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US (CA): Daniel Potter named Department of Plant Sciences chair at UCDavis

Botanist Daniel Potter is the new chair of the Department of Plant Sciences, overseeing graduate and undergraduate programming, 60 faculty members, several emeriti professors and many greenhouses, labs and teaching facilities.

Potter, who has been at UC Davis for nearly 28 years, researches the diversity and classification of flowering plants, focusing on horticultural crop plants and their wild relatives, the effects of humans on plant evolution and taxonomy of selected species native to California. He also studies ethnobotany, which examines the interactions of plants and people, and serves as director of the Center for Plant Diversity Herbarium.

The department offers three undergraduate and two graduate degree programs centered on tackling agricultural, ecological and environmental issues. Professors teach and conduct research, and Cooperative Extension specialists do outreach work and education with growers, industry and others. It's among the largest department in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Diversity of interest, study area and experience
Courses cover a variety of topics, including biotechnology, plant breeding, genomics, crop quality, ecological management, environmental horticulture and international agricultural development.

That diversity is something Potter wants to foster.

"Diversity is really one of the greatest strengths of the department, if not the greatest, but it's also one of the biggest challenges, because, how do you keep it all going?" Potter said. "One of my priorities is maintaining that diversity and doing as much as possible to ensure that all the diverse perspectives and all the diverse interests get addressed and that people feel like they're getting the attention they need."

The department's classrooms, labs and facilities are spread out around campus, which can make it hard for students – graduate and undergraduate – to connect. Potter hopes to increase the sense of connectivity and unity among students and the department. "We're so big and diverse and spread out over a lot of buildings," he said. "That's been a bit of a challenge."

The department has been streamlining curriculum to ensure classes don't overlap. Potter, who served as the department's vice chair of teaching for seven years, said he would continue that effort, especially as long-time faculty retire. Increasing lab space is also a priority.

"We want to continue providing really good experiential teaching," he said.

Potter replaces Distinguished Professor Gail Taylor, who served as chair since 2017. Taylor left UC Davis earlier this year to become a dean at University College London.


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