Weber links AFRE website to past and present

posted on September 26, 2014 8:53am

Mike Weber (view larger image)
Mike Weber

Look at the AFRE website, and you will find far richer information on the department’s people and history than you would have found just two years ago. Thank Mike Weber, professor emeritus, who saw a need and tackled it with energy.  The improved website gives details on faculty activities, it brings back the accomplishments of retired faculty members, and it chronicles the history of international programs in the department.

 

Weber’s revitalization project began with a passion to bring to light accomplishments of such great antecedents as Karl T. Wright, who published more than 500 titles on farm practices, agricultural development, and domestic and international agriculture. Internet content has a clear bias toward materials developed since 1990, and AFRE’s website was no exception.  In fact, it had recently gotten worse.  Lacking a plan to maintain and add archival material to the websites of faculty members as they retired, the department dropped them from its website entirely during the 2012 upgrade to a new platform.

 

“Let’s face it, once your full-time work was done, you basically didn’t exist in the [AFRE website] world. That wasn’t right, and it wasn’t smart,” said Weber, who served for two decades as co-director and director of a flagship program in international agricultural and food system development. “As I approached retirement, I proposed that we reinstate the emeritus section and bring to light – and to the Internet – the great work of the pioneers who came before us.”

 

With that in mind, Weber embarked on an ambitious project in his final year before retirement. His goals were to resurrect and enhance the emeritus faculty section of the AFRE website and to expand information about current faculty members. Perhaps most importantly, this project would dramatically increase the department’s digital p­resence and accessibility.

 

Weber’s project stretched from one year to nearly four.  His foray into the past, present and future of agricultural economics on the Web has resulted in a rich historical archive of international work dating back to the 1940s,  as well as a robust sample of ongoing work by current AFRE staff members. The AFRE website now has an enhanced “tabs” format for displaying and navigating content for both current and emeritus faculty members.  Among the new features are these:

  • Faculty listings with a Students tab, which lists theses and dissertations written by the staff member’s advisees. To accomplish this, Weber spent two to three months pulling doctoral and master’s theses off library shelves to read the acknowledgment page and note the major professor to update this database.
  • Under the Faculty/Projects tab, a compendium of past and present funded research work. “Grants should be given visibility,” Weber said. “Short digital summaries work very well. We’ve also been posting Power Point presentations and video when possible.  The faculty has really responded in a positive way. Members like seeing their work online.”
  • Memorable video of Karl Wright being interviewed by MSU extension specialist Laurie Wink in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the American Agricultural Economics Association.
  • Historical photos such as this one from an Ag Econ committee meeting prior to Farmers’ Week at MSU in 1956 that included Carl Eicher, Henry Larzelere and James Shaffer.

 

Weber is pleased with how the project has evolved to help spotlight the continuing great outputs from multiple scholarship missions of the department. More recently, the website work has also helped him stay focused while combating to remission status an aggressive form of blood cancer that was diagnosed in 2013.

 

“One of the more satisfying parts of this whole project has been the times when I’ve been able to show some of our pioneers a digital snapshot of their careers,” Weber said. “For example, I was able to spend time with Carl (before he died in July), and he was very excited to see his career work all in one place. And this is a man who helped produce projects full of information.

 

“It’s been a lot of work, but it needed to be done,” Weber said. “We had to embrace the technology and make this stuff accessible. You never know when someone might be looking for a piece of information from a department project or publication.”  

 

Case in point: the recent email from a farm management teacher in India who wanted access to a text from Glenn Johnson. Weber knew just where to look. 

 

“When I sent him the URL from Glenn’s online profile [to the publication “Decision-Making Principles in Farm Management”] within days, he couldn’t believe it,” Weber said. “Little things like that keep you going.”

 —Mark Meyer