For 20 years, Dr. Donald White has demonstrated an unflagging commitment to excellence in teaching plant pathology. His highly effective courses at the University of Illinois have reached hundreds of students and kindled a life-long interest in plant pathology in many. Dr. White has the rare ability to relate to his students as individuals, a quality many of his former students mention. Students consistently appreciate his knowledge of and enthusiasm for plant pathology.
Dr. White grew up in South Charleston, WV, and received a B.A. degree in biology from Marshall University in 1968. He began his teaching career at Huntington High School in Huntington, WV. Don continued his education in the Department of Plant Pathology at The Ohio State University and was appointed assistant professor of plant pathology at the University of Illinois in 1974. He teaches three effective undergraduate courses: Introductory Plant Pathology, Diseases of Field Crops, and Diseases of Ornamentals and Turfgrass. Dr. White attributes much of his success in college teaching to lessons he learned while teaching in the public school system. Experience and training enable him to help many graduate students and faculty members improve their performance in the classroom.
Dr. White demonstrates a tremendous commitment to his students. As part of the Introductory Plant Pathology course, Don offers laboratory review sessions at night and on the weekends. Students appreciate the extra hours he puts in and routinely comment on the personal interest he displays. During these sessions, he reviews materials with small groups of students. Students clearly enjoy these interactions and appreciate the individual attention. The sessions also enable Dr. White to assess how well students are learning and help him determine which topics need more attention in the classroom and laboratory. These personal student-teacher interactions have helped make this an outstanding course. One former student comments that “he establishes a rapport with the class that I have never seen another instructor achieve.” Dr. White regularly teaches the Introductory Plant Pathology and Diseases of Field Crops courses off campus at several sites throughout Illinois. This requires extraordinary effort and, again, demonstrates Don’s commitment to students.
Don’s philosophy of teaching can best be summarized in his own words: “Good teaching promotes more than just cognition of subject material. Teaching must stimulate curiosity and develop reasoning skills so the student will have both the desire and skills to continue learning. Students may eventually forget the detail of the subject material but quite often remember the process of gathering and assimilating information. The most important role of teaching, therefore, is not just the conveyance of subject material but the creation of enthusiasm for the subject and the development of skills that allow the student to continue the learning process.”
Dr. White is viewed as a master teacher by his students and peers. His courses consistently receive “excellent” ratings from students, and he has been included on the Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Students virtually every semester he has taught since 1974. Graduating seniors rank him among the very best teachers in the College of Agriculture. His excellence in teaching also has been recognized by numerous University of Illinois campus teaching awards, including the University of Illinois Harriet and Charles Luckman Undergraduate Distinguished Teaching Award, the College of Agriculture Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the John Clyde and Henrietta Downy Spitler Teaching Award, the University of Illinois Off-Campus Teaching Award, the University of Illinois Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award for Teaching and Research, and the Morrow Chapter of Alpha Zeta Outstanding Instructor Award. In the words of one colleague: “Don has won just about every teaching award offered at the University of Illinois, for both on-campus and off-campus instruction.” His teaching talents also have been recgnized by the Illinois House of Representatives and the National Asociation of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture.
Throughout his career, Don White has generously given his time to education endeavors at the University and in the public schools. He has served on departmental, college, and university curriculum committees. He provided leadership in developing a departmental peer evaluation system and helped organize a nationally recognized scholarship program in the College of Agriculture. He has served on several university committees focused on teaching improvement. Don also has served the public schools as an active member of the PTA and as a member of the Urbana Board of Education. These efforts have been recognized by awards from the PTA and the volunteer center of the United Way.
Dr. White has also been active in APS activities relating to teaching. He is currently serving his second term on the Teaching Committee, which he chaired (1984–1985). He was instrumental in initiating the Disease Recognition Contest for the Society in 1985, and he chaired a symposium in 1981 on Teaching Introductory Plant Pathology. Most recently, he initiated the “deBary Bowl” at the 1993 APS meeting.
In addition to his substantial teaching commitment, Dr. White has maintained a well-funded and productive research program. His research on breeding corn for disease resistance and corn grain quality are highly respected by his peers. Dr. White’s sustained productivity in both teaching and research is impressive.