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UC Davis Centennial
100 years of service, solutions, impact

UC Davis Applied Social Sciences
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Looking Back

History in the making: College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences was UC Davis’ only academic unit for decades, starting as the University Farm School for UC Berkeley in 1908. It transitioned into the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture in 1922. In 1938, Knowles A. Ryerson becomes resident head of the campus and the institution was renamed the College of Agriculture at Davis. However, as these oral histories attest, faculty members who arrived in the mid-century brought ideas and energy that created major new directions for UC Davis.




Chester McCorkle

Chester McCorkle arrived in 1952 at UC Davis as a member of a four-person faculty for the new Department of Agricultural Economics. He was an adamant supporter of Ed Voorhies, the first chair in the department and the man he claims put the department on the right foot. “[Voorhies] did so much for us, getting us known. He’d arrange trips for the young faculty to take around California, and he’d call all of his friends, and we would just get in the car and go places that he told us to go and talk to people. And he did that with every new faculty member that came in.”

Benjamin French

Benjamin French began at UC Davis as vice chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics program before becoming chair in 1976. Along with his colleagues, French helped the department to become one of the top five in the country. “I hadn’t intended to become chair again, but I finally agreed because I wanted to see what I could do if I had the full responsibility against being the vice chair that I was for so many years before.”

Harold Carter

Having been chair of Agricultural Economics twice, Harold Carter was also the first director of the program before it became a department, serving for 11 years on a 3-year appointment. His research quest was how to improve the world food situation through agriculture. He helped establish a policy center that would host the research.

Warren Johnston

Rather than staying at his family’s farm near Winters, Calif., Warren Johnston was persuaded by his family to go to graduate school in North Carolina before coming west to Davis where he acted as acting dean for environmental planning and management. He also headed a seminar for graduate students that would prepare them for work by visiting actual farms across the country. “For one thing, I attempted to show them that if they have any preconceived notions about California agriculture, they’re probably wrong.”


Orville Thompson

Orville Thompson attempted, along with Frank Chiles, to create an ethnic studies department, combining Asian American, Native American, African American and Chicano studies. Thomson and Chiles discovered that this idea would not work, and instead split up the proposed department into four programs. Native American studies became a full-fledged department in 1993, followed by, Asian American and Chicana/o studies in 2009.

Glenn Hawkes

UC Davis professor Glenn Hawkes, a child psychologist and professor of the department of applied behavioral sciences, was responsible for fusing its programs together within one context. “I think one of my strongest contributions, if I have to pick one, would be the development of the independent major,” he says.

Photo: Isao Fujimoto. (UC Davis archival photo)

Sociologist Isao Fujimoto, a mainstay of UC Davis community development faculty, founded the Department of Asian American Studies and the graduate program in community development. (UC Davis archival photo)

Isao Fujimoto

Rural sociologist Isao Fujimoto helped create the Applied Behavioral and Asian American studies majors and the academic programs that supported them. He also founded the graduate program in community development. Fujimoto believes the Asian American Studies Program was also partially responsible for increasing the diversity on campus. “The other factor that’s really shaped my thinking is the 3 1/2 years I spent in concentration camps … All those experiences really continue to shape the way I look at education and what it is to also get students really thinking about how to really apply what they’re learning.”

David Risling

David Risling cofounded the Native American Studies Program at UC Davis. The program is now one of the few full-fledged academic departments in the U.S. giving graduate degrees in the field. Known as the “father of Indian education,” Risling attracted Native American students from across the country who were interested in pursuing their education here. “My approach was always that you have to live in two worlds,” he says. “You have to live in the dominant society and know how they work, and you have to know how your people work.”

UC Davis Food Science and Technology
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Michael Lewis

Even though Michael Lewis was trained in brewing science in the United Kingdom, he accepted a job at UC Davis in 1962 not realizing that UC Davis had a brewing program. After he had joined the Department of Food Science and Technology in 1964, Lewis took over the brewing program and got it rolling when he convinced the Academic Senate that the 8,000-year-old art had a place in academic curriculum. He argued that the multi-billion dollar industry needed a North American training center. In 1991, Lewis collaborated with UC Davis Extension to create several professional brewing programs to teach a variety of skills required in the brewing industry.

George York

George York was a leading food safety expert and a longtime professor of Food Science and Technology. During his career, York investigated outbreaks of the fatal food toxin botulism, helped Northern California wineries handle problems of contaminated wastewater, and taught many Californians how to cure olives and can tomatoes safely. His research program focused on bacteria that cause food spoilage and food poisoning, as well as on food preservation, food additives, processing-plant sanitation and heat treatments for controlling unwanted bacteria.

Robert Feeney

A protein chemist who studied the proteins of eggs, Robert Feeney came to UC Davis in 1960 as a professor of food science and technology to continue his study on eggs. He became interested in penguin eggs, which led him to make several research expeditions to Antarctica. Feeney devoted much of his research activity to the Arctic and Antarctic regions, where he studied how living biochemical systems help fish and penguins adapt to the extreme cold. In recognition of his research, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names named a mountain after him. Feeney is famous for his book, Professor on Ice.

John Whitaker

John Whitaker came to Davis in the early 1950s as a biochemist and enzymologist. During his time at UC Davis, he compiled an outstanding record of scholarly service to foreign students, universities and other institutions through teaching, outreach and research. For instance, Whitaker established formal ties with universities in China, Thailand and Mexico while serving as the first director of UC Mexus Program. During his long career at UC Davis, Whitaker served as a chair of the Department of Biochemistry and as an associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Whitaker was the 1985 recipient of the prestigious Award for Advancement of Application of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Take a look back at UC Davis’ history