SEARCA Regional Professorial Chair Grant
AY 2023-2024

Drivers of Agricultural Innovation

Intertwining teaching, research, and a passion for sustainable agriculture with Assoc. Prof. He Jie

Assoc. Prof. He Jie's teaching career was inspired by her childhood experience growing up on a school campus, where his father served as a high school principal and her mother was an exemplary teacher. Her parents' influence instilled a deep love for education and combined with Assoc. Prof. He Jie's affinity for learning, she likewise found a calling in the academe. Her passion for knowledge and lifelong learning has brought her to various prestigious institutions including the South China Normal University for her bachelor's degree, the South China Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica, China for her master's, and Macquarie University, Australia for her PhD. She further honed her teaching skills with a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching in Higher Education from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

Intertwining teaching, research, and a passion for sustainable agriculture with Assoc. Prof. He JieDuring her time as a PhD student, a postdoctoral fellow in Australia, until she became a research fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Assoc Prof. He Jie worked on research in environmental stresses affecting photosynthesis such as light, UV-B radiation, and temperature. As a prolific researcher, she has secured 22 research grants since joining the National Institute of Education (NIE) at NTU in 1994. Her research focuses on the photosynthetic characteristics of high-value vegetables grown aeroponically by manipulating rootzone (RZ) temperature and RZ CO2 levels. Additionally, she does research on shoot-root communication, dietary minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidant enzymes in leafy vegetables, and the effects of abiotic and biotic stresses on tropical orchids. Assoc. Prof. He Jie's contributions have been recognized with the Singapore Innovation of the Year Award in 2001 and the Singapore Millennium Foundation grant in 2012. In 2016, she also received the NIE Excellence in Research Award for her study on vertical farming of vegetable crops under LED lighting. Her collaborations also extend to governmental bodies like the Ministry of Education and Ministry of National Development in Singapore, which highlights her commitment to bridging academia and policy.

Assoc Prof. He Jie's unexpected transition from a research fellow at the NUS into a lecturer at NIE was ushered in by her focus on plant physiology. The experience of interacting with students and witnessing the impact of education on their lives ignited a passion for inspiring learning. Approaching the milestone of receiving long service recognition in 2024 at NIE, she reflects on her journey marked by a dedication to instilling love for learning in her students. She believes that being a great researcher involves bringing not only expertise but also passion into the classroom. This dual role has enriched her understanding of her field and heightened her enthusiasm for both teaching and research.

Intertwining teaching, research, and a passion for sustainable agriculture with Assoc. Prof. He Jie

Assoc. Prof. He Jie sees her work in food security and sustainability as a significant achievement. Her research focuses on improving the productivity and nutritional quality of subtropical and temperate leafy vegetables in unique tropical conditions. She shares these outcomes with her students and fellow teachers to inspire them to promote sustainable agriculture in their classrooms. She also generously shares her discoveries through top plant science journals such as Environmental and Experimental Botany, Frontiers in Plant Science, Functional Plant Biology, Journal of Experimental Botany, Photosynthesis Research, and PLOS ONE.

From September 2020 to December 2022, Assoc. Prof. He Jie served as a technical adviser for the Singapore Food Agency's initiative on validating performance indicators and developing benchmarks for resource use and waste generation in urban farms under the Clean and Green Standard (Agriculture). These roles underline her commitment to advancing responsible farming practices and shaping policies for urban agriculture in her country.

A valuable life lesson Assoc. Prof. He Jie learned in her field is the importance of thinking outside the box. She has explored unconventional methods like growing subtropical and temperate crops in the tropics year-round by cooling only the root zone. This innovative approach involves adapting tropical methods for cultivating temperate vegetables, showcasing the power of creative thinking and adaptation in problem-solving. She encourages the next generation to embrace unconventional ideas, fostering a culture of innovation in the field.

Intertwining teaching, research, and a passion for sustainable agriculture with Assoc. Prof. He Jie

As a recipient of the SEARCA Regional Professorial Chair Grant, Assoc. Prof. He Jie intends to leverage this honor to inspire others, particularly her biology students. Through an open lecture, she hopes to encourage and motivate them to actively contribute to the crucial areas of food security and sustainability. By sharing insights, experiences, and the significance of these topics, she hopes to instill a sense of purpose and responsibility, empowering the next generation of biologists to make meaningful contributions in their pursuit of a more sustainable and secure future. Assoc. Prof. He Jie's public lecture as part of her grant will be about greenhouse and indoor vegetable production in the tropics, and microclimate control to increase productivity and nutritional quality cost-effectively.

In the coming two years leading up to her retirement, Assoc. Prof. He Jie will focus on the future of agriculture with a commitment to urban farming. Although stepping away from full-time responsibilities, she plans to remain actively engaged in the field by offering consulting services as needed. This way, she can still contribute her expertise to the development and advancement of sustainable urban agriculture even beyond her formal retirement—ensuring a continued impact in this vital field.

Since the academic year 2012–13, the SEARCA Regional Professorial Chair Grant has been recognizing the valuable efforts of Southeast Asian individuals and institutions in the field of agriculture and its related sciences. This annual award gives recognition for their contributions through instruction, research, and extension work.