Veteran faculty member takes on new role

Adam Junker

Newly appointed Plant Science Interim Department Head Tom Cheesbrough is no stranger to the SDSU campus. Cheesbrough has been part of university faculty for 20 years.

He has moved often, most recently just four weeks ago.

“As you can see with my office, I have a lot of unpacking yet to do,” said Cheesbrough.

Cardboard boxes sit in every nook and cranny of his new second floor office. It isn’t too drastic a move for Cheesbrough though.

“My original office was down on the first floor,” he said.

Q: What has been your history with SDSU?

A: Well, faculty positions – usually the hiring for faculty positions – takes six months to a year to be confirmed. So, when I came here, I had been applying for a number of positions. Then I came here at the end of the spring semester and was interviewed. I was offered the job in June, and then I was here for the upcoming fall semester. That was when they had expanded, and they were in the process of building the Northern Plains Biostress Lab. That’s how I started out.

Q: How did you start out?

A: When I first started out teaching at SDSU, I started off as an assistant biology professor, you know, doing research and teaching. Then, I became head of the biology department and that was for eight years. Then, last year, I was the interim director for research and personnel. This year, I became the Plant Science Interim Department Head.

Q: What are your everyday tasks as the interim head of the plant science department?

A: Everyday tasks really – for a department head – are a mixture of things. I teach one class this semester: the freshmen orientation class of plant science (PS-101). As a department head, you spend a lot of your time in personnel issues and interacting with people. We spend a fair amount of time in management, doing budgets, and all those other sort of things. Also, we interact with the public on the topic of plant science. It’s definitely different from a typical faculty position.

Q: What are some of the tasks you are doing right now as the department head?

A: Probably the things that are occupying my time the most, right now, are that we have had a number of faculty, who either retired or they left. And so, we are in the midst of trying to hire new staff members. That takes a bit of time, and then, the rest of my tasks are all management kinds of things. You know, whether it is a student needing something signed, various paperwork, etc.

Q: You obviously enjoy doing what you are doing now. Was there a moment in your life that made you want to do what you are doing?

A: (Laughs) Well, a moment in my life … I think a lot of things lead up to you choosing a career in science. I’ve always liked science since I was very young. I was one of those kids who, in grade school, thought he wanted to become a chemist. So, there wasn’t just one thing that led up to that decision in my life.

Q: Before coming to Brookings, what was your education?

A: I received my bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Wyoming. Then I did my doctorate in biochemistry at Purdue. Then, I went for a post-doctorate. Also, I had a faculty stint at Washington State University.

Q: What is some of your prior work experience?

A: Up until I came to SDSU, most of my focus was research-driven. When I worked with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), I was a research scientist down there for a while.

Q: I take it you have moved around a lot, then?

A: Yes. I’m kind of an interesting case, there. I came to Brookings a long time ago, by way of Illinois. That was when I was with the USDA, right in Peoria. Before that, it was Washington State. Before that, it was Indiana. So . . . (laughs) I moved quite frequently.

Q: What brought you to Brookings?

A: My family and I chose to come here because where we were living was not a very good place for my kids to grow up in and go to school. Illinois, at the time, had a 25 percent unemployment rate and there was also a lot of gang activity. The schools really showed the results of those two factors.

Q: So what have you enjoyed about Brookings and the SDSU campus over the years?

A: I think it’s been a great place to live in. Like I said, the place we were living before had an abundance of unemployment and gang activity. So, it’s been nice having my wife and kids stay in a friendly environment. Also, with SDSU, it’s been interesting to watch the campus grow. I guess what I like most about this campus is the interaction with people: the students, the faculty. They are all very friendly and very interactive.

Name: Tom Cheesbrough

Hometown: Peoria, Ill.

Age: 59

Family: Wife, Valerie; daughters, Vanessa and Shan