In Memoriam: Remembering the Legacy of Former Chair V.L. Holland

By Angelina Benyamin Rodriguez  

V.L. Holland, an influential Cal Poly faculty member over the course of five decades, passed away in January 2022.  

Arriving at Cal Poly in 1972 after earning his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, Holland held roles as a professor, chair and professor emeritus.  

By 1976, Holland was named associate chair of the Biological Sciences Department. And in 1983, he earned the title of department chair, which he held for 22 years from 1983 to 2005; during that time, Holland oversaw department activities including numerous labs and research projects.  

Holland helped Cal Poly to be ranked among the top biological sciences programs in the nation. The department now is home to around 900 students, who are given the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in hands-on labs and projects. Holland led these experiences for many students in his field botany and plant ecology courses.  

In 1996, Holland and fellow botany specialist David Keil published “California Vegetation.” This textbook eventually became part of the curriculum at many schools, including Holland’s alma mater, UC Berkeley. Later, they started a botanical consulting firm together.  

Keil and Holland worked as a team, teaching field botany in the late 1970s. Each spring quarter, the pair brought their field botany class on multiple field trips ranging from day trips to Morro Bay to a four-day trip in the desert, ending with a snowball fight in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They strived to offer classes that were “really important to the students and valuable to them,” Keil said. 

“We had personalities that matched each other pretty well,” Keil said. “V.L. much more of the extrovert. I’m the introvert. V.L. was the comedian and we had great times together.” 

Keil remembers Holland going on runs with fellow faculty members at lunch and being an involved member of the department. Keil also says that Holland was “a great family man” who was involved in the sports that his kids and grandkids played.  

Holland was also close to Keil and his family, serving as a groomsman at Keil’s wedding.  

“He was an important part of my life,” Keil said. 

Holland also had a love for the environment that translated into a passion for the organizations he was a part of at Cal Poly. One such organization was The Environmental Biotechnology Institute (the precursor to the current Center for Applications in Biotechnology), aiding in the development and application of biological tools to address environmental concerns. 

In 2005, Holland was officially given the title professor emeritus for his achievements at Cal Poly.  

Throughout his career Holland left a lasting impact on the Cal Poly community and will be missed by his students and fellow faculty members. 

To learn more about his life, to go 

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