David Wright was recently named the Maynard A. Klingbeil Endowed Department Head and Professor of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science. He is the university’s first faculty member to serve in the newly endowed position. Wright, along with several other South Dakota State University faculty members, was recognized Sept. 29 at an investiture ceremony honoring a group of those serving in endowed roles across campus.
At the beginning of his career, Wright worked in the seed industry for 20 years as an agronomist selecting the best corn and soybean varieties for Midwestern farmers and for those working in the California dairy sector. He then joined the faculty at Iowa State University as a visiting professor of agronomy prior to coming to SDSU in 2013 to lead the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science.
“Dr. Wright has been an impactful leader of the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science for the past nine years,” said Joseph Cassady, South Dakota Corn Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “Under his leadership, the department successfully completed construction of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center in 2021.”
When asked what originally drew him to SDSU, Wright credits the vision and leadership of SDSU President Barry H. Dunn, who was serving as dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at the time.
“During my interview, Barry shared his vision with me for the college and the department and it matched what I wanted to do in the next phase of my career,” Wright said. “It really centered around creating an atmosphere of excellence in research, teaching and outreach.”
Throughout the past nine years serving as department head, Wright says he is most proud of the successes of the faculty. He is confident that students in the department are receiving the most modern and relevant curriculum in the Midwest taught by nationally recognized educators, many of whom are deeply involved in agriculture and farming in South Dakota and Minnesota.
“We have some amazing people in our college and in our department, and it’s exciting to continually hear about their research interests and their success,” Wright said. “The faculty in our department continue to be No. 1 in research awards on campus, and the information that is gained from their research makes its way to South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa farmers – it’s exciting for me to watch their careers grow and to be a part of their lives.”
Another point of pride for Wright is the curriculum the department has developed over the years.
“I’m proud of the curriculum we have developed including the precision agriculture major and minor,” Wright said. “We’ve added the concept of local foods into our curriculum and continue to grow the influence of local foods across the state. Our agronomy, horticulture and precision agriculture programs are stronger today than they have been in 20 years.”
Wright’s endowed position is supported by a $17 million gift, which was the result of an auction that sold all 2,683 acres of Maynard A. Klingbeil’s homestead and farmland that he donated to the SDSU Foundation after he passed away in 2020. The gift represents one of the largest and most impactful philanthropic commitments made to an academic department in SDSU history.
“This gift not only funded the endowed department head position which Dr. Wright has been awarded, but also will fund 16 students with $10,000 scholarships that will be awarded annually,” Cassady said.
Wright is honored and humbled by Klingbeil’s gift and recognizes the impact it will have on the department for years to come.
“Certainly, it is an honor to carry Maynard’s name forward and continue his legacy in gaining new knowledge,” Wright said. “The endowment provides financial means for me to continue to support the faculty and students in our department and to continue Maynard’s vision of crop performance. Maynard worked diligently with SDSU plant breeders and SDSU Extension to keep abreast of the latest high yielding wheat varieties. His legacy is far reaching beyond his own vision and is enabling us to strengthen our research efforts in the areas of plant and soil health in South Dakota.”