PSLA Relaunches its Departmental Newsletter

July 17, 2020

John Erwin

Remarks from PSLA Chair Dr. John Erwin:

Welcome to PSLA’s relaunched newsletter.  This newsletter is part of our renewed commitment to reach out to current and prospective students and staff, faculty, alumni, former employees, emeritus faculty, and to Maryland residents and agricultural industries we serve.  In each issue, we hope to highlight 1) amazing, cutting edge research our faculty and students are conducting 2) new efforts to reach out to all communities and businesses to become one of the most diverse and innovative departments in the nation, and 3) other news from the university and each of you (including alumni) in which readers may be interested.

I want to take the opportunity to recognize the amazing work of my predecessor, Angus Murphy.  His leadership helped refocus the department on Maryland agriculture while simultaneously raising the prominence of our department nationally in the plant science community.  While Chair, Angus increased the size of the Department, increased graduate student number to the largest in the college, increased private giving and grant revenue.    We should all thank him for the terrific job he did for our department and the University.

Our Department will be meeting this fall to determine our collective priorities and to set future directions and goals with respect to teaching, research and outreach.  This will be the first of several meetings to accomplish this.  This process will include input from as many constituencies as possible including those that receive this newsletter.  Please take time to answer any surveys you receive as your input is important to us!  

In the meantime, I started working on some activities that I think most would agree are important.  PSLA is part of the flagship Land Grant university in the state of Maryland.  As such, we have a responsibility to maintain/increase access, outreach, relevance, affordability, and research innovation that positions Maryland businesses to be successful.  Below, I have listed activities around these priorities.

  • Increase Diversity:  Become one of the most diverse and inclusive departments in the country serving everyone in Maryland, our region, and having a national and international presence.  We have reached out to the HBCU’s in Maryland as well as a more than 1 community college in increase collaboration in our classes.  I also initiated a department ad hoc Diversity and Inclusion Committee that will meet for the first time this fall.


  • Offer coursework that meets the needs of our changing plant-based agriculture and value-added product community, and the plant science and landscape architecture industries.  We have added two new courses to address the needs of the rapidly growing fermentation industry.


  • Conduct cutting edge research to solve local, national and international issues around providing food and ornamentals, and landscape design in a changing climate.  We have dynamic new research programs focusing on CRISPR-based genomic modification to increase yield, agroecology – especially around the Chesapeake Bay, grain breeding for disease resistance and yield, fruit disease resistant, and fruit postharvest physiology and flavor.  In the process, our external research funding has increased dramatically.  Although these are difficult times, it is our hope we will hire a number of new faculty including in weed science, landscape architecture, and turf pathology and ecology.  My hope is to also increase our presence in the area of controlled environmental agriculture and flowering and stress physiology.


  • Increase Student Number:  This fall we will be initiating a major effort to recruit more students.  My goal is to increase student number by 50% in 4 years.  Integral to this is students understanding what occupations and areas they can gain expertise in with a degree from our department.  For instance, my hope is that we will add a new Sustainable Food Production specialization this upcoming year.


  • Increase Outreach Activities:  Beyond this newsletter, we also initiated a new website ( ), twitter account and a new Facebook page to increase access and exposure.  Aside from traditional agriculture industries, we are in the process of reaching out to new industries that are now partners with Maryland agriculture.  For instance, restaurateurs who celebrate local food production, new fermentation-based industries such as micro-breweries, and distilleries, and food processing industries such as McCormick’s all represent important parts of Maryland agriculture; we aim to serve them more fully.


  • Improving the Physical Environment:  To make our building a more welcoming place for students, visitors and staff we are exploring re-landscaping outside and adding plants and furniture inside.  Also, private giving will be an integral part of our department’s long-term sustainability; we will be initiating a private giving campaign in the near future for gifts as small as $25 to as large as $5 million.  We will also be exploring new entrepreneurial activities in partnership with Maryland businesses.


  • Initiate an External Advisory Committee:  We will be organizing a group of representatives of all of the industries we serve to review all of our activities to make sure that they align with Maryland business owner and industry needs.


  • Long-Term stability:  Financial stability is key.  Increase private giving and endowments to our department.  That will include small gifts, like new chairs and seating for our students in the lobby to large gifts such as endowed Chairs/Professorships.  School spirit.  Willing to give, just not asked yet.

These are exciting times.  The University of Maryland has a long tradition of excellence in agronomy, horticulture, plant biology and physiology, plant pathology and landscape architecture; it is my intention to build on that tradition to make our program a regional and national leader. Although this is an ambitious agenda, PSLA has the faculty, staff, students and alumni to achieve every goal.  I celebrate the history of this great department, and look forward to the great work we are undertaking and working with all of you.

John Erwin