New leader named for Penn State Department of Plant Science

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Erin Connolly, professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, has been named professor and head of Penn State's Department of Plant Science, effective May 15.

Connolly will succeed Rich Marini, who was head of the Department of Plant Science and the former Department of Horticulture from 2004 to the end of 2015. Kathleen Brown, professor of plant stress biology, is serving as interim department head until Connolly's arrival.

"Erin Connolly has a distinguished record of research, teaching and service that dovetails perfectly with the strengths and priorities of our Plant Science Department," said Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. "I'm confident that her scholarly achievement, curricular expertise and leadership abilities will enhance the quality of our programs in the plant sciences, and we're delighted to welcome her to the college's leadership team."

Connolly received a bachelor's degree in biology from Dartmouth College in 1990 and a doctorate in genetics from the University of California, Davis, in 1997. After serving as a postdoctoral scholar in plant molecular biology at Dartmouth, she joined the University of South Carolina faculty in 2000 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. She became an associate professor in 2006, was named associate department chair in 2008 and achieved the rank of full professor in 2010.

"I am impressed by the Department of Plant Science's excellence in research, teaching, extension and outreach, and I'm honored to be asked to join the department and serve its faculty, students and staff," Connolly said.

Connolly's research focuses on mineral nutrition in plants. She studies iron metabolism, with a particular interest in the molecular mechanisms that control iron acquisition from the soil and subsequent delivery to the various tissues and cell types where it is needed. She has received about $2.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture to support this work, which has been published in high-profile scientific journals.

"Understanding iron homeostasis is extremely important, as iron deficiency represents the single most common human nutritional disorder, affecting as many as 3 billion people worldwide," she said. "Most people acquire their iron from plant sources, so ensuring that plants have higher stores of bio-available iron would help solve this important problem in human nutrition."

As associate chair of her department, Connolly was responsible for issues pertaining to departmental space, curriculum assessment, facilities and faculty awards. She also was involved in faculty hiring, budgets and strategic planning.

Connolly has taught a sophomore-level course in cell and molecular biology, developed and taught a course in plant responses to the environment for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students, and developed and taught a graduate seminar in plant biology. She received the university's Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2010.

The Department of Plant Science offers undergraduate, four-year programs in plant sciences, landscape contracting and turfgrass science and a two-year program in golf course turfgrass management. It offers graduate programs in horticulture, agronomy and turfgrass management, and faculty members participate in intercollege graduate programs in ecologymolecular, cellular and integrative biosciences; and plant biology.

The department also conducts scientific research to discover answers to complex problems that threaten sustainable land use and food production and communicates research findings through scholarly publications and relevant extension programs to enhance the quality of life for residents of Pennsylvania and the world.

More information about the department is available at

The College of Agricultural Sciences has introduced University of South Carolina faculty member Erin Connolly as head of Penn State's Department of Plant Science. Credit: Courtesy of Erin ConnollyAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated April 27, 2016