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Faculty and Staff

Faculty Focus: Award-winning Advisor Chad Jordan

Picture of Chad Jordan in front of a bookcase

Teaching Professor Chad Jordan, winner of NC State’s 2020 Faculty Advisor Award, believes in the power of plants, plans and mentors.

That’s where he draws inspiration as he advises undergraduates in plant biology and teaches classes from introductory to graduate levels in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.

Jordan, an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor, teaches courses such as Perspectives on Botany, Plant Life, Culinary Botany, Plant Anatomy and Plant Biotechnology. But he can recall a time when he thought studying plants wouldn’t be interesting.

As his department’s director of plant biology undergraduate programs, he helps advisees map out their academic plans. But he can remember feeling confused as he waded through course schedules and degree requirements as an undergraduate.  

Since earning his doctorate in botany from NC State and joining the faculty, Jordan’s enthusiasm and empathy have won praise from grateful students and a slew of awards. He received a 2007 CALS Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, 2011 induction into the NC State Academy of Outstanding Teachers and a 2011 Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award. 

In addition to the 2020 Faculty Advisor Award, which honors a person whose primary responsibilities are teaching and research, Jordan is NC State’s nominee for the Region 3 Faculty Advisor Award from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Here’s how he found his path to plant biology.

How did you become interested in botany?

I grew up in Randolph County, in the center of the state, which is a rural and farming community, for the most part. I have to credit my dad for introducing me to nature, showing me what the plants were.  

I was not very interested in plants specifically until I was an undergraduate at UNC Asheville. I had a professor who I once interacted with and said, “Plants are boring.” And she said, “Take my plant physiology course, and I will change your mind.” And she absolutely changed my mind, and I’m very grateful that she challenged me that way. I actually didn’t know if I was going to pursue a graduate program in botany or plant biology, really until the 11th hour of my undergraduate training. I knew I was always interested in development, how organisms grow, but I wasn’t sure which model or system I wanted to study.

I’m still fascinated by animals as well. When I tell students that I almost went to graduate school to study animal science, they don’t believe me.

In the end I decided on plants. They’re really fascinating organisms in that they have the potential to continuously grow throughout their lifespan, and I think that that’s really an interesting feature. So that’s ultimately, I think, what won me over to plants. But had it not been for that professor, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now.

What influenced your decision to return to NC State as a faculty member?

I went to graduate school to become a professor. That was my goal. I’m very grateful to be able to do that. I feel lucky every single day, being able to do what I do and to be back where I did my graduate degree.

I have to say, growing up in North Carolina, that NC State is an institution that I looked up to. Now, being on the faculty at NC State, I’m just really proud of the university and our college and our department and the work that we do. Though I am not directly involved in extension, I wholeheartedly support the university’s land-grant mission and what it does to serve the citizens of our state.

I’ve also had great mentors on the faculty here who not only trained me, but with whom I’ve also had an opportunity to work, such as [former department head and professor emerita] Margo Daub, who was a member of my graduate committee and then my department head after I was brought into the position. Our department really values teaching and undergraduate student training. I’m very thankful to be among wonderful colleagues in such a supportive environment.

How is your advising work going? Has it changed during the pandemic?

I advise all of the students who are pursuing an undergraduate degree in plant biology. NC State has the only plant biology degree in North Carolina, so we’re quite proud of that. Plant biology is very broad. It spans from molecules to ecosystems, and we have students with interests all over that spectrum.

The access to advising has not diminished. I mean that, and I think it’s important for students to know that we are still here for them.

Learning about my advisees’ interests and goals is always one of the most constructive and fun aspects of advising for me. Once I have that information, I can work with them to create a plan that helps move them toward their goals. Those plans usually include a unique combination of major-specific and elective coursework as well as research and co-curricular experiences.

Part of my approach to advising is based on my own undergraduate career. I recall feeling a bit overwhelmed at first by the coursework requirements and options available to me. It all seemed rather amorphous, and I didn’t have a clear sense of direction. However, I had a terrific advisor who took the time to meet with me multiple times and navigate a plan to both meet the requirements for my major and explore my interests. I endeavor to bring the same individualized approach to my advising now that I am a faculty member.

As far as advising in the pandemic, it has simply moved to a remote format. We can still develop those plans, talk about graduate school, address issues that pop up … almost anything we would normally speak about in person. We just do that virtually now. The access to advising has not diminished. I mean that, and I think it’s important for students to know that we are still here for them. I try to be in my office for virtual meetings as much as possible so that students see me in my usual space. I do look forward to the return of in-office advising meetings at some point in the future, though, whenever that becomes possible.

Botanist Chad Jordan says the movement of the prayer plant at left gives him a visual cure that it’s time to go home from work.

I see plants behind you in your office, so I have to ask: Do you garden or do you have time with the teaching, research and advising that you do?

It turns out I am not very good at growing plants. That’s also a little shocking to students when they hear it. As a botanist who teaches plant anatomy and thinks a lot about structure-function relationships, I half-jokingly say that when I see a plant, I want to chop it up and put it under the microscope to figure out how it works.

To be fair, though, my office here in the core of Gardner Hall is not exactly an ideal growing environment. It’s a bit ironic, given that a mere 100 feet away from my office is NC State’s Phytotron, a world-class facility for growing plants under any number of environmental conditions.

The plant I have right behind me here in the office, Maranta leuconeura, is sometimes called prayer plant. One of its many fantastic qualities is that it exhibits what are referred to as “sleep movements.” As the sun rises in the morning, the leaves move to a flat, horizontal position, just as they are now. As the sun sets, the leaves begin to turn upward and inward toward each other, resembling hands in prayer. I like to say it’s the plant that tells me when it’s time to go home at the end of the day.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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