GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After 15 years as an environmental horticulture faculty member at the UF/IFAS research center in Fort Pierce, Sandra Wilson was honored when asked to take over the department at the university’s main campus in Gainesville.
But there were a lot of logistics involved. For one thing, she needed to relocate her husband, a UF/IFAS soil and water science professor, who also worked at the Indian River Research and Education Center. Not to mention their 7-year-old daughter, two dogs and three cats.
Still, the Wilsons have made the transition, and Sandra is the interim chair of the UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture. Wilson was appointed to the post by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources.
“Dr. Wilson was a natural choice to lead our Environmental Horticulture Department,” Payne said. “Combine her outstanding teaching and research record, the leadership she has shown and the fact that the faculty support her, and we knew right away Dr. Wilson would lead the department to unparalleled heights.”
Wilson joined the Indian River REC, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, as an assistant professor in 1999. She was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and to professor in 2011. She replaces Wayne Mackay, who took a similar position at the University of Arkansas and recommended Wilson to take over for him.
“I wouldn’t have accepted this position unless I felt like I was 100 percent supported by the faculty and staff,” Wilson said.
Wilson sounds like she was ready for her next career step. Not only had she taught many courses and published more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles while moving up the faculty ranks, she had taken leadership courses.
Wilson has served in numerous leadership roles. She is current vice president of the Education Division of the American Society for Horticultural Sciences. She’s a member of the UF Faculty Senate. She also was a Roche professor, a position in which she provided distance education leadership to faculty and staff in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
She also was named the CALS Undergraduate Teacher of the Year for 2007-08, the American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Undergraduate Educator in 2012 and has developed a number of innovative online teaching tools to help students learn plants.
Wilson said she’s energized by interacting with so many people a day on so many levels, where others may derive their passion in other ways. That’s a good thing, because administrators meet with people from all walks of life.
Asked her about her goal and Wilson mentions increasing enrollment and making sure the world knows the merits of the environmental horticulture department. Ask her about her sources of pride in the department and Wilson quickly brings up many people – faculty, staff and students. She particularly likes the student clubs. Wilson cited the group that recently put together the annual poinsettia sale that had record-breaking sales this year.
But enrollment has decreased in the department during the past four years, a trend Wilson wants reversed.
“One of my goals is to provide leadership to recruit and show what environmental horticulture is and its impact not only in the state of Florida but nationwide, for new students and faculty,” Wilson said.
Specifically, she talks about how the department can compete more aggressively for grants and how it can be recognized as the best in the nation.
“The department has tremendous talent and resources, we just need to ensure we are strategic and successful in filling positions to ensure our excellence in research, teaching and Extension,” Wilson said. She’s working with faculty and industry stakeholders on defining those positions. But one will address the human dimension of people-plant interactions. Others will be focused on advancing the areas of ornamental production under controlled environments, public horticulture and tree culture.
Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1989 and her master’s in horticulture in 1993, both from the University of Delaware. She earned her doctorate in plant physiology from Clemson University in 1996.
Her academic and research interests are wide-ranging. Among her most recent published studies, Wilson co-wrote a 2014 paper about off-campus graduate student experiences. Another focused on alternatives to invasive plants in Florida while another focused on growing native wildflowers in different soils.
By Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Sandra Wilson, 352-294-3059, email@example.com
Jack Payne, 352-392-1971, firstname.lastname@example.org