From left to right, UF Interim Sr. Vice President for Ag and Natural Resources Rob Gilbert, Ph.D., Director of Therapeutic Horticulture Leah Diehl, and FNGLA Past President Ed Bravo tour Wilmot Botanical Gardens. PHOTO COURTESY UF/IFAS

Rob Gilbert: The Supportive Relationship Between FNGLA and UF/IFAS | Guest Column

June 5, 2024

FNGLA demonstrates its support for UF/IFAS in so many ways. When FNGLA leaders chose Leah Diehl of the UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture as its 2024 Outstanding Educator, they demonstrated yet again how they answer so many calls to service.

When we found out that my nomination of Leah for this award had been successful, we asked a member of the selection committee if we could surprise her with the news in a special way.

I was already scheduled to visit Leah’s greenhouse at the medical center. I needed some photos in that setting for a few purposes – including my monthly Greenline contribution.

But it was also a ruse for me to be present when Leah found out about her award. We were about 10 minutes into the photo session when FNGLA Past President Ed Bravo entered the greenhouse.

Diehl was expecting me. She was not expecting Ed. I could see a little bit of bewilderment on her face.

After a few moments, Ed answered Leah’s unspoken question: “What the heck is he doing here?”

Ed announced he had come on behalf of FNGLA to inform her that she had been selected for the association's 2024 Outstanding Educator Industry Award. More than a decade as director of the therapeutic horticulture program had impressed the selection committee.

Leah’s mouth dropped open in a gasp of delight and she put her hand to her chest as if momentarily overcome by surprise. That reaction, the beaming smile that followed, and her halting search for the words to express her gratitude were Ed’s payment for a job well done.

Ed didn’t have to take time off from his business to come to campus to create a special moment for Leah. He didn’t have to stay another hour and walk the Ben and Renee Bolusky Garden with Leah and I. But he did, and I thank him and FNGLA for it.

We value recognition from FNGLA. It signals to us that we are engaged in relevant, impactful work that improves the bottom line and the lives of the people we serve.

FNGLA does more than bestow valued awards. It’s the way you do it that makes it extra special.

The way FNGLA Chapter leaders parade to the stage at Annual Convention’s Annual Meeting and present their endowment donations to UF/IFAS is humbling. I’m honored to be one of those in the receiving line.

Then when you announce award winners, we at UF/IFAS will be honored that our faculty will be among them. We’ll join a room full of active FNGLA members and leaders in the applause.

In addition to applauding Leah, I’ll be applauding in appreciation of Ed, and of all the ways FNGLA partners with us.

Rob Gilbert, Ph.D., is the University of Florida’s interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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