Newsletter Summer 2021

FROM THE DEPARTMENT HEAD

SCOTT STEINMAUS

Department Head,
Horticulture & Crop Science

Are we there yet? “There” being past the pandemic that began as COVID-19 and then stretched on because of the variants. I was amazed at how the RNA vaccines were developed at such an incredible pace, cutting short the timelines to a fraction of previous vaccine development programs. The technology did not exist until relatively recently and is a product of rapid discoveries in science.  

Our students are taught these kinds of technologies. It makes me wonder how today’s students can learn all that we learned when we were in college and then add on the newer technologies of today. The fact that our program has achieved this represents the efficiency and efficacy of our faculty and staff who have put together a program that delivers the knowledge, understanding and ability to tackle todays and tomorrow’s complex problems in plant production.  

This past year was extremely challenging to our faculty and staff for obvious reasons: Faculty had to convert all classroom and lab materials into a virtual format with not much more than a day’s notice. It was extremely intimidating for many of us who are adept and take pride in our interpersonal connections with student learning. Teaching in that kind of environment is tough enough, but having to learn in it? Students persevered past obstacle after obstacle, demonstrating their resolve to continue learning. 

Our faculty were incredibly flexible as we attempted to accommodate all the challenges that students might have experienced. In return, our students were incredibly gracious and patient as we fumbled through learning how to deliver a virtual curriculum effectively. Students even gave us input to the methods that worked best for them. We would not have made it through this episode with our sanity intact without their grace.  

Faculty came up with inventive approaches to teaching, such as Professor Headrick’s “fireside chats”, video messages that were a way to reach out and reassure students that we would get through this together. And Professor Lauren Garner and Professor Jeff Wong’s ingenious methods of lab instruction that students could do at home with materials they already had or could purchase inexpensively at a local hardware store. Then there is Lecturer Melinda Lynch, who mailed boxes of lab supplies to her students so that they could perform lab exercises at home. There is not sufficient space for me to list the many additional examples of faculty and students adapting to the ever-changing learning environment that occurred in 2020-21.  

Meanwhile staff members Dan Chesini and Johnny Rosecrans were saddled with maintaining a farm and orchards without student help. The farm was still productive, and we ended up donating a significant amount of food to our local Food Bank.  At the Horticulture Unit, Wendy Robinson was able to maintain a vivacious production system that met the huge increase in demand for urban horticultural products. Our staff and some students were allowed to come to work because they were considered essential workers.  

And that leads me back to my original awe of our students and their ability to learn advanced technologies that will be the way of the future. Not only are they needed in the industry, they are also essential. We look forward with glee to returning in-person in fall 2021.

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