Written by Asha Fuller
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you are likely to see Dr. David Reed pedaling his way to class on a bright yellow rental bike, stopping occasionally to chat with one of the many students or faculty members that greet him on his trek.
Dr. Reed, professor of horticulture and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Faculty Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, holds an impressive record — he has taught the same class for 40 years. In all that time, two things have remained constant for Dr. Reed: his thick Louisiana drawl and his unparalleled enthusiasm for teaching HORT 201.
Dr. Reed grew up in a small town in Southern Louisiana. He received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now called University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
He did not start out interested in horticulture and said when he got to college he felt as though he did not belong.
“I went to college because my older sister said I had to go to college. I went the first semester and felt lost,” Dr. Reed said. “So, I took a class in agriculture and the prof walked into the classroom just full of excitement and enthusiasm about teaching us about plants. I’d find myself mesmerized… It was the most exciting thing I ever heard even though it seemed kind of boring. That’s what got me hooked.”
Dr. Reed credits that professor, Dr. Ellis Fletcher, with getting him interested in horticulture and inspiring him to become the kind of professor that excites students.
Dr. Reed attended graduate school for floriculture and ornamental horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. After Cornell, Dr. Reed received job offers from several universities, including Texas A&M, where he began teaching a seminar course in the fall of ‘78. That next spring, Dr. Reed began teaching the class he is most known for — Horticultural Science and Practices or HORT 201.
There’s no question that HORT 201 is Dr. Reed’s favorite class; he affectionately calls it his “baby” and even sports a license plate featuring the class name.
“It’s a magical match between me and the students,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I’ve taught a lot of other undergraduate courses and a lot of graduate courses, and they’re all good and I really enjoy them… but there’s something about 201. It’s just a happy marriage where the students really seem to enjoy it, and I just love teaching it. Probably because I teach the same course that was my first horticulture course as an undergraduate.”
Perhaps one of the biggest factors that draws studentsin to HORT 201 is Dr. Reed’s teaching style. Although he himself does not recognize that he has a particular teaching style, Dr. Reed said that the most important thing to him is being enthusiastic.
“I don’t know if I have a teaching style,” he said. “I guess my style is a combination of all the techniques of the great professors I had, with the biggest one being enthusiasm and wanting to be there… There is no place I’d rather be than that place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:10 to 12:25.”
Dr. Reed’s commitment to the class is evident when he teaches — and in the fact that, in 40 years, he has not missed more than a handful of lectures.
One of the moments students most remember from his class is the iconic bamboo stick he brings in (and slams on the table) when teaching about fibers.
“The first part of my class deals with anatomy, plant structure — the most boring part of the material,” Dr. Reed said. “So, I’d take it and try to apply it. [Whatever we talked about in class,] I’d find myself looking for that in nature when I left class. So, I took to bringing in samples. [The example I use] for teaching monocots has always been bamboo, so I started bringing in bamboo sticks. Later, I’d talk about different cell types and why a bamboo stick is hard and a wooden stick is hard… And so, one day, for the heck of it, I thought I needed to show these kids what a fiber looks like. So, then I’m hitting the stick on the table to get the fibers to come out, and it’s very hard so I have to beat the heck out of it… After I did it the first time, I realized the students listened. So now it’s my trademark.”
Over the years, Dr. Reed’s enthusiasm for his class has not waned.
“I don’t know why, but when I come to class it’s like a totally new experience, like I’m teaching for the first time,” he said.
HORT 201 has even impacted Dr. Reed’s life outside of the classroom. A feature on the class’ homepage, his Cajun-style recipes, earned him attention from the Cooking Channel show, Man Fire Food.
“The Man Fire Food show sent me an email one day and said ‘we were cruising the internet and we came across your homepage, and we see that you cook a whole hog, Cajun-style. We were wondering if you’d be willing to film an episode,’” Dr. Reed said. “So, they came down to Aggieland and spent two days filming at my house… I was one-half of the show, and of that, it’s 11 minutes. So that’s my 11 minutes of fame… Look for ‘Cajun cookings’ because it’s in perpetual reruns.”
Every semester that Dr. Reed teaches, his goal is to get each to student to have at least one “yippee ki yay” moment.
“My best evaluations are when I get a student who says ‘You know, I hate plants. I don’t know why I took this course, but I came to like it.’ or ‘I hate horticulture, but I really enjoyed going to class.’ My hope is that you’ll have one yippee ki yay moment. If I can do that once, that means I can hook you. I will get you excited about something.”
Dr. Reed’s mentor, Dr. Ellis Fletcher, said that Dr. Reed distinguished himself as an undergraduate and he admires the work Dr. Reed has done both in and out of the classroom.
“I am so very proud of how Dr. David Reed has distinguished himself as a teacher and researcher at Texas A&M University,” Dr. Fletcher said. “I am so fortunate our paths crossed many years ago and would like to think I had a small part in influencing him when he was an undergraduate student in Horticulture.”
In his time with Texas A&M, Dr. Reed has taught over 20,000 students. Years after taking his course, students still reach out to him for advice about plants or to tell him how his class impacted them. The comments section under a video Dr. Reed took in class to announce his 40th year of teaching, which has since gotten over 115,000 views, is full of former students sharing tales of his classes and praising his lectures.
“The A&M student is the greatest student in the world to teach, you know, because you’re as diverse as any other campus, but you typically come in and you’re receptive to being taught,” Dr. Reed said. “I’m just blessed… It’s really just getting in front of students and teaching, even though you guys aren’t always highly interactive and you don’t answer my questions as much as I’d like, I do get very positive feedback and eye contact. My hour and 15-minute lecture, to me, seems like it lasted five minutes.”