UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
June 5, 2020 – David Zlesak, professor of horticulture, has received the 2020 Outstanding Faculty Award from his colleagues in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) at UW-River Falls.
Under normal circumstances, the announcement of the recipient would have been the final award of the evening at the CAFES Annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet. Instead, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Zlesak was informed of his award privately by CAFES Dean Dale Gallenberg. A reception in honor of Zlesak will be held on campus when it’s safer for large groups to gather once again.
As the 2020 recipient, Zlesak is also honored nationally with the Teaching Award of Merit from the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) in recognition of meritorious efforts in college teaching.
“I am very grateful to be able to work with such a great team of colleagues to mentor and support our students and help them to excel in their disciplines and also in life,” said Zlesak. “The students and CAFES faculty and staff enrich my life tremendously, too, through their friendship and helping me continually learn. I greatly treasure our CAFES and campus community and am grateful for this recognition and will use it as motivation to continue to strive towards excellence personally and be supportive of those around me.”
Zlesak is a Wisconsin native and 1993 graduate of the horticulture program at UW-River Falls. He returned to UW-River Falls as a faculty member in 2009.
“Students love David’s enthusiasm and passion for horticulture and his compassion, kindness, and empathy are unparalleled,” a colleague wrote in her letter of nomination.
Proof that students feel this way came three years ago when Zlesak was honored as the 2017 UW-River Falls Distinguished Teacher. This is the most prestigious award given to a faculty member on campus, with nominations coming from current students and recent graduates.
His professional accomplishments have earned Zlesak national and international recognition, particularly for his rose breeding research program. A particular interest of his is breeding cultivars that perform well with little maintenance, minimal irrigation and limited use of fertilizers and pesticides. For this reason, Zlesak is actively involved with other researchers and industry professionals as part of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.®) and the Earth-Kind® Environmental Plant Evaluation Team.
Zlesak actively involves undergraduate students in his research activities, using it as a way to show them that he, too, is still learning. At the same time, he hopes to inspire students to have a similarly deep passion for their disciplines. Since coming to UW-River Falls, Zlesak has released 12 cultivars and two have won international awards. He is actively involved in industry associations and works with them to promote horticulture as a satisfying career path.