COLLEGE STATION – In the gardening world, when plant growth slows that means it’s time to repot.
That concept doesn’t fall short on Dr. Dan Lineberger, the new horticultural sciences department head at Texas A&M University. He’s looking into a storehouse of larger, varied “pots” to encourage growth within the department.
“I’m at the point where I’m more interested in the long-term perspective,” Lineberger said. “We’re going to do a self-study to look for opportunities.”
His appointment is itself a sort of regrowth. Lineberger first came to Texas A&M in 1990 as department head. It was a period of economic exuberance which stirred excitement in research and educational programs, he said, which made it easy to recruit the “superstars” to the faculty.
Along with Lineberger, the department grew to 50 faculty statewide and campus gardens sprang up under the guidance of several faculty. The community was involved in creating and maintaining the gardens, and Master Gardeners – volunteers trained by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – firmly planted themselves across the state. The department’s fruits and vegetable science component churned out new and improved varieties and discovered how many of the phytochemicals in produce impact human health.
But the wilting economy and dampened atmosphere in higher education led many to retire or take jobs elsewhere. And sweeping budget cuts in Texas trimmed many others from the classroom, said Lineberger, who currently counts 40 horticultural faculty statewide.
That scenario might have caused another person to pull up roots and go find more fertile soil elsewhere, but, he said, “I have some things to offer, so I threw my name in the hat to be department head again.”
Two thoughts already have surfaced in Lineberger: technology and teaching. And while they are separate to most, for Lineberger, the two are often intertwined.
First is the notion of distance education classes for horticulture students. Lineberger recounted a recent convention he attended where he was repeatedly asked what offerings Texas A&M horticulture had in distance education. “I had to point my finger to my colleagues at Texas Tech, because they offer horticulture classes via distance ed, but we don’t yet,” he said.
“There is a real need for teaching horticulture from a distance,” Lineberger added. “My passion for that grew as a faculty member and as department head, I can have an impact there.”
Lineberger also believes he can help the department’s long-term research strategy by helping to establish more endowed chairs. An endowed chair provides for a top-level professor and includes funds for research and other needs to pursue a particular topic.
The horticultural sciences department already has three endowed chairs — more than any other horticulture department in the nation, Lineberger said.
He envisions adding endowed chairs in vegetable breeding, landscape horticulture and pecan culture to the three existing chairs: the Bayse Chair in Rose Breeding and Genetics, the Benz Chair in Floral Design and the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture.
“We have renowned people working in these areas,” Lineberger said. “If we plan a program around centers of excellence and add opportunities, that can be a focal point to keep things growing.”