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Reflections August 2018

Janet Cole

ASHS President


     As I sit in front of a blank computer screen and ponder about my first “Reflections” column, I think back on my career and my experiences in ASHS.  We all have “firsts” in our lives, and I have experienced many firsts related to my career and ASHS.  My first ASHS conference was in McAllen, Texas, in the fall of 1983 while I was working on my MS degree. I remember practicing for my oral presentation many times as I was more than a little scared to present to an audience that I was convinced knew far more than me! I remember walking into the presentation room and meeting Tom Yeager, who was the moderator for my session.  The room was packed!  In those days, we had slides in slide trays and we had to make sure the slides were in order and in the right direction and hope we did not drop the slide tray without the ring to keep the slides in place. There were no last-minute changes to the presentations in those days!

     That trip began a career of experiences in ASHS.  In the course of that conference, I learned that even when you make airline reservations, sometimes the airlines don’t cooperate, as the Continental Airlines pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics went on strike a week or so before the conference—and my flight somehow vanished.  That was among the first of many airline adventures that I would have during my career! I also noticed the bonds created among graduate students and faculty that eventually became strong friendships.  At that conference I got a taste of the value of professional conferences.  Before the trip, faculty had instructed us that you get the most out of conferences by the conversations that happen in the halls outside of the presentation rooms.  As a graduate student, I wondered about that statement.  How can you get more out of the conversations in the halls than out of the presentations?  Today I understand that statement much better as I sometimes have a hard time getting to the presentations because I run into colleagues who are now old friends and who can share insights on a variety of professional issues.

After completion of my PhD, I landed a job at Oklahoma State University. This opened a new door in ASHS that I had not opened previously.  Oklahoma is in the Southern Region and suddenly I had opportunities to participate in the Southern Region-ASHS meetings. I had heard lots of stories about the Southern Region meetings during my PhD days at Texas A&M, but I really did not experience them until I started working in Oklahoma.  It was commonplace for OSU faculty to participate in Southern Region meetings.  In those days, faculty and graduate students loaded into a van, and we drove to the regional meeting. There is nothing like a long van ride to help people get to know one another!  Senior faculty at my institution started nominating me for committees and committee chair positions.  This was my first professional leadership experience.  As I look back, I appreciate those faculty who gave me a little push to do things that I probably would not have stepped out and done on my own.

      As I got a little more experience, I served as co-advisor of the Horticulture Club at OSU.  I saw the opportunities for students at the Southern Region meetings and eventually was able to convince a group of OSU students to go compete in the J. Benton Storey Undergraduate Competition.  The students and I headed to New Orleans for that particular meeting.  As it turned out, there was a lot of turnover among the Association of Collegiate Branches (ACB) officers that year, and not a lot of leadership follow-through in making a good experience for the student participants.  At the end of the conference and after the ACB meeting, I was frustrated that I finally had managed to bring students, but their experience was less than desirable.  How do we fix this situation?  My way of fixing it was that I told then-secretary Paul Smeal that if nobody else would help the students put on a good meeting, I would.  That was all Paul needed to hear.  Suddenly I was appointed the ACB advisor for a year, then the executive board decided it should be a 3-year appointment, so I served a total of 4 years before handing the responsibility to Joe Kemble at Auburn University.

     Working with students has been my passion throughout my career, so besides serving as the ACB advisor, I also served as a judge in many undergraduate and graduate student oral and poster sessions. I have served on many committees at both the regional and national level in ASHS. Then one day, somebody asked me if I would agree to be on the ballot for president of the Southern Region.  Who, me?  I really did not see myself as a contender for that position, but lo and behold, I was elected.  Now what?

     It really is true that each of us can do far more than we think we can.  I would never have expressed an interest in an elected position on my own, but somebody saw potential in me, and I have a hard time saying “no”.  Then the next year, somebody asked me to be on the ballot as Vice President for Education at the national level.  I also was elected to that position.  Serving as Vice President for Education allowed me to see how ASHS works behind the scenes.  Suddenly, I saw the thought and conversation that goes into every decision that is made in the society. I met Headquarters staff and again made some new friends.

     Sometimes life stops on a dime, and I experienced this when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. In my cancer journey, ASHS was put on the back burner for a while, but my colleagues were right there to support me throughout that journey.  Although I was not always able to fulfill some of my committee assignments, there was never a word of frustration from anybody.  I greatly appreciate all of the support during that time.

     So how did I get to be ASHS president?  Well, once again, somebody saw potential in me and asked me to be on the ballot. I agreed.  Again, I have a hard time saying “no”.  And I guess the rest is history, so to speak.

    So here is my challenge to ASHS members…If you are a seasoned member, look around and encourage younger members to get involved. If you are a newer member, don’t be afraid to say “yes”—some of our best experiences happen outside of our comfort zone. 

     The members of ASHS are amazing people! I am so grateful for the many people throughout my career who have pushed me to be my best and have mentored me. I have had many new experiences through ASHS that have helped me grow as a person and a professional horticulturist.  Now it is my turn to give back to the society by giving other people opportunities and helping them be the best they can be.  As I start this year as President, I look forward to serving the membership and helping to keep the society beneficial to the members.  If you have ideas for benefits that the society might provide, I would like to hear them.  Contact me at or provide feedback on the ASHS President’s page, where all members are invited to provide input.






Past Reflections Columns:


Thanks for the Opportunity - Carl Sams

We Can Weather the Storm - Carl Sams

There are Storm Clouds on the Horizon,Open Access ASHS Journals - Carl Sams

Developing Additional ASHS Programs and Activities for Students - Carl Sams

Online Learning Modules Partnership with AAAS - Carl Sams

DOIs, Digitizing, and Open Access - Carl Sams

Conferences and Membership - Carl Sams

Professional Interest Groups - Carl Sams

Beginnings - Carl Sams

Lessons I Have Learned - John Dole

Seed Your Future - John Dole

Recognizing the Value of Ornamental Horticulture - John Dole

Re-imagining ASHS - John Dole

Genetic Engineering - John Dole

Climate Change - John Dole

Pathways to Leadership - John Dole

2017 ASHS Annual Conference - John Dole

Status of the American Society for Horticultural Science - John Dole

Supporting the ASHS Endowment Fund - John Dole

Native Plants - John Dole

Science - John Dole

From the Academic Perspective - John Dole

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