YuTube: Newly-minted Professor Yu ‘Gary’ Gao takes on new challenge – online video

(Editor’s Note: The following is the latest in a series of feature stories highlighting The Ohio State University South Centers Staff)
Bradford Sherman
CFAES/OSU South Centers

Dr. Yu “Gary” Gao has accomplished nearly everything professionally possible. He was the editor and co-author of a highly-cited and award-winning publication; he has established many successful programs over the years; and all the while he has been a mentor to, and helped launch the careers of, many young scientific minds.

But nothing tops his most recent achievement, when he fulfilled a lifelong dream by earning a promotion to the rank of full professor at The Ohio State University. So, you might ask, what is the logical next step for a man like Gao, who has now reached the pinnacle of a career in academia?

Become a YouTuber, obviously.

In all seriousness though, using the immensely-popular, self-publishing video platform to share the wealth of knowledge he has accumulated over his career is part of a much larger plan for Gao. Now, his career path forward is all about leaving a lasting legacy.

“I don’t know if it is an age thing or what, but this desire to leave a legacy for other people means a whole lot more now,” Gao stated. “One thing that excites me a lot is recording YouTube videos, where I show people how to grow things, etc. And since videos are kind of permanent, it is like leaving a legacy.”

If you ever talk to Gao for very long about YouTube, he will be sure to tell you about the video that first got him thinking about using the platform as a way to enhance his programming. It featured a common man in his backyard showing the viewers a few slick tricks to effectively rake leaves. As of the writing of this article, the video with a simple title and unpretentious presentation has been viewed 3.1 million times, and the host “David” now has over 10,000 subscribers.

“‘How to rake leaves’ – that was my inspiration,” Gao said with a chuckle.

And while “Gary” still has a way to go before he catches up with “David,” right now he is having a lot of fun being in front of the camera, and working alongside the talented team of Duane Rigsby and Sarah Swanson, who shoot and produce the videos.

“It is also exciting to know that we have people like Duane and Sarah at South Centers who are equally passionate about this,” he said. “I can do what I do, and then they turn it into really neat videos. I have a little more time and freedom to do these types of things now, following my promotion to full professor.”

That ultimate career goal Gao spoke of was finally fulfilled on May 30 of this year. A long process that began with a letter of intent to pursue the full professor rank, then went through a series of steps that included: 1) a departmental review, 2) college promotion tenure review, 3) a letter from the dean of the college, 4) and then to the provost’s office before ultimately being approved by the OSU Board of Trustees.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life, it is hard to imagine getting here from my humble beginning as a graduate student – this has been a lifelong dream for me,” Gao reflected. “You always want to accomplish great things, but there are no guarantees in life.”

He was also quick to point out all the help he received along the way, everyone from graduate advisors to co-workers to students/scholars to members of his family.
“Even though it was a personal achievement, a lot of people have helped me along the way.” He said. “It certainly took a village.”

Gao currently serves as a small fruits specialist and the co-leader of the specialty crops program at OSU South Centers, where he has worked since 2010. During that time he has built a program that includes a staff consisting of full-time Research Assistant, Ryan Slaughter, and a steady stream of visiting scholars. He holds several popular events throughout the year including the Blueberry, Bramble, and Wine Grape Field Day and Night, Pruning School, and Grape and Wine Workshop, as well as conducts research and trials on a variety of small fruits.

His previous stops at Ohio State included Horticulture Extension Specialist roles in Delaware County and Clermont County, where 25 years ago he founded a Southeast Ohio Perennial Flower School that is still going strong to this day, as well as the Master Gardner program. He also spent time as a post-doc researcher at Purdue University working primarily with culinary herbs, blueberries and muskmelons.

Born in Taiyuan in northern China, he came to the United States in 1985 as a Graduate Student at The Ohio State University. He earned his master’s degree in viticulture and a PhD in table grapes. 
Looking forward, in addition to producing educational videos, he also wants to continue his work as a mentor to young people, and to continue his work on the development of new rootstocks. One of the major goals of which is the development of a small blueberry tree through grafting.

“If this comes to fruition, there is a very good chance that anybody could plant this, and harvest blueberries from your little tree in your backyard.”

Gao and his wife, Wendy, reside in central Ohio and are the parents of two sons, Tom and Alvin, a medical school student and Technology Development Specialist for PNC Bank, respectively.