Home Issue 2019-09-13 UF Chair: ‘The Cutting Edge Of Feeding The World’

UF Chair: ‘The Cutting Edge Of Feeding The World’

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Diane Rowland’s first professional job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Peanut Research Laboratory set her on what she says has been an unanticipated path concerning the world’s food supply.

Now, as the new chair of the University of Florida’s agronomy department, Rowland recognizes the critical role her department plays in the future of food production.

“Here in Florida, we’re producing the kinds of crops that provide most of the world’s calories,” she said. “We have such diversity of expertise in the department that we represent not only Florida’s agriculture but also the world’s. To be able to lead a group that’s at the cutting edge of feeding the world is really a privilege.”

Making an impact

Since joining the UF/IFAS faculty nine years ago, Rowland’s accomplishments have extended beyond her own research program, which has focused on everything from peanut to cotton to turf. Even before taking on the role of interim chair in January, Rowland has been a leader in seeking ways to build opportunities for faculty and students.

One of her first tasks upon coming to UF was to collaboratively establish an agroecology graduate program, which has since expanded with Ph.D. and certificate offerings. She has also assisted in establishing programs for students to receive mentorship from industry professionals, and just over a year ago, she founded the transdisciplinary Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture after identifying the value that other areas of expertise could add to strengthening the world’s food production needs.

“Science excites me, and I live to collaborate,” Rowland said. “When you’re open to that, I think that leads to many new opportunities.”

New thinking

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources, praised Rowland’s advocacy for collaboration and dispelling “old paradigms that would put agriculture and natural resources at odds.”

“Dr. Rowland’s team approach to science gives me great confidence in the department’s future,” Payne said. “I look forward to Dr. Rowland’s leadership in making the science of agriculture and of natural resources a single problem-solving approach to the grand challenges of the next few decades.”

Rowland entered the interim position with a list of proposed initiatives for the department, some of which she’s already set into motion and others that will guide her in the days to come. Among the already-accomplished tasks was filling two associate chair positions, Jose Dubeux at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna and Luke Flory on the Gainesville campus.

“I think of leadership as servant leadership and trying to determine what’s best for the group or what’s best for forwarding individuals in the group,” she says of adding the associate chair positions in separate locations to unite the diverse and widespread department. “I find my reward in promoting the success of others.”

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