Jun 2, 2020
New WSU horticulture chair to focus on service and industry partnership

Amit Dhingra sees leading Washington State University’s Department of Horticulture as an opportunity to give back.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support over the years from colleagues in this department and around the university,” said Dhingra, a Washington State University (WSU) professor for 14 years. “This is my chance to pay it forward and support others using my experiences.”

Dhingra was just named interim chair of Horticulture, a position he said he’s looking forward to. His two-year term starts July 1.

The department includes faculty from around Washington doing research on a wide variety of specialty crops, such as apples, pears, and cherries, potatoes, grapes, and berries. He said WSU and the Horticulture department serve two key roles in helping the state.

The first is training students and preparing them for being successful in their careers.

“We’re preparing undergraduate and our graduate students to be key leaders in the horticulture industry locally, nationally, and globally,” Dhingra said. “We are so fortunate to have a wide variety of horticultural crops that are commercially grown in Washington. Our students have a lot of options for what to study and what to pursue in their future.”

The second focus for Dhingra is aligned with WSU’s core land grant mission.

“We have to take both innovative and collaborative approaches to support the industry in our state to stay economically competitive,” Dhingra said. “Our research, extension and outreach activities have to focus on improving and securing the food supply.”

Dhingra knows that firsthand, having grown up in India in the early days of the “Green Revolution,” when starvation and malnutrition were very common in his country. His parents, both doctors, routinely gave away medication for malnutrition.

“My mother remains my perennial role model,” he said. “She used to provide free medicine to economically disadvantaged women. She used her knowledge to serve others. From her example, I learned a key lesson for a meaningful life – one must use their knowledge for the betterment of others and continue to do so despite any hurdles. This lesson continues to guide my professional and personal actions.”

Dhingra said he was supposed to be a medical doctor, but feeding people seemed more personal.

“I saw firsthand that the world needed more food at lower costs with fewer inputs,” he said. “In my career at WSU, working with my excellent team, we have made a few discoveries that are focused on that goal.”

“Amit has an impressive variety of experiences that will help him lead the Horticulture department,” said André-Denis Wright, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “He will be a valuable resource for all the faculty in his department as they do research to feed more people and benefit key industries in our state.”

Dhingra, who studies genomics and biotechnology, has a research program that focuses on pre-harvest and post-harvest fruit biology and quality with an emphasis on the role of chloroplast development and regulation of ripening, respectively. Along with five of his team members, he founded a spin-out from his program in 2011.

In addition to his new role as department chair, he also serves as the chair of WSU’s Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors Program, a presidential level task force that helps foster a grassroots culture of innovation and entrepreneurism across the WSU community, focusing on societal impact aligned with WSU’s land-grant mission.

Dhingra has mentored 17 graduate students, several post-doctoral scientists, and over a hundred undergraduate students. He was awarded the 2017 Council on Undergraduate Research National Biology Mentor award and has published more than 50 papers in high impact peer-reviewed refereed journals.

“I’ve had many wonderful experiences at WSU, and I’ve learned so much,” Dhingra said. “I’m looking forward to supporting all my colleagues, especially those who are early in their careers, to advance their programs.”

 Scott Weybright, Washington State University

Amit Dhingra was just named interim chair of horticulture at Washington State University. Photo: WSU

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