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Pat Peroni greenhouse honors dream of late Davidson professor

The Pat Peroni Greenhouse in Davidson, North Carolina, is in its final stages of construction. It will offer climate control, automated shades, and grow lights. More so, it will offer a new space for students in the classrooms below to conduct research that has not been possible here before.

“Students are very interested in plants and how they impact society, which could be anything from an interest in agriculture and sustainable food supply to learning about ecology and the role that plants play in green cities,” said Susana Wadgymar, assistant professor of biology. “But we didn’t have a facility where we could grow plants in a way that allowed to students to develop hypotheses or address them with experiments. This greenhouse will provide a space for students to do that, either in their independent research with faculty or as part of a class.”

The driving force behind this greenhouse was its namesake, Professor Pat Peroni. Peroni began teaching at Davidson College in 1992, and she often took students out of the classroom and into the field for her classes in ecology, plant biology, and environmental studies.

Peroni’s dream was to have a greenhouse on campus to bring some of those lessons closer to students. While the campus did have an older greenhouse, it was a basic structure that lacked temperature control and other features that would allow students to conduct experiments there. Peroni died in 2019. Her colleagues in the biology department took on her dream as their own. They found partners at the college — David Holthouser, the director of facilities management, and Phillip Jefferson, the vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty — who helped to make her dream a reality.

Soon, students and faculty will conduct plant research in a new greenhouse on the roof of the Wall Center, just an elevator ride away from their classrooms and offices. As the academic calendar extends from fall through spring—including the roughest times of the year to grow plants—this greenhouse will allow students to conduct plant experiments year-round.

“A greenhouse like this can last for decades,” said Chris Paradise, professor, and chair of biology. “It could be on that roof for 40 years, maybe longer. We’d like it to be one of the pieces of infrastructure that we can hold up as an example of a space where students and faculty can collaborate. We take pride in our mentoring of students in research projects, and this space gives us the ability to enhance that even more.”

It is, however, bittersweet, knowing that the person who initiated this project will not get to see its completion.

“I was very much looking forward to learning more from [Dr. Peroni]. I thought we’d have a decade together,” Wadgymar said. “She would be beyond thrilled to see students continue to be engaged with plants and biology — I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute than this. It’s what she wanted.”

One of Peroni’s research interests was a seed bank. The concept of a seed bank seems as sentimental as it is scientific: A seed bank preserves a seed by storing it under special conditions. Then, when given the right triggers and conditions, that seed will grow when it is needed. The greenhouse will not only cultivate different plants, but it will cultivate the minds of Davidson students and professors also.

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Davidson University

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