PIE Center move will increase its prominence in UF/IFAS

Four months after winning recurring state funding, the Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (PIE Center) will be moving from a department-level center to an IFAS-wide center.

Effective Nov. 1, the PIE Center will report to Jack Payne, University of Florida senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. By moving oversight of the center into the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences senior vice president’s office, the PIE Center’s administrative supervision will be similar to that of the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. The two centers teamed up on the successful budget request that the Florida state legislature passed in the spring.

Payne said he decided to increase the PIE Center’s presence in IFAS to allow the center to take a more prominent role in research and outreach focused on public opinion of agricultural and natural resources issues and its influences on policy formation and change.

“The PIE Center provides trusted communications research on current and emerging issues within agriculture and natural resources,” Payne said. “Through this research, the center can more clearly determine how people form and act on opinions about these challenging issues and provide recommendations for making strong messages. By promoting effective communication and research-based solutions at an IFAS-wide level, we can focus on increasing public understanding and informed decision-making.”

The PIE Center will transition out of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC), where chairman Ed Osborne and professor Tracy Irani played strong roles in the creation and development of the PIE Center four years ago. Irani, the center’s development director, expects to maintain a close relationship with the department and its faculty in part because the center’s physical location will not change.

“This department is our home,” Irani said. “It’s like the PIE Center has grown up and is moving off to college. We will always be fond and appreciative of all the support the AEC Department has given us.”

The move comes amidst a summer of changes for the PIE Center. The recurring state funding allowed the center to hire additional staff and faculty members. AEC alumna Alexa Lamm recently joined the PIE Center as an assistant professor focusing on public opinion analysis. Current AEC doctoral candidate Joy Goodwin will move into an assistant professor role in May that focuses on public issues analysis and communication. Both faculty members will conduct research and extension programs with PIE Center stakeholders.

The PIE Center’s extension initiatives got a jump-start with Nicole Dodds, who has revamped the center’s outreach and training program. In addition to a monthly webinar series that will launch in January, Dodds created an online toolkit for agricultural and natural resources experts to learn about crisis communication and planning.