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Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science Professor Doug Malo Retires After 43 Years

SDSU Professor Doug Malo speaking at podium
Doug Malo presented the Malo Teaching Excellence Award at the recent Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science banquet.

As he prepares for retirement, one of South Dakota State University’s longest-serving faculty members, Doug Malo, says helping students succeed has been the highlight of his 43-year career. The distinguished professor of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Sciences has taught over 8,500 undergraduate students and more than 350 graduate students during the course of his career. Malo’s extensive dedication and contributions to South Dakota State University students and agricultural research have been a life-long devotion.

“Doug Malo brought an uncompromising pursuit of excellence in teaching and scholarly research to SDSU,” says Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science Department Head David Wright. 

Nominated for emeritus status, the distinguished professor has received more than 30 honors and awards for his effective teaching during his years of service in the department. He was awarded the prestigious USDA National Award for University Teaching Excellence in the Food and Agricultural Sciences, named South Dakota Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation, and presented with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Team Teaching from the SDSU College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. He was honored six times as the Teacher of the Year by undergraduate students of the SDSU Agronomy and Conservation Club, among other awards.  

Despite these accomplishments, Malo says the highlight of his career is the success of his students.

“Probably the greatest joys I have realized in the educational process over the past 40 years have been the optimistic attitudes, the concern and compassion for others, the daily challenge of inquisitive minds, and the bubbling enthusiasm of students,” Malo says.

Malo’s former students are now highly respected members of land grant universities, federal agencies, international non-government organizations, and leaders in local communities. His students also have careers in the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. Additionally, impacting students beyond the SDSU campus, Malo has extended his service in 10 foreign countries, including Bolivia, South Korea, Ukraine, Haiti, Senegal, and Honduras. As a visiting soil scientist, he taught courses and consulted local farmers on soil and crop management, to help further their yields and agricultural development. He also taught English classes for students in South Korea and Ukraine.

“Service is fundamental to the mission of SDSU,” Wright notes. “Doug is passionate about giving back to the university community. His contributions made significant impacts nationally and internationally by promoting and supporting long-term soil and agriculture productivity.”

Malo’s career at SDSU began in 1975 as an assistant professor in the department. With his graduate focus in soils, Malo has taught 20 different related courses including: Introductory Soils, Soil Judging, Soil Geography and Land Use, Integrated Natural Resource Management (senior capstone course for Agronomy and Precision Ag majors), and Soil Genesis and Taxonomy. In addition, he also served as a mentor for graduate thesis and research, which led to the development of more than 100 scholarly works and 250 abstracts and technical bulletins. 

Though classes and coursework were a major responsibility of Malo’s profession at SDSU, he believes that education is far more than classroom learning.

Working with students in all phases of college, as well as coaching and supporting the SDSU Soil Judging Team, Malo emphasized the importance of helping his students personally and professionally grow as individuals in his teaching philosophy. 

“I like to think that a small part of me leaves with every student I teach,” Malo says. “Each instructor leaves an impression of his/her values, character, and compassion.”

As an undergrad, Malo attended Iowa State University, initially pursuing a degree in architecture. “It was all right, but I didn’t quite feel at home,” he explains.

Returning back to the agricultural roots that were instilled in him on his family farm in Sherburn, Minn., Malo changed his major to agronomy and plant pathology. Prior to graduating college, Malo had no initial plans to continue his education.

He said that receiving a masters and doctorate degree happened almost by accident.

Around the time-period when Malo completed his agronomy degree at ISU, the federal government designed a program called the National Defense Education Act. Intimidated by Russia sending up a satellite, the U.S. created this act to promote involvement in science programs and advancement in technology.

The NDEA provided free schooling, including tuition, housing, books, etc., for students that were obtaining their graduate degrees in science and technology programs.

Motivated by this incentive, Malo took the opportunity and was accepted into North Dakota State University’s graduate program for soil science. Upon earning his masters and doctorate degrees within three years, Malo continued pursuing a career path in agronomy research and education by becoming a professor at SDSU.

Malo’s work in soil survey, soil land use, soil management, soil classification, geomorphology, soil productivity and soil analysis provided the foundation for a large part of the agronomic and soil research, teaching and SDSU Extension activities conducted in South Dakota over the past 40+ years. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work,” Malo says, wrapping up his 43-year career in the SDSU Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science Department. He is grateful for the support he’s received from the department and college.

“They’ve allowed me to do whatever I’ve chosen to do and hopefully it’s been helpful to a lot of people. “A job should be a vocation, not a task,” he concludes.