We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.
Today we’re showcasing Desmond Layne, professor of pomology in the Department of Horticulture and director of the CAHNRS AFS and IPS degree programs. Here are his answers to a few questions:
Where are you from?
My childhood home is on the shore of Lake Erie in southern Ontario, Canada. I grew up in a small, rural farming community. Because of the lake-effect and local climate moderation there, we could grow tender fruits, vinifera grapes, and other high-value horticultural crops. My high school summers were spent as a laborer on local fruit and vegetable farms in the area.
Where did you go to school?
I completed a B.Sc. in Agriculture at Ontario Agricultural College (part of the University of Guelph). My emphasis area was horticulture. I completed a M.S. and Ph.D. in Horticulture at Michigan State University. The disciplinary emphasis of my graduate degrees was pomology (fruit science). The crop focus of my graduate research was tart cherry. Michigan is the #1 tart cherry producer in the U.S.
How did you become interested in your field?
My father was a fruit breeder and scientist for Agriculture Canada (similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture). I developed a love for science and tree fruit crops because of his influence. Working as a summer student on fruit farms in high school and later as a research assistant and IPM scout while in college cemented the desire to do research to help solve the problems of commercial fruit growers and to find effective ways to teach and advise them.
Why did you want to become a professor?
I wanted to become a professor for the following reasons: First, I wanted to help commercial fruit growers by providing research-based solutions to their problems so that they could make informed decisions to improve their operations and enhance their profitability. Second, I wanted to be able to take my passion for horticulture (and fruit crops, in particular) to teach students about the fascinating and delicious world of fruit so that they could understand its’ complexity, history, global, national and local impact. Students with a plant-science related degree need to know something about this multi-billion-dollar industry and they need to explore the delicious diversity there is for their palate and their good health. Third, I wanted to be able to help people in other countries.
What is your favorite thing about working with college students?
I remember being an undergraduate student and having a fabulous professor who taught my undergraduate “Plant Propagation” course. He always came to class well-prepared, enthusiastic, passionate and had a way of making difficult concepts seem easier and interesting. He was warm, an excellent communicator, and he genuinely cared about the students. It showed. I loved that class. He’s retired now but I wrote to him a few weeks ago to thank him for the positive influence he had on my life. He remembered me!
I really enjoy providing real-world scenarios so that students can better understand the concepts I am trying to teach. I am energized when a student comes to talk to me after class and it is obvious that they are really thinking about something we talked about and they are interested to learn more. Students are the future. To the extent that I can, I want to positively impact their life for what short time I am given with them like my Plant Propagation professor did for me in 1984.
What advice would you pass along to students?
Link your natural giftedness to your curiosity and interests. Discover your passion and pursue it with vigor. Find an experienced mentor and be a good listener. Never stop learning and seeking to grow personally and professionally. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. Be humble and serve others with a heart of compassion.