Associate professor Brian Schwartz and professor Wayne Hanna develop turfgrass, ornamental and forage crop cultivars that benefit farmers and almost everyone who has a lawn, plays sports or enjoys a walk in the park.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
Both Dr. Hanna and I received our bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University, about 35 years apart from each other. He earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in 1970, but I completed mine in 2008 at the University of Florida. Dr. Hanna has been breeding ornamental grasses and trees at UGA since his retirement from the USDA Agricultural Research Service in 2003. I took over his turfgrass breeding program when I arrived at UGA in 2009. I am an associate professor in the department of crop and soil sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Hanna is a professor in the same department. We’re also both members of the university’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics & Genomics.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
Dr. Hanna’s first job was as an assistant professor at the University of Florida in 1970, but he quickly moved to the USDA ARS in Tifton in 1971 when a position became available in Dr. Glenn Burton’s research group. I joined UGA in 2009—even though I had a job offer back at Texas A&M—because this research program has arguably had more impact on the warm-season turf and forage industries across the world than any other.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I teach the plant breeding practicum course for graduate students in the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics & Genomics. As a Tifton campus faculty member, this has been a good way for me to interact with students in Athens and give them a glimpse of what their research life may be like if they go on to become plant breeders at a university.
What interests you about your field?
From Dr. Hanna’s perspective, he has enjoyed the opportunity to make a significant contribution to society through research. I like that my research is broadly applicable to almost everyone who has a lawn, plays sports or enjoys a walk in the park.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Dr. Hanna’s highlights include the development of many grass cultivars with major impact. Among others, he created hybrid Tifleaf 3 pearl millet for high-quality summer forage production and several superior turfgrass cultivars such as TifBlair centipedegrass and TifEagle, TifSport and TifGrand bermudagrasses. I’ll add that he has made major advances in grass genetics and cytogenetics, but that he is too humble to talk about how many awards and recognitions he’s earned over the years. For me, the highlight so far has been the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Hanna and learn as much as I can from him. Additionally, I’ve enjoyed the challenges of putting my own spin and new direction on a program that has such a storied history of success, while trying not to mess it up!
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
If by teaching we are referencing graduate student education through research … UGA is arguably one of the best universities in the world for creating an environment where resources, experience and youthful excitement can be synergistically deployed to make significant impacts. Coming from the perspective of working at the Tifton location, teaching has a whole different meaning than for those in Athens.
Describe your ideal student.
Dr. Hanna’s ideal student is hungry for learning and willing to work hard. For me, I’d rather they not act like a “millennial.” There’s nothing more aggravating than a student who would rather learn through social media and YouTube rather than by getting their hands a little dirty!
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My favorite place to be on the Tifton campus is out in a field of new turfgrass hybrids, looking for that next great variety that might one day get to be planted in Sanford Stadium.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
My favorite thing to do is hangout with my wife and three daughters … and when the stars align, I love going back to our family farm where there are no cell phones or email!
Community/civic involvement includes…
Both Dr. Hanna and I are members of a great church in Tifton where we can worship and be involved with helping the community as much as possible.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“Star Wars” is my favorite movie, because I grew up in the 1980s. I can’t think of another explanation!
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moment at UGA has been to be a part of the team that developed our new drought tolerant bermudagrass, TifTuf. We hope that this new variety will help conserve our most precious resource, water.