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  March 4, 2002

When It Comes to Teaching,
Guillard is on Solid Turf
By John Wray

Short grasses, tall grasses, hairy and smooth, temperate and tropical, grasses of the dusty plains and grasses of the lush tropics - all are of intense interest to those who study the most widely grown crop in America.

Karl Guillard is one of these, and his enthusiasm about plant science in general and turf grass in particular is infectious.

In a recent lab session, his students dissected cross sections of different grasses, examining them under microscopes.

Preparing the specimens required patience, as students cut the thinnest possible slices across a blade of grass, mounting each specimen on a slide with a drop of water. Some of the specimens proved too large, or lay flat so that a cross section could not be seen. But Guillard and his students kept at it until they succeeded, intent on seeing the sought-after internal structures whose color and positioning are telltale signs differentiating one type of turf grass from another.

Even in lecture classes, Guillard tries to include something applied, such as experiments and field trips.

"I like to challenge my students on these walks and say: 'You're the consultants. Tell me why I can't get grass growing here and what can I do about it,'" he says. "I like to act as a facilitator in getting them to come up with their own ideas."

He also likes to incorporate technology into his classes. He uses computers wherever he can, and much of his class material can also be accessed on his website. And he encourages his students to post their class projects on the site, so they can be shared with other students.

Love of the Environment
Guillard's interest in plant science stems from early exposure to the countryside.

"My father was a country doctor," he says, "but he always dreamed of becoming a gentleman farmer. He never did become a gentleman farmer, but he did buy a big apple farm where I grew up in central Pennsylvania and I spent a lot of time there.

"I always liked being outside, and I've always been interested in the environment and the land," he says, "so I guess it's natural that I should have gravitated into plant science."

Guillard earned his bachelor of science in agriculture at Penn State, then came to UConn, where he completed a master's in plant science and a Ph.D. in agronomy, the science of crops and soils. He started teaching at UConn in 1987.

Guillard has taught many different plant science courses over the years, but finally settled on turf science as his area of concentration when he was asked to develop a turf grass science program at UConn in 1996.

In addition to heading this program, he teaches a graduate course in the design and analysis of agricultural experiments, and is developing other new courses related to turf science.

He is also a successful researcher. One recent grant, under the USDA's National Research Initiative, is currently funding research with the objective of reducing nitrogen leaching from fall nitrogen fertilization of turf. "There has been concern," Guillard says, "that nitrogen fertilizers used on grasses are leaching into the aquifers. We don't have the data yet, but we're working on it."

Achieving Distinction
But above all Guillard loves to teach. This year, his dedication to teaching was recognized when he became one of three faculty members named a University Teaching Fellow for 2001-2002.

"I have known Karl Guillard both as a student, and throughout his teaching career," says Derek Allinson, interim associate dean for resident instruction, himself a teaching fellow, and former head of the Teaching and Learning Institute, who nominated Guillard for the award. "Karl is a dedicated teacher who is constantly looking for and implementing new ways to enhance his students' ability to learn. He has taught at all academic levels and has achieved success in all of them. He is a model for young faculty members to emulate."

Guillard receives high praise from his students.

Says graduate student Seth Goodall: "Dr. Guillard's enthusiasm for teaching encourages his students to strive for excellence in the classroom and beyond. His vast knowledge and use of technology makes the topics interesting."

"He is very good at relating his subject matter to the real world," adds Christy O'Neill, also a graduate student.

Matthew Staffieri, a junior in the turf grass science program, says, "Professor Guillard encourages us to challenge ourselves and not take the easy way out, in class and in real life."

He notes that Guillard is very accessible to students: "He's a very out-going teacher and is willing to help his students whenever they need it. It is nice to know that if you have a quick question or problem, you can stop by his office and he will stop what he is doing to help you out."

Nurturing Students
Guillard has been successful at recruiting graduate students into the turf science program by involving undergraduates in research early in their university experience.

"I'm always looking for potential graduate students who are going to continue to pursue turf science as a career," says Guillard. "I've found that starting undergraduate students on interesting projects is a great way to get them involved and show them what potential there is in this field. Sometimes, projects my students have started in undergraduate school have continued all the way through their graduate studies."

One of Guillard's former graduate students, Kelly Kopp, is now an extension turf grass specialist at Utah State University, where she is researching ways to reduce the water use of grasses.

"As a student and teaching assistant, I witnessed the curiosity that Dr. Guillard inspired in his students first-hand," she says. "He succeeded in blending course materials, current events, and humor in a way that engaged students with every lecture."

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