HCS Alumni Spotlight: Jack McCoy

Feb. 28, 2024
Headshot of Jack McCoy smiling against a gray background.

Meet Jack McCoy | OSU HCS Alumnus Class of 2023

Dr. Jack McCoy is a Lecturer of Horticulture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He received his PHD (2023) in Horticulture from our department under the co-advisement of Drs. Kristin Mercer and Leah McHale.

While here in HCS, Jack's research focused on "Exploring the Morphophysiology, Ecology, and Genotypic Variation of Drought Adaptation and Water Deficit Response in Chile Pepper (Capsicum sp.)". Prior to receiving his PhD, Jack received his master's degree from New Mexico State University and his bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Thankfully, Jack had time to share a bit about his experiences at Ohio State + some advice for students considering studying horticulture...

How’d you initially become interested in horticulture?

I did not grow up with much exposure to horticulture. In fact, I’m not sure I was even familiar with the term until I went to college. In my first year at the University of Arkansas I began to develop an interest in agriculture, primarily through my older brothers, who were studying Poultry and Animal Sciences, as well as through my growing fascination with the nearby farmers market and the local foods movement. That spring, I took an Introduction to Horticulture class and fell in love. The rest is history, I suppose. 

How did your time in HCS help prepare you for your career?

My time in HCS introduced me to the realities of being a researcher, educator, and collaborator. Under the direction of Dr. Kristin Mercer and Dr. Leah McHale, I learned to “think deeply”, developing scientific expertise and an understanding of how to work as a team. More than that, I learned about my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and ultimately a better idea of my career interests.   

What made you decide to pursue a career in academia?

After three degrees, one inevitably develops strong feelings about academia (for better or worse). I am quite fond of working for the University. As a young student, I was very interested in public plant breeding, developing a “product” that could have a clear positive impact on someone’s well-being. I believe my interests remain the same, in a broader sense. A career in academia allows me to contribute to solving real problems through applied research, help to develop useful, impactful information, and create opportunities for others. In horticulture, all of this occurs in the context of healthy landscapes and accessible food, some of the most important aspects of our daily lives!

Jack wearing a yellow shirt standing in his garden surrounded by flowers he grew.

How have you been settling into your role as a Lecturer of Horticulture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign?

Wonderfully! This is not the position I ever imagined myself in, but it has turned out to be exactly what I needed.

What’s a normal day like for you?

Challenging, dynamic, exciting, rewarding! I am what’s referred to as a “specialized” faculty, meaning I am devoted primarily to teaching, rather than split across teaching, research, and extension. Broadly, I spend my time evaluating curricula and developing course materials that best serve our horticultural education needs. This includes developing classes for our degree concentration in Horticultural Food Systems and online content for our online certificate programs, working with interns at the Sustainable Student Farm, Co-Advising the undergraduate Horticulture Club, managing a blog and sharing resources, and exploring opportunities to improve pedagogy in horticulture.

No two days are quite the same, but perhaps I’ll describe my most exciting day this semester, Thursdays. On Thursday mornings I co-teach our Introduction to Horticulture Lab, an in-person experience that complements the fully online asynchronous class. In the evenings, I teach Urban Food Production, which is fully online and meets synchronously over zoom once per week to discuss the weeks materials, share presentations, and group work. In the second half of the semester, I will begin a Horticultural Plant Propagation class, which will be an exciting in-person lab centered around the generation of new plants for production horticulture!

What do you most look forward to each day on the job?

Creating student opportunities! I really enjoy the “human” side of horticulture. That is, part of the importance of horticulture is simply building our relationship with plants and food. I hope that every day I can help someone build that connection a little bit more, discover what they like (or don’t like), and assist them to realize their goals. 

Any advice for students considering studying horticulture?

I might be too young to be giving out advice. That said, mindfully pursue your interests with love and gratitude. Be open to change. Education (and life) seems to be more about discovering what you don’t like than finding exactly what you do like. And on horticulture specifically, it is one of the only industries that affects all people’s lives every single day, from the food we eat to the landscapes we live in. What’s not to like??

To continue learning more about Jack, you can visit the horticulture blog he manages or check out his publications on Google Scholar.

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