Robert F. McDuffie of Blacksburg, Va., associate professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received the university's 2008 W.E. Wine Award for Teaching Excellence.

The William E. Wine Achievement Awards were established in 1957 by the Alumni Association in memory of William E. Wine (Class of 1904), a former rector of the board of visitors and Alumni Association president. Following a college-level selection process from candidates nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, each college may put forth one nominee. Three faculty members are selected to receive this teaching award by a committee representing all eight colleges at the university. Each Wine Award winner receives $2,000 and automatic induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

McDuffie was recognized for his superior teaching skills, his mentoring of undergraduate students, and his leadership in producing new programs that benefit students and broaden their education.

McDuffie teaches horticulture courses on landscape construction, residential landscape design, history of landscape architecture, and computer-aided landscape design. Several years ago he saw a need for qualified individuals in the growing landscape industry and developed an option in landscape contracting.

According to Jerzy Nowak, former head of the college’s Department of Horticulture, the program is a huge success, and a majority of the undergraduate horticulture students enroll in it. “The program is recognized as one of the premier programs in the country, evidenced by how rigorously our students are recruited and by our students’ success in the ALCA [Associated Landscape Contractors of America] Student Career Days competitions,” he said.

McDuffie also spends a great deal of extracurricular time with students as a club advisor, fieldtrip mentor, or outside helping hand. “I quickly learned that Robert McDuffie is the type of educator who goes above and beyond classroom instruction,” said Emily Feagan, a 2006 Virginia Tech graduate in horticulture.

In addition to his numerous domestic field trips that encourage students to broaden their perspective of horticulture, he organized the first two-week, study-abroad trip to England. The program has grown over the past decade to allow alumni, landscape professionals, and others to join students in studying gardens around the world. More than 500 participants have joined these study tours to 15 countries on four continents. “No one ever asked him to create a new curriculum or a study-abroad program, but he saw a need and he did it,” said Nowak.

“Robert McDuffie and his instruction exemplify the non-science side of a very science-based department,” said Feagan. “It seems as though he has seen and experienced everything he teaches and brings it all into the classroom.”

McDuffie says his teaching goals with his students are to: (1) teach them what went before them, (2) expose them to what’s around them right now, and (3) show them what lies ahead. “It is my goal to do all of this with genuine, sincere enthusiasm that springs from the love that I have for my subject. Upon graduation, it is my hope that they are not only prepared for a career in landscape horticulture, but they will also share in my enthusiasm for it,” said McDuffie.

Share this story