Professor Donna Fernandez writes, “I’ve always felt privileged to be in a department where you can be a plant geek unapologetically, in whatever form that takes.” And the unapologetic plant geeks of the Department of Botany have been privileged to have Donna as a member of its faculty for the past 30 years. Donna retires this May and leaves behind a legacy of many great contributions to the department and the University at large since her start in January of 1991.
As an educator and mentor she has introduced undergrads to the world of Botany with a total cumulative enrollment of over 15,000(!) students in 100-level courses. She has also been heavily involved in graduate education co-teaching Plant Cell Biology and Regulatory Mechanisms in Plant Development. Over the course of her career, Donna has been the major advisor for 8 graduate students and 7 postdocs or visiting scientists and has provided research opportunities for 45 undergraduates in her lab. She has served on 113 thesis/dissertation committees for M.S. and Ph.D. students in a variety of different graduate programs.
Dr. Fernandez’s research contributions have been extensive, but one of the most significant has been to better define the role that non-floral MADS domain transcription factors play in the regulation of plant development. These genetic factors help control the timing of plant flowering, to make sure that the plant does not flower at an inappropriate time. Her lab group’s work has been published in highly respected journals, including Plant Cell, Plant Physiology, and the Journal of Experimental Botany.
Donna has also devoted a significant amount of her time to university service over her career. She served as Botany Department Chair for four years (2004-2008) and played a central role on the administrative team charged with reorganizing the Biology Major in 2013. Most recently Donna served as Co-Chair of the campus-wide Biology Major Program for eight years (2013-2021).
After retirement Donna plans to continue working in the lab for another year to finish up a current genetic research project. But it won’t be all work: COVID permitting, Donna plans a celebratory trip to Chile, South Georgia Island, and Antarctica in the Fall. We certainly hope those plans come to fruition and wish a happy retirement to our valued colleague, teacher, mentor, and fellow unapologetic plant geek.