Ferrell reflects on 10 years as Ogden College dean

Blaine Ferrell, heading into transitional retirement after being the dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering for the past decade, looks forward to having more time to photograph the birds that fascinate him. “I knew I wanted to be a biologist since I was 5 years old,” Ferrell said after describing his childhood bird watching on the western Philadelphia farm across from his parent’s suburban house.

Elizabeth Beilman

In his second-floor office in College High Hall, Blaine Ferrell held an engraved cherry box containing a limited edition of “The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World” given to him by his fellow faculty members.

“That, to me, meant more than almost anything else,” he said.

Ferrell, dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering and an ornithologist (someone who studies birds) reflected on the last 10 years in his position as he prepares to enter transitional retirement at the end of December.

Ferrell said he owes a large part of his accomplishments to his faculty members.

“No one person does it all,” he said. “It’s just a matter of working as a team. I want to thank them for their support.”

Although Ferrell will be leaving his position as dean, he will remain at WKU as interim associate vice president for research.

Ferrell said that before serving as dean, he was head of the biology department. When the dean’s position opened up, he applied as part of a national search.

“I just enjoyed doing it,” Ferrell said. “I do it mostly for service. There’s no ego in it.”

Bruce Kessler, associate dean of Ogden College, has worked with Ferrell for about 10 years.

“He’s a very good fellow to work with,” Kessler said. “He’s been a good mentor to me.”

Kessler said Ferrell has developed research within the college by earning grants and building infrastructure such the Kentucky Mesonet, a network of automated weather and climate monitoring stations.

“These are all things that kind of happened under his watch,” Kessler said. “It really changed the way we think about research in this college.

“We’re definitely a different college than when he started.”

Accomplishments during Ferrell’s time as dean include increasing external funding by about $14 million a year, enrollment in the college by about 700 students, and also resulted in two new buildings.

“This is all with seven years of budget cuts,” he said. “We try to help students become very successful.”

One of Ferrell’s fondest memories includes traveling to Ecuador.

“We went down to the forest, and it was unreal,” Ferrell said. “As an ornithologist, that’s like the ultimate ‘Mecca.’”

He said Ogden College has evolved to be more technologically sophisticated over the last 10 years.

“With the infrastructure and working with corporations, we’ve become much more cutting edge,” Ferrell said. “It just stepped it up a notch.”

The college now owns and operates a large chamber scanning electron microscope, he said.

About 600 jobs have been created for students from the Center for Research and Development, Ferrell said.

“We’ve had a lot of good corporate support,” he said.

Ferrell said he wants to leave behind a legacy of emphasis on faculty members.

“I hope the faculty feel they have been empowered enough that they can maintain the quality,” he said.

Elizabeth Ferrell, daughter of Blaine Ferrell, a senior on the WKU softball team and a chemistry major, said her father never let her slack off.

“He’s definitely pushed me in class, and I definitely appreciate it,” she said.

Elizabeth Ferrell said her father was a good dean because he has honest intentions.

“He’s going to tell you straight up what he thinks,” she said. “He’s going to do what he thinks needs to be done to the college to make it better. He’s well respected.”