William F. Zettler was born in Easton, PA, on 13 August 1938. He received his B.S. degree in botany and plant pathology at the Pennsylvania State University in 1961. He continued his studies at Cornell University, where he received his M.S. in 1964 and his Ph.D. in 1966. While at Cornell University, Dr. Zettler held a teaching assistantship under the direction of Drs. Carl W. Boothroyd and Roy L. Millar. After graduation, he assumed a tenure-accruing position at the University of Florida, Department of Plant Pathology, to do research and teach graduate-level classes in plant virology.
About 10 years ago, Dr. Zettler’s primary responsibilities shifted from research to teaching, especially at the undergraduate level. In 1990, he initiated a new lower-division course, Plants, Plagues, and People. Four years later, he assumed responsibility for teaching Fundamentals of Plant Pathology and its graduate equivalent, General Plant Pathology. He also teaches, on an ad hoc basis at the University of Florida, Agricultural Honors Colloquium, an upper division course restricted to academically gifted students. In earlier years, he also taught virology short courses in Bolivia (1983) and Ecuador (1989).
Dr. Zettler has been the graduate coordinator for the department since 1991. Two years later, he also became undergraduate coordinator. Since then, the number of undergraduates majoring in plant pathology has increased from 1 to an all-time high of 25. In keeping with his teaching responsibilities, Dr. Zettler is a member of the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA). He also served (or is serving) on several committees involved with teaching activities, including the APS Teaching Committee (1993 to 1994) and the University of Florida College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (UFCALS) Graduate Curriculum Committee (1993 to 1996), its Academic Development Committee (1996 to 1999) and its Teaching/Advising Awards Committee (2000 to 2001). Earlier this year, Dr. Zettler received the UFCALS Undergraduate Teaching Award and the University of Florida Teacher of the Year Award.
Plants, Plagues, and People is a course for nonscience majors of diverse backgrounds. Dr. Zettler’s course had an initial enrollment of only 10 students, but 10 years later, its annual enrollment ballooned to over 600. This course meets University of Florida general education requirements for either biological sciences or humanities and has its own text, written by Dr. Zettler in collaboration with Dr. Carlye A. Baker. The text, “Biohistory: Plants, Plagues, and People,” approaches biology chronologically, covering Earth’s history from the Big Bang through modern times. In it, the historical and potential modern day impact of such plant diseases as ergot, potato late blight, wheat rust, and brown spot of rice are explained. Students find this integrative approach very appealing, as evidenced by their class evaluations stating, “This is one of the most comprehensive courses I’ve ever taken. It included history, religion, sociology, climatology, as well as plant pathology. I would recommend this course to anyone. This class was extremely relevant and I think everyone should be exposed to its content, and numbers don’t say it all. This is one of the best courses I have ever taken in college.”
Dr. Zettler consistently receives superb evaluations for all courses he teaches. He always makes his classes interesting, of practical value, and encourages critical thinking. Students of Plant Virology, Honors Colloquium, Fundamentals of Plant Pathology, and General Plant Pathology write, “This is a fine example of what a graduate-level course can be: challenging, thought-provoking, stressing cognitive processes over memorization. This is the most thought-provoking class I have ever taken, and Dr. Zettler is the kind of teacher that makes you want to go to class. He made plant pathology make sense for my future career. I never thought I would like it. Again, credit goes to the instructor. He intended for pathology to make sense in the real world, not just know definitions and spit them back on paper.”
Dr. Zettler served as committee chair or co-chair of 16 masters and 8 Ph.D. candidates and served as committee member of 67 others, many of who have attained prominence in plant pathology and related disciplines. His research emphasis was the characterization and control of viruses infecting tropical root crops, ornamentals, and legumes. He is the codiscoverer of several viruses, including Dasheen mosaic virus, a member of the genus Potyvirus, and was instrumental in assisting commercial tissue culture laboratories in Florida and elsewhere to control many virus and other diseases. Dr. Zettler also cofounded our department’s aquatic weed biocontrol program, now headed by Dr. Raghavan Charudattan. Dr. Zettler has published 58 refereed papers, 19 book chapters, two feature articles in Plant Disease, one article in the Annual Review of Phytopathology, and over 100 other manuscripts. He also coordinated the publication of the graduate and undergraduate recruitment brochures currently being used by the Department of Plant Pathology.
Dr. Zettler is married and has two children, one born in Ithaca, NY, and the other in Gainesville, FL. He and his wife, Carol R. (nee Schurz), also from Easton, reside in nearby Archer, and on most weekends, travel to the secluded fishing village of Horseshoe Beach, FL, where they have a cottage and fret about hurricanes. Their son, Lawrence W., received his doctorate from Clemson University and now holds a tenure-accruing position at Illinois College, where he teaches biology and studies mycorrhizae of native orchids. Their daughter, Jennifer A., also a student at Clemson, is studying biology and hopes to graduate with her doctorate in 2001. Not to be outdone by her father, she won the Clemson University Graduate Student Teaching Award this year.