Meet Jeff Dunne

Jeff Dunne meets every new challenge as an opportunity. He moves forward with quiet confidence into new, unchartered territories with a dedication to purpose that has earned him over a dozen academic awards and scholarships, including the Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding and Scholarship in Advanced Analytics. Now he joins Crop and Soil Sciences’ internationally recognized peanut program as assistant professor of peanut breeding, where he will blaze new trails in peanut cultivar development using traditional plant breeding methods and molecular techniques. Jeff lettered in hockey as an undergrad at Michigan State, but frequently uses another athletic metaphor: he dives right in.

“My story has always been progressive into new challenges, going from turfgrass breeding to maize breeding to peanut breeding. It’s always a challenge to work on a new crop and also to learn the new program and learn the ways it can be successful for us. “

Jeff is a familiar presence in Crop and Soil Sciences. After earning his BS and MS at Michigan State in turfgrass management, he moved to North Carolina and joined Susana Milla-Lewis’ team in creating a new bermudagrass breeding program. But before starting his PhD in turfgrass breeding, he made an academic side trip to Centennial Campus and earned an additional MS, this time in Academic Analytics, where he learned “different types of analytical techniques that you would otherwise see in businesses or in sociology.”

In addition to his master’s program of work, Jeff was working as a Monsanto Fellow. “Our goal was to translate some of those types of analyses into plant breeding and genetics. We were able to work on a practicum project with Monsanto using real plant data they’d provide, but all the different types of analyses we learned and all the types of program was on business oriented topics.”

Then came Jeff’s Ph.D. work on shade and freezing tolerance of bermudagrass. Eventually he was invited to Jim Holland’s USDA-ARS Plant Science Unit and the maize breeding and genetics program, where Jeff has been developing a haplotype-based linkage mapping and prediction method for multiple family mapping populations. “I wanted to dive headfirst into working in that size of data.”


Now, he’s accepted the position within the prestigious peanut breeding program. “Sometimes it has to do with me challenging myself to do something either more complicated or maybe it’s being more out in the field, where it’s more rigorous, or just the complexity of the breeding schemes.  Just in general, learning a new crop is always a big undertaking. I wanted to challenge myself.”

A challenge of a lifetime, and Jeff doesn’t hesitate to dive right into the opportunity.

“It’s a new crop! I’m really excited to learn a new crop. I’ve known a lot about the peanut program…still there’s a lot for me to learn, so I’m very fortunate that I’ll have Tom Islieb to learn from in the early stages of this and have a very seamless transition period.”

How does it feel to join the NC State Crop and Soil Sciences faculty? “It’s a wonderful group of people. And for a student, the approachable faculty member is the greatest thing: you can go talk with them at any time, and they will be willing to help. That’s always been my sense here. Other universities are not NC State. It just lends itself to opportunities.”

Article by Kaki Carl