PIE Center director Irani promoted to ag college department chair

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.

After running the PIE Center at the University of Florida for the past five years, Tracy Irani is getting a promotion to departmental chair in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Although she's moving on, Irani will continue to have a role with the center she helped create — at least until a new director is found.

Irani was named permanent chair — effective Friday — of UF's Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, after serving as interim chair since October.

"This is a promotion for Tracy — department chair is a bigger position with more responsibility and more pay," said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at UF. "Also, it was her choice. She could have remained as PIE Center Director, but she wanted a new challenge."

Elizabeth Bolton served as interim department chair following the retirement of Nayda Torres more than two years ago. Payne conducted a national search but wasn't satisfied with any of the finalists. Irani said she was interested in serving as "interim," so Payne appointed her with the understanding that she could decide if she wanted to stay as chair, with faculty approval.

"She has come to really enjoy the position, and the faculty and administration all gave her a unanimous vote of confidence, so her interim position as chair has been changed to being the permanent chair," Payne said.

Irani joined the agricultural college faculty in 1999, the same year she received her doctorate in mass communications from UF. After 10 years rising through the ranks, she became a full professor and director of the Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources — better known as the PIE Center — in 2009.

The PIE Center was created to provide scientific, non-biased research on the public's understanding of challenging issues related to agriculture and natural resources.

During Irani's time there, the center has grown under her leadership from a three-person office to a full-sized department under the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences. That growth is largely because of Payne's desire to see it become an important part of IFAS and turn it into a public policy center for agricultural and natural resources.

Payne and Irani worked on getting permanent legislative funding to support the team of faculty researchers, professional staff and students, Irani said. She also oversaw the development of the PIE Center's statewide public opinion survey panels, "which assess public opinion and knowledge gaps with respect to agriculture and natural resources issues."

As chair of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Irani will oversee 24 full-time faculty who teach courses designed to train students for careers in human services, community development, cooperative extension and youth professions, according to its Web page.

While its undergraduate program is solid, Irani said she would like to see the expansion of its graduate program to include a doctoral program "to prepare future faculty to teach and do research in our focus areas."

She said she also wants to obtain "additional resources to support faculty and provide students with scholarships and internships," enhance the visibility of the department through social media, and disseminate the department's teaching, research and extension activities.

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