Two years into her job has resident coordinator of the Hammond Research Station, Regina Bracy still considers it challenging and fun.
Bracy, who is a professor and the first female to lead any of the LSU AgCenter’s 20 research stations, has spent most of her life at the station she now oversees.
"It’s been a whirlwind," she said of one of her first assignments, which was to set a new course for the station as the new Landscape Horticulture Research and Extension Center.
When asked if her gender is an advantage or disadvantage, she said neither. "I was raised with four brothers, so I am accustomed to being treated as one of the guys. And I’ve never used that either way. I just always did my job, and I feel that I’ve been treated fairly and with respect."
To listen to Bracy discuss the functions of the research station, you get the feeling there is a full committee in the room, because there is never the pronoun "I" used; it’s always "we."
"The first thing we did was to present a plan to the chancellor outlining what we wanted to do at the station. We’re not changing anything as far as our basic, traditional research that we have done here in strawberries and vegetables."
She said her plan is to continue this research and to add on landscape horticulture.
"When you’re starting something from scratch, there are a lot of details and things that have to be done. None of this could have been accomplished without the enthusiastic support of the faculty and staff at the station. The first thing we did was to call our stakeholders and asked them to serve on an advisory committee so they could help us to develop this new center," Bracy said.
The request from the committee was to help shape this program in a way that it would truly help serve the needs of the industry.
"The consumers are going to receive the information that we disseminate, because our research-based information will aid them, but we’re mainly looking at the commercial industry. These are the people who make their living from installing plants, and people who maintain plants in people’s yards and businesses.
"This is big business. It’s worth $266 million right here in Louisiana," Bracy said.
Research and the operation of the Hammond station are not new to Bracy, since she spent so much time there when she was growing up.
As a child, Bracy watched her dad, William A. Poillion, work at the Hammond Research Station. He was an associate professor of horticulture at the station, where he did the research on strawberry and vegetable cultural practices.
"My father started out as an extension agent in Concordia Parish. He worked there for a few years, and then was hired here at the station," Bracy said. "So I moved to the station when I was 2 years old and lived here until I went to college."
Bracy earned her bachelor’s degree in plant science in 1975 from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, her master’s degree in 1978 from LSU and her doctoral degree in horticulture in 1990 from LSU.
During that time, she returned to the Hammond Research Station in 1982 as a research associate and actually worked with her father a couple of years at the station before he retired in 1986.
And her father is the person Bracy credits with getting her interested in the horticulture industry.
"My dad came and gave a talk to my civics class when I was in high school, and I decided then that this sounds like something that I’d like to do – and I’ve been involved ever since," she said.
Bracy replaced Roy Constantin as research coordinator at the station – and she boasts a long history alongside Constantin, as well.
"Dr. Constantin knew me when I was a 10-year-old climbing trees and also as a professional," she explained.
"I’m excited about some of the new changes we have going on at the station, and I’m excited about the opportunity for putting things into operation that I’ve had in mind for a long time," she said of her new role.
The LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station traditionally has been a fruit and truck crop experiment station that did research on fruits and vegetables. It is one research facility in a statewide system that looks at areas ranging from dairy and beef cattle to citrus and aquaculture to cotton and soybean production.
"Back in the 1980s, we did have an ornamental program at the station, but it was discontinued due to a lack of funds," Bracy said. "So just recently the chancellor met with everybody and asked us what we saw as the future."
Bracy said that’s when she proposed the idea that the Hammond facility needed to go back and concentrate on the "green industry," which is landscape horticulture.
According to Bracy, this industry has been underserved by the LSU AgCenter, because it’s a relatively new concept for the AgCenter. She says the need for such research is obvious, because the industry is taking off across the country and more people are seeking information.
"The consumers need the information, and our research and extension efforts have really not kept up with the demand," Bracy said. "That’s why we need to move in this direction."
Bracy said she hopes to obtain funding to add a garden arboretum to the station. That facility would serve not only for its beauty but also as a teaching tool – on topics ranging from plant varieties to different types of irrigation patterns.
"We will also use the garden to teach landscape contractors and landscape maintenance people and their workers such things as how to prune plants, what are the best mulches to use and how to set up irrigation," Bracy explained.
With new ideas and a position that allows her to implement some of them, Bracy said she’s excited and happy to serve as the research coordinator at the Hammond Research Station.
For additional information about upcoming activities and additions to the research station, contact Bracy at (985) 543-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This article was published in the spring 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)