Fred Cholick believes in people following their passions.
The dean of the College of Agriculture found this to be true during his time in college at Oregon State University. At the beginning of his junior year, Cholick, an agronomy major with a business minor, met with his adviser. Noting that his grades were far superior in science-related courses than in his business course, his adviser had simple advice for him.
“He said, ‘That should tell you something,'” Cholick said. “My interest really was science, and it was interesting that someone else had to tell me what my interest was, but he did.”
Sparked by this meeting, Cholick entered a pre-graduate science program. Eventually he received a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics. In the process, though, Cholick had a chance encounter that would further change his life.
Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, spoke at Colorado State University in 1973. After listening to Borlaug deliver a lecture on the role of agriculture in international development, the young graduate student took Borlaug’s words to heart. Upon finishing his Ph.D., Cholick worked at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, an applied research center, for five years. During his time with the organization, he traveled extensively and learned a considerable amount.
“All total, my career in college was nine years to get a Ph.D., and the next five years was to get an education,” he said. “I learned kind of a new appreciation for the global world we live in.”
Despite a passion for traveling internationally, Cholick decided to accept a more traditional position to allow him to focus on his family and then-1-year-old son. He accepted a research teaching position at Oregon State University in plant breeding and genetics.
Cholick later moved on to South Dakota State University where he ascended to dean of the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences. He held the post for 13 years before an unexpected opportunity arrived when a position for dean in the College of Agriculture opened at K-State.
“I was a dean at another institution and enjoyed the job; I wasn’t looking for another job,” he said.
After initially hearing an announcement about the position, Cholick did not act. But upon requests from friends at K-State, he visited the university and interviewed for the position. His wife joined him during the process and helped him arrive at a timely conclusion.
“On the way back, my wife said this is the one that’s going to make us move,” he said.
Cholick credits part of this conclusion to the passion of those around him. During his visit to campus, he was sitting in the K-State Alumni Center with about 20 students from the College of Agriculture. Cholick said on interviews like that, people tend to be very positive, avoiding any negatives about a university.
However, Cholick said the students at K-State were not just being positive, but were boasting about the education they were getting.
“They were bragging about K-State being a student-focused institution, and I can say that’s not true everywhere in higher education,” he said. “I was impressed with that.”
Cholick became dean at K-State in August 2004 and credits those students with being the tipping point in his decision to accept the position.
Since then, he also has served as director of K-State Research and Extension. The statewide operation with more than 200 agents in the state’s 105 counties is more of a guiding operation rather than directing, Cholick said.
“My job is to create an environment where the individual can be creative and bring those individuals together to be productive,” he said. “That’s how I do my job as dean and director.”
A lack of a “silo mentality” is also positive, Cholick said. Frequent collaborations occur with the other deans, like working with Ralph Richardson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, because of a conducive environment, he said.
A January 2009 announcement that NBAF would be relocating to Manhattan made sense, Cholick said.
“I think K-State is a good place to have it because of our strong College of Veterinary Medicine and our strong College of Agriculture and our strong commitment to agriculture,” he said.
Cholick testified during hearings on campus regarding NBAF. He said he believes the project will add prestige to the university.
“Operations like that attract other operations like a magnet,” he said.
Like the rest of the university, the College of Agriculture has suffered through budget cuts. Cholick finds a fitting correlation between meteorological events and the budget-cutting process.
“Budget reductions are like droughts in agriculture,” he said. “It comes and goes, it occurs every three to five years and some are more severe than others. But after every drought, it rains, and after every rain everything drains up again. This one has been a pretty good drought, but it will rain and green up again.”
As his tenure continues, Cholick finds the greatest pleasure and passion in his job in sharing the success of others.
“I was a wheat breeder for years and I used to drive by and say, ‘That’s the variety I helped develop;’ I could pick it out driving down the Interstate,” he said. “Now they are people. That’s the most rewarding.”
His faith in the current generation of college students is seemingly unmatched. Cholick credits his college’s students with being the most knowledgeable, most creative and, he believes, eventually the most successful.
However, Miles Theurer, junior in animal sciences and industry and president of the College of Agriculture Student Council, said this credit comes from the faculty and administration of the college.
“Dean Cholick’s main focus is on the students and in the current economic situation, he hasn’t lost sight of that,” Theurer said. “The college has a family atmosphere and it helps the students to be successful.”
Gary Pierzynski, department head and professor of agronomy, agreed and said Cholick does great work for the college.
“He has a good vision for the college and he has a very agreeable, very management style,” Pierzynski said. “He also hits it off well with our clientele across the state. He is a great combination.”