Westra Named New Director of Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center

Westra Named New Director of Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center

John Westra has been selected as the new director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center in Scottsbluff. His appointment will take effect on Thursday, Sept. 1. 

John Westra mug
John Westra

Westra joined UNL in 2017 as the associate director for the southeast research and extension district and since then, has served in a variety of roles, including program leader for two interdisciplinary teams and professor of agricultural economics. In those roles, Westra was able to see firsthand the importance of the university’s facilities and offices across the state.

“The research, extension and education centers play a critical role in IANR’s mission of conducting research that is relevant to the needs, concerns and issues of our state’s farmers, ranchers and community members,” Westra said. “We have faculty who are primarily focused on agricultural disciplines. We have people who work in 4-H and in Rural Prosperity Nebraska, as well as positive youth development, food, nutrition and health and other program areas. Each one of our facilities plays a critical role in helping conduct that research but also delivering that research through our extension programs.”

The Panhandle Research Extension and Education Center (PREEC) houses 13 IANR faculty in a wide range of disciplines, most of whom hold joint appointments in research and extension. It is one of three research, extension and education centers across the state, with others located in North Platte and near Ithaca. 

In addition to the research and extension appointments, PREEC faculty and staff are also engaging with Scottsbluff and the surrounding area in new ways. For example, they’re working with local school districts to expose K-12 students to agricultural and natural resources concepts. They’re working directly with farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses to test new and emerging agricultural tools, technologies and management practices. And they’re working with stakeholders and others to ensure the centers are meeting the needs of the region and the state. 

“Nebraska’s research, extension and education centers have long been critical in IANR’s tri-part mission of teaching, research and extension, and they’ll only become more important going forward,” said Archie Clutter, dean of IANR’s Agricultural Research Division and director of the Ag Experiment Station. “Dr. Westra is an experienced leader, and I have no doubt he will do an excellent job in serving the Panhandle and leading this important facility into a new era of success.”

Prior to joining UNL, Westra was the J. Nelson Fairbanks Professor at Louisiana State University (LSU) and served as faculty member for over 15 years at LSU’s department of agricultural economics and agribusiness. His own research has focused on production, natural resource and environmental economics relevant to the agricultural sector. 

Mitchell Stephenson, an associate professor of agronomy and horticulture who has served as interim director at the center since March, will serve as the center’s associate director. For more information about the center, visit the PREEC website.  

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