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UWRF hosts horticulturists

October 17, 2013

For the second time in six years, the UW-River Falls Department of Plant and Earth Science hosted the 41st annual Mid-American Collegiate Horticultural Society (MACHS) conference.

At MACHS, horticulture clubs and societies meet from the upper Midwest for a professional development opportunity. This year, eight schools attended the conference, including UWRF.
Each year, MACHS has a theme that runs through the entire conference. This year the theme was “The future of horticulture depends on us.” The theme was chosen in part because of the keynote speaker Mike Yanny and also because the various places where the conference visited all discussed how they have been able to change and thrive as the years pass.

“It takes innovative young people, us, to help envision that future and make it happen,” said Associate Professor of Horticulture David Zlesak.

MACHS decides which school will host the conferences two years in advance, which means that in 2011 it was decided that UWRF would host the 2013 conference.

“Depending on how many students there are in a program at a particular time, the resources and envisioning two years out, somebody makes the commitment to host,” Zlesak said.

Next year the University of North Dakota will host the event, and Iowa State University will host in 2015. Some schools do not attend the conference every year, and as a result do not host as often. A few schools, including UWRF, attend the event each year and as a result host more of the conferences than some of the other schools.

“We recognize how valuable it is,” Zlesak said. “It is so important to have our students experience a professional meeting, meet people from other places and learn about horticulture business and industry somewhere else besides locally here.”

Each school that hosts can organize the tours and speakers based on its regional strengths. UWRF chose Mike Yanny as the one keynote speaker for the event and spent a lot of time during the conference touring various facilities in the area.

“We had people giving us talks and perspectives at their place of business, which is great,” Zlesak said. “Other universities which are more research institutions may have an afternoon where a number of their scientists give a talk on the great research they are doing.”

UWRF took the approach of getting students at the conference out to the facilities. They did this to see how some concepts are put into practice, but also to avoid a day-long classroom-type setting.

Students also do a large part of the planning of what goes into this conference.

“If the students two years ago weren’t excited to host the conference, especially the freshmen and sophomore which would be here two years later, it would be very difficult to commit to hosting it,” Zlesak said. “When the commitment is made two years out to host the conference we select a student chair.”

The student chair for this conference was junior Joel Sehloff. Other students who chair different committees for the conference were also in charge of organizing tours, meals and registration, Zlesak added.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to get experience in pulling together a conference, participating in a professional conference and representing River Falls in the process,” Zlesak said. “A lot of students said this was the best MACHS conference that they’ve been to in a long time. They did a great job.”