Plant biology professor finds home at Kent State after long distance travel

Megan Hermensky

Professor David Ward has been granted the opportunity to teach in places like South Africa, Israel and the United States. His recent reality is his role as the new art and Margaret Herrick endowed professor of plant biology at Kent State this semester.

“I thought it was a great opportunity and my wife is an American citizen,” Ward said. “My parents passed away so we figured it was a good time to leave and to come here because my wife Megan has her parents, her brother and sister all in the United States.”

In the past, Ward received his bachelor’s degree, honor’s degree and Ph. D. at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He went on to complete a post-doctorate fellowship in Israel, and a post-doctorate fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

After receiving his education, Ward worked as a faculty member at Ben-Gurion University in Israel for 13 years, and then as a faculty member at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa for 15 years.

Overall, Ward feels as if the research and job responsibilities he had in Israel, South Africa and currently has in the United States are very similar.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s any real difference,” he said. “It’s still meeting students, and teaching them, and writing grants and proposals, and getting research done and sitting on committees, so it’s pretty much the same.”

Currently, Ward is working with the Herrick Conservatory to study field ecology.

“I like to do greenhouse work and control conditions so that I can manipulate the plants,” Ward said. “I mostly work on trees, and particularly plant species redistributions and how they are affected by the distribution. Being able to control things [in the greenhouse], as well as to examine them in the field; It’s a very important part of my research.”

Melissa Davis, the Herrick Conservatory horticultural facilities director, recently had positive experiences working with Ward.

“Dr. Ward is a wonderful researcher, he is very friendly and kind,” she said. “His research is an asset for the study of plant biology at Kent State. We really welcome him here as a part of this department.”

Similarly, Ward has also recently had positive experiences with the faculty when he first arrived at Kent State.

“People were very friendly, and in fact I noticed that when I was interviewing for the job,” Ward said. “That was one of the things that really did stand out, that people really got along with each other.”

Ward has been published in more than 200 different scientific articles, which to him, is been an important part of his professional career.

“I think one of the things that many students in particular don’t quite understand is that until you’ve actually published your work, you’re just playing,” Ward said. “You’re just having a good time being in the lab or being in the field. Until you actually write it down or get it published, you don’t really know what other people think of what you’ve done. That’s why it’s crucial to publish work in the science field.”

Although Ward is widely known in the plant biology community, he said his fondest professional achievement was being given an award for combating desertification in Israel.

“It was a really big deal to me by the ministry of science in Israel, so I think that’s probably the most proud moment I’ve had,” he said.

Aside from science, Ward is also very interested in history.

“I’m very interested in the American Civil War, and I was also very interested in the civil wars in South Africa as well…so I do read quite a lot of nonfiction,” Ward said.

He also enjoys traveling and has been to many places around the world.

“I’ve traveled through Europe, and spent vacations in Italy over many years,” he said. “I spent a sabbatical in Germany, and I’ve been on sabbatical at Tuft’s University in the greater Boston area…. I think I’ve (most) enjoyed Namibia a lot which is in South Western Africa. It’s probably my favorite place because it has such a huge range of rainfall from incredibly arid deserts all the way up to pretty serious forests in the northern part of the country.”

Ward looks forward to teaching his first class in spring of 2016 titled invasion biology. Brandon Ashcraft, a senior botany student who will be in Ward’s class next semester, looks forward to learn from Ward.

“I am very excited for this class because it focuses on invasive species… I think Dr. Ward’s research is very interesting,” he said. “He studied encroachment, or range-expanding plants, in South Africa. This is something I have never thought about. I would love to assist him in any way I can.”

Ward is optimistic that he will be able positively contribute to the Kent State community as a professor.

“I’m really looking forward to a combination of field research and also greenhouse research, and getting to know the students to see how much they know,” he said.

In the future, Ward hopes to be able to continue his studies of biology no matter where he travels.

“I want to continue my research in South Africa,” Ward said. “I also will spend a lot of my time researching these encroaching plants here in Ohio.”

Megan Hermensky is the faculty and academics reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].