UACES Facebook Respected researcher, teacher Savin named horticulture department head
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Respected researcher, teacher Savin named horticulture department head

Savin, a Massachusetts native, starts her new job April 1.

By Mary Hightower
U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Jan 25, 2024

Fast facts:

  • Savin holds Ph.D. in soil ecology from University of Rhode Island
  • Has been teaching microbial ecology, other courses in CSES in Arkansas since 2002

(831 words)

(Newsrooms: with art)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —  A research-for-undergraduates experience “in the middle of nowhere” helped set Mary Savin on a path to becoming the next head of the horticulture department at the University of Arkansas.

Savin, a Massachusetts native, starts her new job April 1. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology/biological sciences from the University of Notre Dame, followed by a master’s in biodegradation and doctorate in soil ecology, both from the University of Rhode Island.

Mary Savin12
Mary Savin will take the reins of the horticulture department on April 1, 2024. (U of A System Divison of Agriculture photo)

“I was a biology undergraduate trying to figure out what to do with my life,” she said. With 10 weeks of research and outdoor classes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin border, “I found my calling.”

She went into the private sector in environmental analysis with a consulting firm, which she loved, but “I felt like I needed more. More knowledge. More experience in the applied sciences.”

Savin applied for graduate school, eventually earning her Ph.D. “Once I was introduced to research, I decided that was really fun.”

An opportunity at the University of Arkansas opened and she took it. Over the years, “I've evolved and become involved in different aspects of teaching, research and administration that have just led me to this path,” she said.

Savin takes over from Wayne Mackay, who retires at the end of March after 10 years at the helm.

“Horticulture is just a strong department with some excellent faculty and staff, and I think Wayne's done a fabulous job leading the department, and so I’m very excited to be here,” she said.

To prepare for her new role, Savin is set to take part in major horticulture conferences and will be involved in a departmental retreat with horticulture faculty to ensure an effective transition.

Mackay said “I’m really excited to have Mary as my successor. She’s an excellent teacher, an excellent researcher and has excellent international experience, which is important for our students. I think her experience on campus as a researcher, and most recently, with her administrative experience has given her a broader scope of experience.”

In 2022, Savin was appointed an assistant director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station — the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture — and has been teaching microbial ecology and courses in crop, soil, and environmental sciences through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences since 2002.

As department head, Savin will oversee horticulture teaching through Bumpers College, and research and extension activities through the Division of Agriculture.

“I’m confident she’s going to lead the department to even better things,” Mackay said.

Savin was awarded the 2022 Spitze Award Spitze Land Grant University Faculty Award for Excellence. She was also bestowed with the Jack G. Justus Award for Teaching Excellence in 2016 from Bumpers College.

She also has a stellar record of professional service, including serving as faculty senate chair, campus faculty chair, co-director of the Teaching Faculty Support Center, and faculty editor of “Discovery — The Student Journal of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.” Savin has also landed more than $4.5 million in grants and had more than 80 peer-reviewed publications.

Jean-François Meullenet, head of the experiment station, said “I am thankful to Dr. Savin for accepting this new leadership role in horticulture. I have had the chance to work with Mary closely over the past year and I am extremely impressed with her skills. I know she will be an outstanding department head and I look forward to working with her in that capacity.”

“Mary has been an active part of campus leadership and it is exciting to see her step into this new role,” said Jeff Edwards, dean of Bumpers College. “Mary’s strong connections with colleagues across campus and throughout the Division of Agriculture are going to be very beneficial in furthering our goal of harmonization and alignment of the three land-grant mission areas.

“She genuinely cares about the success of our faculty, staff and students,” Edwards added. “Horticulture is already a strong department. Wayne did a great job, and we appreciate his service and leadership. It will be exciting to see how Mary’s leadership builds off of that and makes a strong department even stronger.”

John Anderson, director of the Cooperative Extension Service said he was “excited to have Dr. Savin joining our administrative team as the head of the Horticulture department.  She has obviously had a distinguished career to this point as a faculty member at the University of Arkansas. 

“She understands the state and the needs of our stakeholders well.  I look forward to working with Dr. Savin to carry on, and add to, the horticulture department’s outstanding contributions to our extension programming effort,” he said.

Making the change

“I want to thank Wayne for his leadership and for being willing to spend time to help me in this transition,” Savin said. And while leaving the department of crop, soils and environmental science, is bittersweet, “I’m really looking forward to getting started. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media contact: Mary Hightower