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Linton discovers magic in Virginia Tech class, sparks journey to Kansas State presidency

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TOPEKA — Richard Linton’s journey to president of Kansas State University began when he followed a friend into a food microbiology class at Virginia Tech University.

It was on the campus in Blacksburg that he discovered Merle Pierson, who hooked him on the academics of food science after three lectures. Linton earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree and doctorate in food science at Virginia Tech, and while doing so came to understand through mentorship by John Marcy that professional success would always be tied to forming relationships and trust with people.

Linton said he was inspired to create for others the kind of light-bulb moments he experienced with Pierson and Marcy.

“I realized a professor could have an immeasurable life-changing impact on the trajectory of someone else’s life,” Linton said during the Friday ceremony inaugurating him as the university’s 15th president. “There have been people, mentors, events and experiences that have shaped who I am and influenced by path to Kansas State University.”

His career took him first to the food science faculty at Purdue University. He was hired as food science department chairman at Ohio State University and agriculture dean at North Carolina State University before being chosen in December by the Kansas Board of Regents to lead the nation’s first land-grant university.

He replaced Richard Myers, who was a four-star general in the US Air Force before serving as Kansas State president for more than five years. Linton started in February, but the official ceremony was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Kansas State’s opening session Sept. 2, 1863.

Linton served as the founder and director of the Center for Food Safety Engineering at Purdue, where he worked for 16 years. He said it was at Ohio State that he honed his skills in academic fundraising and refined a map that could lead to a university presidency. At North Carolina State, he said, the value of interdisciplinary research was featured in a decade of work building partnerships with universities and industry.

He said his wife Sally taught him empathy, his daughter Lily showed him determination and his son Chris bravery — lessons he carried with him to Manhattan.

“When the position of president opened up at Kansas State University, I had been preparing for a very, very long time. I was ready,” Linton said.

Linton vowed to make meaningful impact on communities across the state by holding to the university’s land-grant mission. He would push ahead with an economic plan for Kansas State tied to the creation of 3,000 jobs and $3 billion in private investment.

The task of dealing with the downward enrollment trend among college-age students will be a priority along with reaching out to Kansans in all 105 counties, the president said.

“There are still opportunities ahead. We can and we will be better,” Linton said. “What’s around the corner for K-State? Vision and growth today, with even more expected in the future. A better place for students to learn. A great place for faculty and staff to work and grow. Faster and more complete solutions for our Kansas citizens.”

Gov. Laura Kelly, who was among the introductory speakers at the ceremony on the Manhattan campus, said Linton was in a position to take Kansas State to greater prominence.

“I hope in this short time you have already seen that there is nowhere else like Kansas — kind, hardworking, smart people,” the governor said. “I have no doubt with Dr. Linton’s talents and ambition K-State is well on its way of becoming the modern, next generation land-grant university he envisions.”