Keith Belk, professor of meat safety and quality, and Ken and Myra Monfort Endowed Chair in Meat Science, has been named the new Animal Science department head at Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Beginning July 1, Belk will succeed Milt Thomas, who served as interim department head after former department head Kevin Pond departed the university last year. In addition, Terry Engle will assume the role as associate department head.
“Dr. Keith Belk’s accomplishments and vision reflect his dedication to the essential elements of the land grant mission: developing our students, generating impactful knowledge to solve real-world problems, and active engaging with the livestock industry,” notes College of Agricultural Sciences dean Ajay Menon. “This ethos is the key ingredient in elevating the Department of Animal Sciences to new heights.”
Deep roots in the CSU community
Belk’s CSU roots run deep. In the 1980s, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Fort Collins before striking out into the industry as an employee for Safeway. After a few years in the industry, he earned his Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where he met now-legendary meat scientist Gary Smith. From there, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Department of Agriculture, focusing on the quality of the nation’s agricultural exports.
Smith, who by then had accepted a faculty position at CSU, recruited Belk back to Fort Collins in 1995, where he started in the college as an extension specialist. Twenty-four years later, Belk is now poised to take the department into its next chapter, and his vision is crystal clear.
According to Belk, his mission boils down to three initiatives: Modify curriculum to incorporate experiential learning, strengthen collaboration and culture between the equine science and animal science units, and address resource needs along with fundraising and industry engagement.
“As a longtime member of our department and a Colorado native, Dr. Belk is passionate about the land-grant mission and will work with faculty and staff to meet the needs of our students and the community,” notes Bob Delmore, professor of animal science.
Addressing global food issues
Belk sees the Department of Animal Sciences as uniquely positioned — both academically and geographically — to be a thought-leader in growing global issues surrounding food, specifically as it concerns access to protein. With a world population on track to reach 9 billion people by 2050 and 12 billion by 2100, there is a growing concern that production won’t be able to keep up with rising demand. Simply put: The need for protein isn’t going away.
“If you look at where production could grow geographically, we’re sitting in the middle of it,” says Belk. “So, we have to play an important role in figuring out how to feed 12 billion people without ruining the environment, and without people getting sick. They’re grand-scale global challenges, and CSU is positioned to play a role in all of that.”
The first step to addressing those concerns, as well as the mission to grow the department, starts with human resources. To that point, Belk has already negotiated an increase in hires to include an additional 10, which would increase the department’s personnel to 35.
“That was one of the things I viewed as being important,” notes Belk. “We just don’t have enough people to be creative in teaching. The demographics of the students is also changing, and this will give us an opportunity to address that.”
Aside from his longstanding tenure in the department, Belk has a unique perspective on how the department runs: His daughter is a Ph.D. student, and his son is a sophomore who serves on the college’s meat judging team.