A Witness to the Birth of Ohio State ATI

Shirley Brooks-Jones is held in high regard by many in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. The former assistant to the CFAES vice president and dean is an Ohio State University legend for having started a scholarship fund for students in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, the small town to which Shirley and 900 other passengers returning to the US from Germany were diverted on Sept. 11, 2001. The college's Shirley Brooks-Jones Citizenship Award recognizes staff members who excel in providing outstanding and ongoing excellence in service to faculty, staff, students and/or others through communication, fairness, problem-solving, and contribution to the common good.

What alumni might not realize, however, is that Shirley was a behind-the-scenes witness to the birth of Ohio State ATI, working closely with Dean Roy Kottman, who led the college from 1960 until his retirement in 1982. Kottman also served as director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and during numerous trips between Wooster and Columbus and the Sundays she frequently spent in the office catching up, Shirley served as a sounding board for Kottman's idea regarding the establishment of a technical school devoted to agriculture, part of a nationwide effort in the agriculture industry to fill a need for more technical, hands-on education. 

According to Shirley, Dean Kottman was a force to be reckoned with, and was well-known for his autocratic (some would say "heavy-handed") administrative style. His vision for a technical institute bucked the trend of establishing programs of this nature outside of a university setting. The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute was formally founded in 1969, and not without a considerable amount of resistance on the part of some OSU faculty members. And, among OARDC faculty members in particular, there was resistance to locating Ohio State ATI in Wooster. But Dean Kottman forged ahead and made the decision to locate the institute next to OARDC, because that's where the college had space available.

"At the outset, Ohio State ATI was definitely seen as 'less than' by many faculty in Columbus," Shirley said. "But it was really all about protecting one's turf. Faculty felt threatened by the existence of another program that they feared would siphon off students." Despite the initial resistance, Ohio State ATI was established in Wooster and held its first classes on the OARDC campus in autumn of 1972.

In the early '80s, Ohio State ATI also played a critical role in securing a new site for Farm Science Review. Shirley and her friend Molly Caren regularly visited Farm Science Review as well as the annual flower and bridal show staged by ATI's floral design and marketing program. When Shirley learned that a farm west of Columbus that she thought would be a perfect FSR location belonged to Molly, she arranged for Dean Kottman to meet Molly. Molly's wish was that her family farm would always be devoted to agriculture and safe from encroaching development. "She told the dean how much she had enjoyed the times she had been a visitor to the Farm Science Review and how she could hardly wait from one year to the next to go experience ATI's flower and bridal shows," Shirley said. "So it was that Ohio State ATI was a major reason that Molly Caren decided that her 973-acre farm in Madison County should become a part of our College."

Shirley continues to hold the college close to her heart. "I often feel as if I have been one of the luckiest people in the world. Had I tried to plan how my life would be, never could I have imagined all the wonderful experiences I've had just by being fortunate enough to spend my entire career working in our college. I am truly blessed!!"