Dr. Robert Skirvin has been teaching at UI for 34 years. He went to Southern Illinois University for a B.S., where he majored in plant sciences, and an M.S. (1969 and 1971).
I first met Dr. Skirvin at a horticulture fall activity "apple lab." He taught us about the different varieties of apples, and what to look for in unique taste, texture and color. However, this professor does more than preach about apple tastiness. He teaches two different introductory horticulture courses, as well as small fruits and viticulture science. He's a favorite professor among many students in the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. I sat down with him and asked a little bit about living life among plants and teaching others about his true passion.
MNN: What is your definition of crop science?
Skirvin: The plants that provide, directly or indirectly, the foods we eat.
You teach three different courses — what's your favorite one and why?
I like all of my courses and my students. The real reason that I am still here on campus is that I would miss the students. They are my favorite part of each class.
What makes Illinois' crop science program unique and different compared to other universities?
It includes horticulture.
You're also the co-adviser of horticulture club, what's your favorite thing about the club?
Again, it is the students. The hort club has all sorts of majors represented and they all seem to work together for a common goal of sharing interest in plants and teaching.
Why did you take on that leadership role?
Because I wanted to be with such dynamic, goal-oriented students.
What is something that today's students have that you wish you had in college, pertaining to crop science?
I sort of wish I had had electronic access to the library facilities, however, I spent many hours in various libraries reading information I found "accidentally" as I was diverted from one topic to another.
You developed and patented a thornless blackberry, is that your biggest accomplishment? If so, why?
I am very proud of my work with thornless blackberries. It began when I was a junior in college and I accepted a special project working with a blackberry specialist (Dr. John W. Hull). He inspired me and it has worked out that I have spent most of my career working with blackberries.
What's your favorite part about being a professor at Illinois in the midst of cornfields?
I was raised in the Mojave Desert in Southern California and I never thought I could tolerate the flat lands of Illinois. However, I have lived in Illinois and Indiana (my Ph.D. is from Purdue) and when I go to California and have to drive in the mountains, I really miss the flatlands and am anxious to come back to Illinois.
What's your favorite crop or plant? Why?
I really like peaches and blueberries. They are so delicious and full of nutrients and anti-cancer fighting compounds. I also really like mangoes. They are coming is season now and some are very good.