Lincoln, Neb. —Since its inception in 2008, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Doctor of Plant Health Program has trained students across the various disciplines that impact plant health and plant management. Students study topics including plant pathology, entomology, soil science, weed science, agronomy, statistics and more. These students go on to work as crop consultants, Extension Educators and as researchers and agronomists for major agricultural companies, among other career paths.
In an agricultural state like Nebraska, this kind of professional training is important, said Gary Hein, the program’s founding director and a professor of entomology.
“Producers want to figure out how decisions fit into their whole production system,” Hein said.
That can be difficult. Without a broad understanding of the many factors that affect plant health, what seems like a simple solution to a disease or other issue can sometimes have unintended consequences. The Doctor of Plant Health program strives to avoid that.
“We’re trying to develop professionals that can work across that entire system so they can develop and implement management systems that will lead to fewer problems in the first place,” Hein said.
After 15 years leading the program, Hein is retiring as director at the end of the year. Jeff Bradshaw, a professor of entomology at the Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center in Scottsbluff, will become the next director effective Jan. 1.
One only has to look at the career paths of the program’s graduates to see that demand for program graduates is high and their post-graduation employment options are many. The very first graduate of the program works in international agricultural development, Hein said. Another early graduate works as an arborist for the New York City Parks department. Others conduct applied research, several work for agricultural companies or in Extension in Nebraska and other states, and some have started their own consulting firms.
“Gary has done a phenomenal job of developing this important program that serves the agriculture industry in Nebraska and around the globe,” said Tiffany Heng-Moss, dean of UNL’s College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources. “I’m grateful for his leadership in establishing this program, and I’m excited to see how the program continues to grow and evolve under Jeff’s leadership.”
As he takes the reins of the program, Bradshaw is excited to strengthen relationships with agribusiness.
“One of the things I’m most looking forward to is connecting with external stakeholders to bring their interests into the program,” he said. “Ideally, we’d like to develop new internships with ag companies for students enrolled in the program.”
Bradshaw is also interested in developing new microcredentials for professionals who want to deepen their understanding of certain topics related to plant health.
Bradshaw, who has spent the past 15 years as the entomologist at the Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center, also has an academic background in plant pathology. He drew on both fields of study frequently during his time with PHREEC, which showed him first-hand the importance of an interdisciplinary degree.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
Even as he takes his new role, Bradshaw will retain a significant research appointment in entomology with especial focus on dryland agroecosystems. He will also continue to teach some key integrated pest management curriculum in entomology. In addition, UNL is committed to ensuring entomology expertise continues to be present at PHREEC.
For more information about the Doctor of Plant Health program, visit dph.unl.edu.