Information about my work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
I was hired in 1992 to conduct research and instruction in plant breeding and plant genetics and horticulture. I worked in various administrative roles in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences from 2004-2010. I have been serving as chair of the Department of Horticulture since 2011.
Interaction with students on a regular basis forms what is for me a core principle: our primary job in serving the public is to make sure our students can obtain what they came to the university to get: a top-notch education. I see this as one of the primary reasons for being placed here by the people of Wisconsin. We have many objectives in this complex institution, but the one that focuses on getting it right for students is among my highest priorities. I regularly mentor undergraduate and graduate students in their research and I serve as an advisor to a number of undergraduate Horticulture majors.
I have also been heavily involved in research. I have had an active group of graduate and undergraduate students in my program throughout my career. My research focuses on vegetable breeding and genetics with an emphasis on plant secondary metabolites that have some potential value for human health and wellbeing. We have also bred numerous inbred lines that have been used to make commercial hybrids. These are grown by farmers throughout the world. A portion of our germplasm is licensed through WARF and returns royalties to our program. We currently have over 75 active germplasm licenses from all three of our crops.
In addition to formal administrative activities, I have been involved in many service activities for our campus. These include serving on the Biosecurity Task Force for six years, the Human Subjects Research Protection Advisory Committee for five years, the Research Policy Advisory Committee for five years, the Campus Budget Allocation Committee, the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, The Biological Sciences Divisional Committee, the Graduate School Research Committee, the Huron Administrative Advisory Committee, the Campus Animal Care Reorganization Committee, the CALS Academic Planning Council, and a number of search committees, including the Chancellor Search Committee, the Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Search Committee, and as Chair of the Senior Associate Dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Search Committee and the Population, Quantitative, Computational, and Evolutionary Genetics Faculty Search Committee. I have also worked with colleagues in four departments to develop, propose, and implement a new named option in the Biology Major. This option, called Plant Biology, is a channel for students with interests in the plant sciences. The work on this option took two years and was a collaborative effort between my department and the departments of Plant Pathology, Botany, and Agronomy.
I also have spent considerable effort working with students to develop a platform for community-building around the developing field of organic seed production. This work resulted in the first of its kind “Student Organic Seed Symposium,” which was held in August, 2012 in Vermont. Bill Tracy and I worked as advisers with three graduate students, Claire Luby, Adrienne Shelton, and Alex Lyon, who were the organizers of this event. Approximately 20 graduate students in plant breeding from around the country received scholarships to travel to Vermont for three days to participate in workshops, lectures, field trials, and field trips surrounding organic seeds. Speakers came from the public and private sector and included farmers and local producers. The community building that took place around this symposium was substantial has had an impact: the second annual Student Organic Seed Symposium was held in 2013 in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and had increased funding and student participation. The third was held in Ithaca, NY in August, 2014, and graduate students at UW-Madison hosted the fourth symposium in Madison in August, 2015. Since that time, the symposium has continued to grow and expand and provide a unique opportunity for students interested in organic seed systems.
My family came to the US in the early 20th century from Eastern Europe. They settled in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. My maternal grandparents had a grocery store and my paternal grandfather had a laundry business. It is a testament to the freedoms in this country that, through public education and opportunity, one can pursue their dreams. I am a fortunate beneficiary of these opportunities and of the guidance from many people throughout my life.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My parents supported and encouraged my participation in outdoor activities of all kinds, and through them I first learned about the natural world. They took us to farms in Wisconsin and Michigan, to the great lakes, to the Niagara escarpment, and to many destinations in the city: concerts, plays, libraries, museums, and to visit family. The father of my lifelong friend Andy Gremley took us on wilderness trips around the country beginning at about age 12. Robert “Rollfast” Gremley was a huge influence on our thinking about the differences between the natural and human-built worlds, and he challenged us to think about the fate of natural environments. He also played us folk music and jazz. Two of our junior high school teachers, Tim Olson and Peter Bodi, took us on long bicycle trips on weekends, and we combined our interest in physical activity and the outdoors.
I attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There I learned about plant science and, through the help of my academic adivsor Darrell Miller, got a job in a soybean breeding program that was run by Cecil Nickell. It was there that I was exposed to plant breeding as a scientific field and I became fascinated with the subject. I took Bob Lambert’s plant breeding class and was hooked. From Illinois I went to North Carolina State University’s Department of Crop Science to study with Tommy Carter (pictured below, left), and I completed a Master’s degree there under his direction. I returned to the midwest and the University of Wisconsin Department of Agronomy for my doctoral work, under the direction of Earl Gritton (pictured at right). I had always been interested in evolution and natural selection, and it was at Wisconsin that I developed a much better understanding of these subjects and their relationship to plant breeding. I moved to the University of Illinois to do postdoctoral work with Torbert Rocheford, and I was fortunate to be able to work on the Illinois Long Term Selection strains while there. As I began my faculty position at Wisconsin in 1992, I completed a BARD fellowship on tomato genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rehovot, Israel, working with Dani Zamir and Ilan Paran.