University of Georgia

New leadership blooms for UGA plant science

photo of Jim Leebens-Mack and Wayne Parrot
Jim Leebens-Mack, left, and Wayne Parrott were named directors of the Plant Center and Integrated Plant Sciences, respectively. (Photos by Dorothy Kozlowski and Andrew Davis Tucker)

UGA’s plant sciences community welcomed two new leaders this summer, as Jim Leebens-Mack and Wayne Parrott were named directors of the Plant Center and the Integrated Plant Sciences program, respectively, effective July 1.

Taking over from interim director C.J. Tsai, Leebens-Mack said he looks forward to what the future holds for the center.

“I will work with the Plant Center community to continue and extend initiatives to build and support innovative research and training programs aimed at optimizing sustainable production of plant resources while slowing degradation and promoting restoration of global and local environments,” said Leebens-Mack, Distinguished Research Professor in plant biology and interim curator of the UGA Herbarium.

Leebens-Mack aims to reinforce the Plant Center’s mission to enhance the tradition of outstanding research across the plant sciences.

“For over 30 years the Plant Center has served as a focal point for the plant sciences at UGA, providing a firm foundation for cross-cutting, integrative research and training in the plant sciences that extends beyond UGA,” he said. “It’s my goal to continue this momentum and build upon the tradition of excellence cultivated by previous Plant Center directors.”

The Plant Center will continue to be a valuable resource for research students and postdocs through its degree programs, training workshops and internships, including the ongoing “Crop Genetics and Genomics” undergraduate internship program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the “Plant Sciences and Fields that Intersect” graduate training program, proposal pending with the National Science Foundation. “We will redouble efforts to cultivate diversity and inclusivity across the plant sciences by empowering students with the technical and personal skills they need to create bold and innovative plant-focused solutions for a broad range of important local and global challenges,” said Leebens-Mack.

Parrott, a Distinguished Research Professor in crop and soil sciences, will take the reins as director of Integrated Plant Sciences from previous director (and IPS founded), Lisa Donovan. In his new role, Parrott has a steadfast mission to attract top graduate students for the program’s research efforts, which include a range of topics such as bioinformatics, breeding, genetics, genomics and more.

“My goal is to increase the number of world-class graduate students we bring to campus,” said Parrott. “Doing so will require implementing more recruitment options and ensuring our visibility and recruiting efforts remain competitive.”

Parrott also hopes to showcase the career opportunities available in plant sciences.

“Together with the Plant Center, IPS increases the visibility of these opportunities at UGA and provides prospective students with a high-profile recruiting and application portal through which they can learn about all the faculty participating in graduate training the plant sciences, fungal biology and plant-microbe interactions,” he said.

“The UGA Plant Center and IPS program serve a critical role in bringing together researchers from across the university who are joined by a common interest in this dynamic field, with its applications not only in agriculture but in areas like biofuels, sustainable materials and other areas vital to our future,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “I’m confident that Dr. Leebens-Mack and Dr. Parrott will help continue a long tradition of UGA excellence and leadership in plant science in their new directorial roles.”