Texas A&M AgriLife

Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence 2013

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2013 Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence!

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The award for teaching excellence is presented to
M. Edward Rister, Professor and Associate Head
Department of Agricultural Economics

For 33 years, Dr. Rister has made a lasting positive impression on his students’ lives. He not only teaches them to excel, but also prepares them for success and resiliency in life. Among those he has taught are business owners who are known for the quality of their work and educators who model their teaching after Dr. Rister’s. One unique aspect of his teaching involves having students present detailed business plans at a two-day rural entrepreneurship conference each year. Each student receives substantial support from real-world mentors and frequent one-on-one guidance from Dr. Rister. They also receive advice from a cadre of former students, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other experts attending each conference. The conferences are so popular that his former students and others donate roughly twenty thousand dollars annually in scholarship support. Dr. Rister also works with students on research publications. He guides a substantial research program funded by off-campus agencies and businesses. Students’ research activities routinely involve off-campus interactions with various AgriLife stakeholders, which enriches their learning. Three former students said their only regret is that they couldn’t have Dr. Rister as their professor every semester.

The Graduate Student Teaching Award is presented to
Angela Durko, Ph.D. Graduate Student
Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences

For several semesters in a row, Mrs. Durko has taught a large undergraduate class with more than 100 students. “Introduction to Tourism” is a pivotal class for the department, and only the most effective and engaging faculty members are assigned to teach it. Mrs. Durko’s teaching has been at the level of the department’s most talented tenure-track professors. She builds personal connections with the students by learning their names and stories, answering questions by email and cell phone at all hours, and infusing subject matter with stories from her travels. Among her innovations in teaching is a “virtual study abroad” program that uses Skype and joint assignments to connect her students with those in Afghanistan and Dubai. She also created a speaker series that brings professionals from Texas’s top attractions to campus to speak to classes, meet with small groups of faculty and students, and take part in social functions over a two-day period. The program has spawned professional opportunities for the students. By all accounts, Mrs. Durko is an excellent educator. Her doctoral advisor refers to her as “one of the most dynamic and effective teachers I have ever witnessed.”

The Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Bruce A. McCarl, Regents Professor and Distinguished Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics

A pioneering scholar in climate change, bioenergy, and sector modeling, Dr. McCarl is one of the world’s most well-known agricultural economists. In the late 1980s he began addressing carbon sequestration, biofuels, and emissions reduction from livestock and farming operations. He has now turned his attention to the inevitability of substantial climate change and the need for adaptation, publishing a series of papers on this issue, the most recent in 2013. Among his many awards is the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, received as a member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. McCarl’s agricultural economics modeling methods were adopted in the early 1980s by the USDA to analyze environmental issues. He has researched biofuels since the late 1970s and participated in EPA processes on Renewable Fuel Standards. Dr. McCarl shares his research expertise in the classroom and through his extensive graduate advising program. He speaks at many national meetings and has served in editorial roles for a number of scientific journals. A supporter said Dr. McCarl “has set the standard for economic research on agriculture, climate change, and climate policy . . . he is the world’s number one.”

The Graduate Student Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Krystal A. Morales-Rivera, Ph.D. Graduate Student
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

Already published in top journals, Ms. Morales-Rivera is a student in Dr. Tatyana Igumenova’s lab, where she uses nuclear magnetic resonance data interpretation to study a protein with functions that may range from neurotransmitter regulation to promoting the growth of cancer cells. Her research skills were recognized as an undergraduate student, when she was granted several awards, including an AMGEN Scholars Internship to carry out research at the University of California, Berkeley. While at Texas A&M, she has received several travel grants to present her research findings at scientific meetings. She won first place in the annual graduate student research competition and also won the prestigious John Mack Prescott Award, given to the department’s best senior graduate. She helped to publicize the university’s new high-field NMR instrument when it was delivered. With a true spirit of service, she volunteered for six years with a program to assist young children and the elderly in her native home of Puerto Rico. Described by her supporters as “tireless in her quest for new, cutting-edge technologies” and “gifted and intellectually independent,” Ms. Morales-Rivera clearly has a bright future as a top researcher in biochemistry and biophysics. Accepting the award for Ms. Morales-Rivera is Dr. Gregory Reinhart, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

The County Extension Agent Award in Excellence is presented to
J. D. Ragland, County Extension Agent–Agriculture and Natural Resources
Randall County

Dr. Ragland joined AgriLife Extension more than 26 years ago. Throughout his long career in Randall, Castro, and Floyd Counties, he has demonstrated outstanding leadership in education on wheat, cotton, beef cattle, and horticulture. Among his accomplishments was helping the 4-H program in Randall County become one of the best in the state. He began a unique educational program for high-risk youth—the 4-H Dream Team—and included many people and organizations to make it successful. He literally gave one Dream Team member the shirt off his back so that the team member could look nice when presenting their project. In another arena, Dr. Ragland was an invaluable source of support for wheat farmers during freezing weather last April, when crops were damaged by cold weather. Dr. Ragland helped wheat farmers avoid added costs by holding an emergency meeting, inspecting plants for damage, and providing authoritative information to the news media. While working full-time, Dr. Ragland completed the doc@distance program and earned his doctorate in 2013. People praise his initiative, endurance, and thoroughness. One colleague said, “Dr. Ragland’s contributions exemplify a well-rounded AgriLife Extension program.”

The Extension Specialist Award in Excellence is presented to
Floron “Buddy” Faries, Jr., Professor and Extension Program Leader for Large Animal Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

In his 29 years with AgriLife Extension, Dr. Buddy Faries has represented the organization to more than 5,000 youth and countless livestock producers, Extension agents, and veterinarians. He was the driving force behind the creation of the 4-H Vet Science Program, which today has been adopted in 160 counties. Dr. Faries also has done award-winning work on the Texas Master Naturalist program. He has maintained an exhaustive teaching schedule, helping to train professionals, graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and the general public. This teaching schedule has included 88 training programs for Extension faculty and 63 professional courses. He has led more than a thousand educational programs for Extension clientele since 1992. He has also led and worked on 38 research programs — resulting in 1.4 million dollars in research funds. And he has written nearly 200 scholarly articles, books, and other publications  for scientific journals, professional magazines, the news media, the Department of Homeland Security, and 4-H. One of his supporters wrote: “Dr. Faries lives the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service mission, improving the lives of people, businesses, and communities across Texas and beyond.”

The Public Service in Forestry Award in Excellence is presented to
Lee McNeely, Wildland Urban Interface Specialist III
Texas A&M Forest Service

Through his focused dedication as part of the Forest Service’s Mitigation and Prevention Department, Mr. McNeely has made a tremendous impact on Texas cities and counties. He was able to convince the Texas Division of Emergency Management to move wildfire from tenth to fourth place in state hazard rankings — behind hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. This is a true game-changer in that the threat of wildfire in Texas is now accurately reflected for the first time, and it also makes it possible for counties and cities directly affected by wildfire to receive FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program grants, and it has triggered updates of disaster plans statewide. Mr. McNeely provided critical information in updating the state’s wildfire-mitigation template, and he has worked tirelessly with councils of government, cities, and counties in updating their plans. He received a grant to produce a wildfire-mitigation “how-to” guide to help cities and counties complete hazardous-fuel reduction projects. Mr. McNeely’s work has earned him and the Texas A&M Forest Service a reputation as the most trusted person and agency for wildfire-mitigation planning. One of his supporters said his “leadership, vision, and commitment to serve have truly impacted the entire state of Texas.”

The Diagnostic Services Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Robert W. Sprowls, Resident Director
Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Amarillo

Starting his career as a pathologist, Dr. Sprowls has been in leadership positions at the Amarillo lab since 1975. He is nationally renowned as an astute diagnostician, helping to earn the lab’s reputation as the premier U.S. facility for feedlot disease diagnostics. His innovative approaches include promoting batch/pooled testing of clinical specimens for reproductive diseases such as Trichomoniasis. Using this method, beef producers have controlled the disease and saved 75 to 80 percent in costs over individual testing. Working with a range of clients that include some of the world’s largest feedlots, Dr. Sprowls shows great diplomacy in relating to animal owners and to veterinarians treating both large and small animals. He makes time to interact personally with clients each day, also responding to calls on nights, weekends, and holidays. He was instrumental in the development and success of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, now a 900-member national group of beef cattle veterinarians. Dr. Sprowls is known as “the heart of the Amarillo laboratory.” His expertise, approachability, quiet dignity, and integrity have earned him the respect of the livestock industry, his staff, and his peers and colleagues throughout Texas A&M AgriLife.

The Business and Operational Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Carla M. Smith, Administrative Services Officer
Department of Entomology

Ms. Smith joined the department in 2007. She works on all aspects of departmental operations and is amazingly talented at providing solutions to complex or unusual administrative problems. Serving on hiring committees for faculty and staff is one of her many duties. This involves recruiting, interviewing, checking references, and ensuring that all HR policies are followed. Her thoroughness is impeccable. Another of Ms. Smith’s talents lies in helping international hires avoid frustration and anxiety when dealing with elaborate immigration procedures. Just one meeting with Ms. Smith can make a world of difference in the way immigration processes are handled. In addition, Ms. Smith coordinates the overall operation of the Business and Accounting Section of the department and makes recommendations on funding issues. She keeps up-to-date on the latest technologies and recommends software and hardware that will increase efficiency and save money. And she is readily accessible to faculty, staff, and students to resolve disputes. Her colleagues say she is kind, diplomatic, and cheerful. One colleague said, “She is the one ‘go-to’ senior staff member who keeps the departmental enterprise moving forward.”

The Office and Administrative Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Carolyn Orts, Technician II
TVMDL Sam and Sally Glass Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory, Gonzales

Hired by Dr. Sam Glass in 1976, Ms. Orts has served the lab for nearly four decades, under three directors. Now the senior technician, she oversees all aspects of laboratory testing and personnel, interacts with clients, manages laboratory records and case reporting, and trains new technical personnel. She also performs tests in the serology and bacteriology labs, where her years of experience have proven invaluable in interpreting test results. Ms. Orts oversees equipment calibration and preventive maintenance, technician proficiency scheduling, and supplier and subcontractor contacts. In fact, nearly everything related to the laboratory goes to Carolyn’s desk before it goes out to internal or external clients. She knows poultry diseases and management practices inside out, and company representatives ask to talk to Carolyn because she has the information they need right at her fingertips. Her ability to coordinate daily operations and work closely with clients prompted a supporter to compare the lab to “a wheel of numerous spokes, with Carolyn at the hub.” An invaluable staff member, Ms. Orts is one of TVMDL’s most trusted and experienced professionals.

The Technical and Programmatic Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Jason Baker, Senior Research Associate
Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo

Mr. Baker has been the anchor of the small grains improvement program in the High Plains and the Rolling Plains for over 10 years, working at the Dallas, Vernon, and Amarillo Centers. His role spans research and extension tasks that would typically take a team to accomplish. He manages all aspects of the AgriLife wheat-breeding activities, under the direction of the program leader, Dr. Jackie Rudd. Those activities include planning, planting, maintaining, and harvesting grain plots; analyzing data; managing the upkeep and repair of equipment; and supervising employees. He has designed and executed a wheat- and triticale-crossing program, among others. He is a coauthor on the release proposals of seven hard red winter wheat varieties, four oat varieties, and two triticale varieties. And his successes have had far-ranging positive impacts, benefiting producers throughout Texas. In 2010 Mr. Baker was chosen as Employee of the Year at the AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Vernon. All in all, he has been a huge asset for the statewide wheat program. One of his colleagues wrote, “His unassuming attitude, very nice demeanor, and hard-working ethics have enriched our synergy and significantly contributed to our success.”

The AgriLife Services Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Steve Byrns, Editor and Extension Communications Specialist, West Region
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

A 31-year veteran of AgriLife Communications, Mr. Byrns produces at least 120 news releases every year for AgriLife Today, reaching readers around the world and playing a key role in supporting the work of AgriLife Extension and Research. He also fields calls from reporters seeking AgriLife experts to quote. Based at the San Angelo Center, he serves a broad swath of West Texas, from Lubbock to Abilene to Fort Stockton. He also covers the Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Entomology. A creative thinker and problem solver, Mr. Byrns helped design the award-winning Brush Busters project, wrote a popular brochure titled “Angora Goats: A ‘Shear’ Delight,” and helps promote economic development in the High Plains through the publication “The Impact of Agribusiness in the Big Country.” He teaches media relations for Extension staff members and led the establishment of the Joint Information Center to get the word out about drought impacts in the High Plains. A supporter says he “has a keen sense of what makes news” and “elevates the status of Texas A&M AgriLife as a trusted source for information.”

The Diversity Award in Excellence is presented to the team
Migrant and Low-Income Family Education in the Panhandle
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Team members are:

  • Sue Owens, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Moore County
  • Amy Wagner, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Potter County
  • Lizabeth Gresham, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, Potter County

In 2008, Moore County received 2,000 political refugees from Burma and Somalia. They lacked a basic understanding of local culture, and community members began to complain they were rummaging through neighborhoods. The region already had a large immigrant population and an even larger population living in poverty and food insecurity. Ms. Owens set up classes to teach immigrants about driving, safe operation of water heaters, proper hygiene, work ethics, and much more. When Ms. Wagner arrived in Moore County, she helped to address both the migrant and lower socio-economic families’ educational needs, teaching classes on professional development, grocery shopping, and food safety. She and Ms. Owens trained their peers on working with lower socio-economic families. When Ms. Gresham joined the team, she collaborated with Habitat for Humanity on an educational series on financial stability. She also developed lessons to address language and culture barriers facing a clientele that speaks more than twenty-six different languages. A Moore County compliance officer summed up the team’s success, saying: “The rummaging has stopped. Schools are not complaining about student dress and hygiene, [and there is] less absenteeism from work. Drivers have slowed down, and children are in car seats.” Accepting the award on Sue Owens behalf is Brandon Dukes.

The International Involvement Award in Excellence is presented to the
Veterinary Epidemiology, Diagnostic Detection, and Outreach Team

Team members are:

  • Heather Simmons, Program Manager for Education and Outreach, FAZD Center
  • Michael McWhorter, Associate Director and International Training Coordinator, Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture
  • Amy Swinford, Branch Chief, TVMDL
  • Sandy Rodgers, Assistant Section Head, Serology, TVMDL
  • Floron “Buddy” Faries, Jr., Professor and Extension Veterinarian, AgriLife Extension and FAZD Center
  • Tom Hairgrove, Program Coordinator, Livestock and Food Animal Systems, AgriLife Extension and TVMDL

Through international fellowship grants, this team has trained 55 veterinary scientists from 10 countries in biotechnology, epidemiology, and advanced disease diagnostics. The TVMDL and FAZD members design and present practical hands-on training geared to the technology available in the Fellows’ native countries so they can readily apply their new skills when they return home. Disease eradication and control are always of paramount concern to the international scientists. Extension team members work closely with industry, animal science specialists, and veterinarians to help improve animal food production systems and herd health, including testing for brucellosis and other contagious diseases. Once a Fellow has completed training in the U.S., team members travel to the home country to see how the new skills and methods are being implemented. This helps determine future collaborations in research, training, and extension. One of the team’s trainees from East Africa wrote: “Each of the players in the team tackled a specific aspect of the training brilliantly.” Together, this team is improving animal agriculture around the globe to help meet two of our grand challenges: feeding our world and protecting our health.

The Administration Award in Excellence is presented to
Jaroy Moore, Professor and Resident Director
Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Lubbock

Dr. Moore has been in Research and Extension Center leadership positions for 36 years, spending the past 15 years at Lubbock. Among his many awards is the Outstanding Agriculturist Award from Governor Rick Perry, received in 2006. Dr. Moore oversees twenty-seven AgriLife Research scientists and sixty-three support personnel, with an annual budget of 8.1 million dollars. Under his leadership, extramural funding by the Lubbock Center faculty has doubled; he has secured or managed 97 million dollars for the Center. Directing research in the most intensive agricultural production region in Texas, Dr. Moore has established an outstanding reputation for himself and for Texas A&M AgriLife with agricultural producers, commodity groups, and the agriculture industry. Among his contributions to research and education in the region has been to increase collaboration among Texas A&M AgriLife, Texas Tech University, and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Thanks to his efforts, the number of faculty members at Lubbock with a joint appointment between AgriLife Research and Texas Tech has increased from five to fifteen. His colleagues say that he has a gift for creating an inspiring work environment, resolving conflicts, and fostering a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation.

The Partnership Award in Excellence is presented to the team
Reaching Food Insecure Families in the High Plains

Team members are:

  • Leicia Redwine, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Armstrong County
  • Molly Foreman, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Briscoe County 
  • Jeanene Montgomery, County Extension Agent–Family and Consumer Sciences, Carson County
  • Renda Nelson, Regional Program Manager, BLT, AgriLife Extension, Amarillo
  • Edna Tucker, Agency Relations Director, High Plains Food Bank, Amarillo

This dynamic partnership between AgriLife Extension and the High Plains Food Bank helps to feed 84,000 people annually in the 29 counties of the uppermost Texas Panhandle by distributing 7 million pounds of food. About one in six Texas households live in poverty, unable to afford fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods. This puts them at risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. In addition to food donations, the Food Bank has a one-acre garden that produces 20,000 pounds of fresh produce for clientele during the spring and summer months. This team supported the opening of a new food pantry and an outreach center. They teach safe food-handling practices at distribution sites, and reach thousands through classes in nutrition education, cooking, and food-preservation. By continually seeking professional development, providing in-service training, and offering community service opportunities for local 4-H clubs, the team members are recognized as leaders in their field. They work to determine the causes of food-insecurity and help to relieve the stress of hunger by providing a safe and reliable source of food for those who are the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly.

The Team Award in Excellence is presented to the
Saltcedar Biological Control Team

Team members are:

  • Gerald J. Michels, Jr., Professor of Entomology, AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo
  • Allen E. Knutson, Professor and Extension Entomologist, AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas
  • Mark Muegge, Associate Professor of Entomology, AgriLife Extension Center at Fort Stockton
  • Erin N. Jones, Research Assistant, AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo

This team has worked since 2006 to develop and teach a sustainable strategy for biological control of the invasive shrub saltcedar, which has spread to millions of acres throughout Texas and the southwestern United States. Saltcedar not only depletes valuable ground and surface water but also increases soil salinity, encroaches on farm and ranchland, and degrades wildlife habitat. Thanks to this team’s introduction of a Eurasian beetle that feeds only on saltcedar, these shrubs are being defoliated through a natural equilibrium, without the need for chemical herbicides. The team established populations of the saltcedar leaf beetle in all of the major watersheds of West Texas and provides technical assistance to landowners and managers who are using the biological control method. Through conferences, field days, meetings, and publications, the team has enlisted the help of hundreds of supporters who have contributed to the program’s success. One grateful landowner said, “I never could have imagined my world without a continual battle with saltcedar. I believe we now have successful control.”

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