Founding chair to focus on students in new viticulture and enology department

Jean Dodson Peterson inspects pinot noir grapes during harvest.
Jean Dodson Peterson inspects pinot noir grapes during harvest on the campus of Cal Poly, San Luis San Obispo (photo courtesy of Joe Johnston/Cal Poly).

Jean Dodson Peterson will join Washington State University this fall as founding chair of the newly created Department of Viticulture and Enology.

“We are all eager for Dr. Dodson Peterson to join the new department and look forward to her leadership,” said Rich Koenig, interim dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “Meeting her during the interview process, I have every confidence that she is a great fit to lead the viticulture and enology faculty and students.”

Dodson Peterson will be based on the WSU Tri‑Cities campus at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center. She will take over leadership from renowned wine scientist Thomas Henick-Kling, who has served as WSU V&E program director since 2009.

“I’m excited for the new department to have such a vibrant and enthusiastic leader,” said Sandra Haynes, WSU Tri‑Cities chancellor. “Given our proximity to the Washington wine industry in the mid‑Columbia region, we value our relationships with winemakers and grape growers. Dr. Dodson Peterson’s focus on student success, experience with the wine industry and in higher education, and openness to innovation will be great benefits to our campus and the future of the industry.”

Dodson Peterson said her top focus will be students. In her faculty role at California Polytechnic State University, she has overseen the redevelopment of the undergraduate curriculum for the past seven years. Her goal is to empower the next generation of students to solve current and future problems.

Jean Dodson Peterson

“We need to train our students to be critical thinkers such that they have the skills to tackle the problems of tomorrow,” Dodson Peterson said. “I am looking forward to joining WSU and the opportunity to facilitate building a department that will benefit the state of Washington and its incredible wine industry.”

That’s precisely what Dick Boushey, owner of Boushey Vineyards and a member of the hiring committee that recommended Dodson Peterson for the chair position, wants to hear.

“You have to put students first,” said Boushey, who also leads the Washington Wine Commission’s research committee. “Research is important, but you have to be a place where students want to come. Jean has the skills to do that. I’m as excited about this hire as anything the WSU wine program has done, and I’ve been working with this program since the 1980s.”

Dodson Peterson said her experience of “lucking into” her discovery of wine science drives home the need to be more active in recruiting undergraduate students.

“I had no idea this major existed when I went to college,” Dodson Peterson said. “It isn’t an area of study that most 18‑ or 19‑year‑olds are aware of. We must open their eyes to the opportunities that exist in this profession.”

Dodson Peterson enrolled at the University of California, Davis as a Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior major and wanted to become a medical doctor. Serendipity, and a talk with her friend and future spouse, led her to take an introduction to wine class. Her future changed quickly after that.

“I asked so many questions during the large lecture course that the professor said I should switch majors so there would be adequate time to address them all,” Dodson Peterson said. “I did switch to V&E and have never regretted it for a second.”

Dodson Peterson eventually earned a PhD in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis. She’s been on the faculty at Cal Poly since 2014, where her research focuses on grapevine rootstock-scion interactions. She will join WSU as an associate professor in addition to her role as founding chair.

Her top priorities as chair will include recruiting and retaining undergraduate students and working with faculty as the department comes together to ensure timely degree progress for students. 

“I look forward to discussions with faculty as well as current and recently graduated students about their experience in the program,” Dodson Peterson said. “I know we, as a faculty team, need to meet the needs of a diverse student body and ensure facility access for all students coming through the department.

“The WSU V&E faculty is doing relevant, inspiring work that is benefiting the wine and grape industry on a global scale. I want to continue to support their efforts, enable the creation of new partnerships, and grow our research, academic programming, and extension efforts such that all our students enter the industry career-ready.” 

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