Sreekala Bajwa

Sreekala Bajwa has been named Montana State University's new vice president for agriculture.

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Montana State University has chosen Sreekala Bajwa, a professor and scientist who investigates new ways to use engineering to improve farming, as its new vice president of agriculture.

For the past six years, Bajwa, originally from India, has been a professor and chair of North Dakota State University’s department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABEN), which is part of both its colleges of engineering and agriculture.

ABEN “merges the knowledge of living systems, engineering technologies and a social conscience to solve the complex problems facing our planet,” according to its website.

When she starts work at MSU on Jan. 14, Bajwa will be the first woman to hold the title of vice president of agriculture. She will also be dean of the College of Agriculture and lead the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. Her salary has not yet been finalized, said Michael Becker, MSU News Service director.

Sharron Quisenberry was MSU’s first woman dean of agriculture, serving for four years until 2003, before the position was elevated and the title of vice president was added.

Bajwa, the only woman among the five finalists for the job, was chosen after a national search, led by Provost Bob Mokwa. She will replace Charles Boyer, MSU’s first vice president for agriculture, who is retiring in December after four years.

MSU President Waded Cruzado said in a news release that there were many strong candidates, “but in Dr. Bajwa, we have found someone extremely qualified to lead agriculture at Montana State into its future through her pioneering vision for new applications in agriculture and natural resources.”

Bajwa said she was grateful for the chance to join “a thriving university with a deep commitment to excellence and innovation.”

Her background is in agricultural engineering and developing new technologies, like using drones to spray small weed patches in farm fields, using remote sensors like satellites to collect data on crops, and other forms of “smart farming” and precision agriculture.

Under her leadership, North Dakota State was ranked 18th in the world by PrecisionAg Professionals, and she led the university’s development of majors and minors in the field. Grant funding to the department tripled to $10.8 million in five years, and graduate student enrollment tripled.

She worked with North Dakota’s Extension, agricultural experiment stations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and major technology companies, such as Microsoft and Titan Machinery, on million-dollar programs to improve smart farming.

She has four inventions in digital agriculture and bio-based materials, and has been the lead investigator or co-investigator on 45 grant-funded projects worth more than $19 million, MSU reported. Her research includes studies of bio-plastics, plant diseases, ground beef quality and remote sensing of insect infestations.

At MSU Bajwa will oversee agricultural teaching, education and research. The College of Agriculture has 1,242 undergraduate students.

Bajwa earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from Kerala Agricultural University in India, her master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, and her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

MSU’s College of Agriculture includes five academic departments — agricultural economics and economics, animal and range sciences, microbiology and immunology, land resources and environmental sciences, and plant sciences and plant pathology, plus the department of research centers; the division of agricultural education; and the Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah regional program in veterinary medicine.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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