to live in this biosphere in a sustainable manner. To me it’s remarkable. It was another major leap in thinking about the kinds of science that folks ought to be about and not just in Griffin but for the whole country.
BURNS: What departments here were involved in the Man and the Biosphere?
ARKIN: I’m not sure any of us were. The fact was that he was pushing this at a national level – is what was significant. Now if you ask me what we do today and did then – the kinds of work we do in terms of soil conservation, water erosion, carbon sequestration- those are all related to Man and the Biosphere but specifically people think about – well I am going to put somebody in one of these chambers and have them live on their own oxygen and CO2 but that’s not what he had in mind. It was a much broader kind of thinking about the world we live in. So I think this guy was ahead of his time in terms of thinking, and not only that, he articulated that to different communities so he has to be credited with those things. So A, he was a catalyst for change for the campus and I think Dale is right from that perspective. He’s right that people in some sense were uncomfortable with being around him or felt threatened and I guess he had that persona and maybe that in fact came with the territory in those days. The director was jefe and, you know, people shake and shudder from the teeth. And so I think that maybe part of the culture is as well – it was part of the culture of being director an experiment station and he lived that culture but he brought some remarkable things to it and on the flip side, people who got to know him and could see through what was going on valued him as a man and a leader. That’s my assessment.
BURNS: Good. Good, and, um.
ARKIN: And, let me tell more about Curtis in case you don’t get a chance or haven’t talked to him.
BURNS: I will.
ARKIN: So Curtis leaves here and where does he go? He goes to India to help other people – third-world country – developing third-world country and he goes to Hyderabad and he leads a program there and he convinces them to work with them and they -they being ICRISAT – established an outpost laboratory with his pushing in Niger in the poorest of the poorest countries. That center is still there in the center of the Sahel. Curtis Jackson. He leaves Africa and he goes – I don’t know where he went. USAID in education. So the man committed his entire life to helping other people whether it was people in Georgia, whether it was people in developing countries and trying to help people improve the quality of their life. Good guy. Deserves a lot of credit.
BURNS: So when you came here the funding was – you were the Director of this station?
BURNS: Three branch stations?
ARKIN: No. I came here as the-
BURNS: How did this work?
ARKIN: I think I was the Resident Director was the title – God only remembers all that stuff- Resident Director and I had responsibility for the budget here and the academic programs here. The research budgeting and academic programs.
BURNS: And that included the budget for Calhoun and Eatonton.
BURNS: Not at all?
ARKIN: I think that was handled by Chuck Laughlin in Athens.
BURNS: OK. See that was in Athens. And then in terms of your role here, have you remained Resident Director or what time has your – the definition of your role changed? Because you became-
ARKIN: It changed some time during Buchanan’s watch as Dean.
ARKIN: Trying to remember. Assistant Dean. When did I become Assistant Dean? Probably during Buchanan.
BURNS: OK. And you became Assistant Dean and at that time what happened to your duties?
ARKIN: My duties. The department heads became responsible for statewide academic programs and the faculty budget lines.
BURNS: The department heads. Not you, the department heads, largely in Athens?
BURNS: Because the departments are joined here and in Athens, right?
ARKIN: Correct. I was supposed to have budgetary oversight – whatever that means – and report through the associate deans for research, teaching and extension, to the dean, and pretty much, that’s still the structure that’s still in place.
BURNS: OK. Budgetary oversight means you are paying attention to where things are but you don’t have the authority to actually allocate funds?
ARKIN: I am supposed to sit at the table when major decisions are made that affect both program and budget for the campus, the table being the executive administration of the college.
BURNS: OK. And the department heads – I’m – Dr. Carley said that the departments joined and that department heads – people from here have to actually go to Athens to meet with their departments.
ARKIN: Oh, well, what happened in the interim somewhere along the way – and it happened I think before my position got changed from Resident Director to Assistant Dean – was that there was a department head for each discipline on Athens, Tifton and Griffin campuses plus, I think the one in Athens generally was the – department head – what do they call the other one- Chair. Maybe something like that.
BURNS: OK. And then there might be a chair in Athens but see they have a department heads on each campus.
ARKIN: For each discipline. Right. So that changed, and then there was only one department head. That department head was going to be in Athens – is in Athens – and instead – now there are no longer department heads – there are coordinators in most of the departments but not all. So Crop and Soil Sciences now will have a research, extension and instruction coordinator – REI. It has one department head and that department head is in Athens.
BURNS: OK, for the REI’s here? Because I have the little pieces of paper that people listed as REI’s and, what’s that- the Research…
ARKIN: Research, Extension, and Instruction coordinator. There’s one at each campus for a department. One department head on each campus that has the discipline will have an REI coordinator with the exception on this campus, horticulture does not.
BURNS: And funding comes still through Athens through the department heads?
ARKIN: For the academic program.
BURNS: The academic program.
ARKIN: Which means that the faculty budget line and the departmental operating funds. Correct.
BURNS: And what about the research?
ARKIN: I’m sorry, I missed the point. So for Research, Extension and Instruction it comes from Athens through the department head for those areas.
BURNS: Those everything – do you remember what year – I can find what year that change happened. I mean, what I’m thinking of is for the campus when the funding actually went back to Athens away from the director here, because at some point the director here was a very powerful man, apparently.
ARKIN: Well, there are two things. At one point, all the money came here. When this place was established this is where it was done. So money came here. At a point in time, the money for the director of the experiment station – experiment station director moved to Athens and so did the money and the money started to get divvied up between Athens and here and Athens here and Tifton.
BURNS: Has the administration of the branch stations been consistent since you came here in ’87?
ARKIN: No. When I came Laughlin, I believe, had oversight for all of them and those research and education centers which we call them now – at some point during the last 10 years got divided up and I ended up with three of them and the person who has a like position in South Georgia has the rest of them.
BURNS: OK. So in other words you are the overseer of those – you are the director of those branch stations. Their funding does not come from a department head in Athens or anything.
ARKIN: No, that’s correct because they are not academic programs so they don’t report to a department head. It’s not considered statewide programming.
BURNS: Good. That has been a matter of confusion to me from day one and I’ve gotten multiple stories from the actual directors of how they get their money. I’d have to go back and listen to my interview notes but I have them.
ARKIN: I oversee their budget but here’s the truth of it. For Calhoun and Eatonton they generate all of their operating except the salaries there. Blairsville is a bit different but those state budgets still come from the college through here and then go to them. It actually goes directly to them, I just approve it or diddle with it but there is not much diddling.
BURNS: So I’m going to ask you a few more questions. We’ll have to stop at some point. When you came here what did you think about the actual physical shape of the campus? The buildings?
ARKIN: It was a major goal for me to completely overhaul this place.
BURNS: Because you came here and you thought?
ARKIN: I came here and I parked when I came for an interview – I parked in front of the Stuckey Building – I remember almost exactly which spot I parked in. It was right across the road from the building we’re sitting in. This building still was occupied and I didn’t know it from looking at it and it had – not all the windows were glass. Many of the panes had been replaced with plastic and the air conditioners – I don’t think they were functioning – a window air conditioning unit – and they were rusted out and you could tell air conditioners had been replaced by a piece of plastic and so the building I parked immediately across from looked to me like it needed to be demolished or completely renovated and as I drove across the campus it looked to me that there was much that needed to be done.
BURNS: And have you done it?
ARKIN: Have I done it?
ARKIN: Individuals don’t do that kind of thing. We have worked diligently with the university and others to make improvements and I think we have made some improvements but nowhere – nowhere – near what I would have thought about twenty years ago. I would have demolished many of the buildings on the campus had I had the resources to replace them with contemporary laboratories, storage facilities, amenities for the faculty and staff. Just never that successful. Didn’t have the authority, budget or capability through the system to make that happen.
BURNS: Because you would have liked the Redding. Were you the director when the Food Science was built?
ARKIN: I was involved in that, there were…
BURNS: I mean at least […inaudible]
ARKIN: There is an interesting story about that but Food Science needed space and so we were able to get funding to make an addition to the Food Science Building.
BURNS: Right. And the funding came through the university?
ARKIN: That funding came from many different ways. That’s a story in and of itself. How we got there. But it had to do with this building – the Flynt Building – and how we ended up with funding for the Food Science addition – the Melton Building addition.
BURNS: It had to do with this building?
ARKIN: It had to do with this building. So, ah, it took a long time to make changes here because budgets always have been tight and the budgets that come to us as directors or assistant deans – you wish to maximize the research and outreach research and extension programs and the budgets for maintenance operations and utilities or major repair renovations when I came were almost non-existent. There was not such thing as major repair renovation money. There was money for exigencies. If you didn’t have enough money and there was a catastrophe you could get money to fix the catastrophe but there was no money for preventive maintenance and there was not money for enhancement to speak of. So, therefore, new guy on block, I’m going to change everything and over time a reality sets in that there’s no bank account with lots of money in there that you – or you can go to the bank and get a home improvement loan – no such thing.
BURNS: We have managed to renovate several buildings though.
ARKIN: Yeah. A lot of that has to do with help that came from other quarters to enable us to do that.
BURNS: Where did the money for this renovation come from?
ARKIN: Well actually this money came from major repair and renovation and so the story on this goes like this. I don’t know how soon after I got here, the Flynt Building was in terrible repair as I said before. There were faculty-junior faculty – new faculty so Sladmore (sp??), Lindstrom-their offices were downstairs. I think there was a herpetologist on the second floor, if that’s correct, but whether it be an older lady who had taught at Georgia State University, retired many years and she had her notes and things all spread out over the second floor. There were graduate students on the third floor and golly knows when it rained the water ran down the chases, shorted out the power system, research had to be redone. Anyway, it was not a safe place to be. So I had to close the Flynt Building, so as we closed it, clearly then we just closed out 30,000 square feet on the campus and the agenda was that now that the building was closed I needed space so I made it clear that we needed the space and there was a need on the campus to expand the Melton Building to accommodate the growing food safety program, the Center for Food Safety was emerging and we got support to get major repair and renovation money. We got that building done and I can’t recall now where the sources are. We’ll have to go check in the business office. Don’t remember but we can find out. So we got that done, and then we turned back here and said that now that we got the 30,000 square feet back and we’ve to this eyesore sitting on the campus and so inappropriate we demolished the thing. A lot of people didn’t want to see an historic building demolished. Nor did I and frankly what I had hoped for was that we would get money to renovate the building because we could use the space and that is indeed what happened. We had to get help to get major repair renovation funds through the university system.
BURNS: Through the university system. And does that get – can you get special appropriations from the state assembly to do projects like that or does everything come out of just a pool of what the University of Georgia has?
ARKIN: Legislature can provide money for renovation projects.
BURNS: And have they, for any of them here?
ARKIN: I’m not sure about that, the uh, the Center for Food Safety, where those bucks came from now.
ARKIN: So there were several sources that played a roll in that. Uh…No.
BURNS: And if you were to list departments that are bigger now than when you came here what would they be?
ARKIN: Bigger now?
BURNS: Bigger now than when you came here.
ARKIN: And the measure of bigger is?
BURNS: More faculty, and more research dollars.
ARKIN: I don’t think any of them are.
BURNS: Not Food Safety and Food Science?
ARKIN: Well, bigger in number of faculty. Faculty by definition is difficult anyway.
ARKIN: Twelve-month tenure track faculty, or extramurally funded faculty, research scientists, and post-docs, they’re faculty as well.
BURNS: Oh, alright.
ARKIN: So the fact that extramurally funding is increased then we have all kinds of other faculty, clearly Food Science would be much bigger because they have more people on extramurally funds, but if you are only looking at state supported twelve-month faculty lines, I’m not sure there is a single department that is any bigger than it was when I first got here. We’re coming back after many years of down-sizing, but no, Ag and Applied Economics is a skeleton of itself, there are three faculty there.
BURNS: Yeah, three and there used to be ten.
ARKIN: Yeah, three state faculty now, how many other post-docs and other kinds of faculty, I don’t know. Bio and Ag Engineering has one full time state funded faculty member. There are many faculty members there on extramurally (sp) funds. In fact, they may have more faculty.
BURNS: And the state funded ag engineer is?
ARKIN: Gerrit Hoogenboom. But there is Rosemary Seymore, there is Joel.
BURNS: And when you say extramurally funded, what is extramurally funded exactly?
ARKIN: That means there is a grant.
BURNS: A grant from business or?
ARKIN: Anywhere, so once the money comes as a grant the faculty has, the money comes to the state, the state then pays the employee and that employee is an employee of the state, in fact they are non-tenure track faculty, but they are faculty. So if you count all those faculty you may have more faculty in Bio and Ag Engineering than we did when I first got here. But if you are only looking at state supported faculty, there is one faculty member left, so they are much smaller. I would think you could go around, maybe Horticulture now we added Extension folks is possibly as, well that’s not true.
BURNS: Not true?
ARKIN: You have to look at extramurally funded.
BURNS: And has there been a decrease in research at a time, um, when there is a decrease in faculty, um, research decreases, but it has been targeted where? I mean if you were to trace the scope, I feel bad, you have so many interesting stories to tell, and no time to tell them, stupid little details that I want to know.
BURNS: But in terms of a larger scope of what has happened clearly faculty has been decreasing and the focus.
ARKIN: Whoa, whoa. State appropriated.
BURNS: State appropriated faculty.
ARKIN: Tenure-track, state appropriated faculty has decreased, but given that the extramurally) funding has increased markedly.
BURNS: It may not actually not be.
ARKIN: That’s correct, I’m not sure the amount of research or the impactfullness (sp) of research has declined at all.
BURNS: See almost everybody I have interviewed has said, “well it is just way smaller now, there are just so few people here now.”
ARKIN: The number of people here, you can check with the business office, that’s the best way to get the real number. Hasn’t changed at all, they just funded differently.
BURNS: Funded differently?
ARKIN: There may be fewer, may be, but its not as dramatic as people think it is.
BURNS: Not marked, not marked, ok.
ARKIN: There was a period of time where we went through some really big budget cuts.
BURNS: Funding, right.
ARKIN: So during those cycles you watched your colleagues that are fully state supported, those positions not getting refilled.
BURNS: Somebody would retire nobody would ever get hired.
ARKIN: Right. So you look at the person next to you, there gone, that person is gone, it may be that a scientist in a lab has just hired two more post-docs, or some other kind of title for a faculty member, but they are soft money or public service faculty line.
ARKIN: So, or they are technical support people being funded on soft funds.
BURNS: That’s it. Thank you for giving me that, that is an important thing to.
ARKIN: So right, so in other words the reality is we may have taken some really big hits with state employees, fully funded state employees, but a large component of that has been made up by funds from elsewhere.
BURNS: You got here just in time for 1991 crunch wasn’t that when?
ARKIN: Little before that.
BURNS: 1990, right. We lost all our journals in the Georgia State Library, we just had holes in them because they couldn’t, didn’t have any money.
ARKIN: Didn’t have any money, right.
BURNS: Didn’t have any money for the subscriptions.
ARKIN: During that cycle it was a rough time, but faculty went to bat and went and got, and there was a change, I mean, I don’t know if it was so much on Curtis’s watch for the accountability, but the agenda of Land Grant Universities began to change also at that time and there was more of an emphasis on faculty to go out and get funding. At one time we were state supported institutions and now we are partially supported by the state partially by grants and contracts and partially by gifts or sales revenue. So the funding model over that period of time has changed markedly as well.
BURNS: And in terms of the emphasis of the research that is being done, if you were to just give me in a few sentences what you think the focus of the Experiment Station was when you got here and what you think the focus of the Experiment Station is now, what would that be?
ARKIN: I think the focus of the Experiment Station was pretty much like any other Experiment Station, we had disciplines in all the animal or all of the plant sciences areas all of the plant sciences, entomology, pathology and so on. Uh, Food Science, Engineering and Economics, and they were doing the kind of work you would expect of a Land Grant College, anywhere. Looking at better management practices, cultural practices and economics related to production agriculture uh, Food Scientist were actually looking at better processing of the product, packaging of the product. Engineers were helping design equipment back then they were moving away from that, but it was, I want to say provincial, it was what one would see at any other Experiment Station, because predominately this was research here then.
BURNS: Ok. Did you come here straight from an Agricultural Research Station in Texas?
BURNS: It looked roughly like you were used to?
ARKIN: Well, in principle, we were doing different…
BURNS: Different research, of course.
ARKIN: Different soils, different climate, different crops, well we were doing generally the same sort of thing.
BURNS: And in the time that you have been here, what has been the change in emphasis of research?
ARKIN: Well the change was that it was obvious to me when I came here that Griffin Campus was not a typical Experiment Station Campus. It was in a major metropolitan statistical area, which meant there were lots of folks around here and lots more coming. Its basically in Atlanta. So its in a metropolitan area and we were doing work that was still very traditional in terms of commodity production and production practices. Those kinds of things. And with the demographics changing, it had already begun to change drastically, seemed to me that things needed to change. I think the faculty felt the same way.
BURNS: And they changed to what?
ARKIN: To what I consider more contemporary, contemporary in a sense for the region. Its kind of though the faculty work nationally their impact is national and international they still have kind of a regional calling. And they are more urban, simply put. Its more urban its value added products its not just about producing the food its about how to market the food, how to package the food how to make it safer, more nutritious, taste better, feel better in your mouth, a whole host of other things, so that’s the dramatic change over the couple of decades that I have been here. We’ve gone from being what most other Experiment Stations were like to really beginning to pick up the mantle of what was most appropriate for what was happening in this part of Georgia.
BURNS: I mean when they are funding, say when you’re sitting with your boss in Athens talking about Jeff Jordan going to work with, ah, ah, future this county in the psychology of school students as to whether they are going to stay in school or drop out, I mean do you have somebody in Athens telling you, “What are you doing this for?”
ARKIN: Well, initially when that one came up they were shocked. In fact when Jeff first came to me, I said what the heck, you have a reputation in irrigation, water management, what the hell do you want to give that up for? He was ready, he said well, I think I have accomplished what I can, its time for me to move on. So I want to do something else important to me. And so it landed down on that and uh, and it was a stretch for what we do in traditional programs but in reality it is what we should be doing in Land Grant. So, yeah, it took a little convincing.
BURNS: It took some convincing, because of course the funding, even if he gets external funding through the property grant if he did get.
ARKIN: A little bit, just a little bit.
BURNS: He’s still getting a lot of money through some director in Athens and they…
ARKIN: Well they still pay his salary. He gets a little money, but he is operating on a very small amount of resource right now. But he has the chance to go after a major Department of Education funds, NSF Funds, charitable organizations maybe the Kellogg Foundation. Depending on what he develops will fund, what he is doing is the right thing to do. Its not what somebody would picture as agriculture and environmental sciences.
BURNS: Right. And is the focus moves to urban agriculture here is it just that researchers are finding out that that’s what the people around them are interested in or is there some vision somewhere that is being imposed upon the researchers? In other words has there been a Provost or somebody in Athens who has decreed like they do for us at Georgia State that we are going to do so and so? Has there been anything like that or is it pretty much just an evolutionary change that this is what industry is interested in this is what the people around us are interested in? In other words if I were looking for a source of that focus is there one within the University hierarchy or is it?
ARKIN: Nobody woke up in Athens and said we are going to be doing urban agriculture, we are going to change the model here, it came from here and it came from this idea that we don’t have row crop agriculture here, when new positions come up, we hired one of the department heads we hired was Ed Kanemasu came out of Kansas, he was an environmental guy. This campus ought to be about the environment.
BURNS: We had this idea, do you think your own vision had a part in it?
ARKIN: I think it played a part in it, sure. I mean I didn’t come here to continue to do what was done, it seemed to me that this place had a reason for being that was absolutely unique. Its, I think its the only, at that time the only Experiment Station location of its size, budget, faculty, infrastructure in a major metropolitan area. And it would seem to me and it did at that time that there were unique opportunities that this place ought to be about, and that to get there we needed to make some changes. And so it started with that, we worked with the faculty and we moved things ahead and got the administration to buy into some of those things.
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