Texas A&M AgriLife

2014 Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2014 Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence!


Dr. Sandun D. Fernando

The Teaching Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Sandun D. Fernando, Associate Professor
Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Since joining the Texas A&M faculty in 2008, Dr. Fernando has been an exceptional mentor for both undergraduate and graduate students. He is a powerful and dynamic communicator who makes complex subjects understandable by presenting a balance of theory and practice. A colleague describes Dr. Fernando as a “remarkable classroom teacher; definitely a role model for any aspiring teacher.” He uses his impressive command of high-level engineering courses to meet the academic needs of students. One remarked: “He challenged us to become not just good problem-solving engineers, but also engineers of integrity.” His students have shown their appreciation for him through many awards, including the 2014 Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching and the Spring 2010 Texas A&M University Student-Led Award for Excellence in Teaching. In addition to teaching, Dr. Fernando leads a successful research program, is active in service to his profession, and promotes engineering education in developing countries. His research program focuses on applying nanoscale catalytic systems to produce bioenergy and biopower. His research has garnered over $3 million in competitive grants and has resulted in 52 peer-reviewed publications in respected journals.


Mr. Robert Koenig

The Graduate Student Teaching Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Robert Koenig, Graduate Assistant
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

Mr. Koenig is a senior graduate student who has been a teaching assistant for eight semesters in two different classes. He fosters a great learning environment and tailors his teaching to each group of students. He learns over 60 students’ names each semester. When he calls on a student to answer a question, he tailors the difficulty of the question to the student. This builds confidence in students who are struggling, encouraging them to participate. It also creates camaraderie in his small, interactive classes. Mr. Koenig puts a great deal of effort into presenting the lecture material. He differentiates his sections from the main lecture to prod students’ thinking. He incorporates jokes, asks challenging questions, and helps students see the common pitfalls in problem solving. One colleague says: “Teaching assistants like Robert make a semester so much smoother in transitioning students through a difficult course.” For Mr. Koenig, teaching is not a necessary chore to support his research but a responsibility and a privilege to help students go from struggling to successful.


Dr. James C. Sacchettini

The Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. James C. Sacchettini, Professor and R. J. Wolfe-Welch Chair in Science, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
Director, Center for Structural Biology

Dr. Sacchettini joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1996. Since then, he has gained worldwide acclaim for his research. His work applies to the discovery of new drugs for tuberculosis, antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacterial infections, cancer, and other diseases. Dr. Sacchettini established and directs the Center for Structural Biology, a laboratory of nearly 50 people that identifies and studies the structure of proteins that are critical to the life cycle of various disease-causing organisms. The team then designs, creates, and tests molecules that can act like drugs, inactivating these proteins and killing disease-causing agents. This approach is often referred to as Rationale Drug Design. The Sacchettini group works to combat “diseases of the poor” around the world. For example, the lab is part of an international consortium, working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that aims to speed the discovery of essential new treatments for tuberculosis. Dr. Sacchettini’s work has generated more than 280 publications, often in the best scientific journals in the world. The Center for Structural Biology is an essential resource for researchers in virtually all areas of the life sciences at Texas A&M.


Mr. Alfredo Erazo-Oliveras

The Graduate Student Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Alfredo Erazo-Oliveras, Ph.D. Candidate and Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

A top student in his department, Mr. Erazo-Oliveras graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, where he won the Pedro Gelabert Award for excellence in environmental sciences. In the summer of 2007, he conducted National Science Foundation–sponsored research in Dr. James Sacchettini’s lab at Texas A&M, through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. He began his graduate studies at Texas A&M in 2008 and is under the supervision of Dr. Jean-Philippe Pellois. Mr. Erazo-Oliveras’s research focuses on developing a technology for introducing proteins into live cells without toxicity. This research could be a game-changer in the field of novel drug delivery, and it required superb problem-solving skills in chemistry, biochemistry, and cell biology. Dr. Pellois referred to Mr. Erazo-Oliveras as “simply the best student I have had since joining Texas A&M,” and says, “He is a great lab citizen, always enthusiastic, always asking the right questions, and he serves as a great role model for my graduate students.” Among Mr. Erazo-Oliveras’s publications is a first-author paper in the journal Nature Methods, which is considered the best among 75 journals in biochemical research. He won a graduate student teaching award in 2013.

Calley Runnels

Mrs. Calley Runnels

The County Extension Agent Award in Excellence is presented to
Mrs. Calley Runnels, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service–Family and Consumer Sciences, Swisher County

Serving Briscoe, Gaines, and Swisher Counties over the past 18 years, Mrs. Runnels has shown outstanding leadership in Extension education programs and volunteer engagement. Through many collaborations, she has taught young people and adults about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, chronic disease prevention, and child passenger safety. She promotes economic development through youth entrepreneurship and internship programs and works to relieve food insecurity in her county. Her safety classes encompass farm as well as bicycle, gun, and auto safety. And she helps educate young people about tobacco use and substance abuse, bullying, teen suicide prevention, and healthy relationships. Over 4,600 youth in Swisher County have participated in programs such as Tough Talk for Teens, Ag Safety Day Camps, and Towards No Tobacco. Mrs. Runnels has an “army” of volunteers who help her lead projects in foods, clothing and textiles, consumer education, photography, and robotics. The Swisher County 4-H program — considered one of the best in the state — has grown in membership by 15% over the past five years, due in large part to Mrs. Runnels’s leadership. Her supporters say she “exemplifies a high-performing Extension professional” and that she works tirelessly for her community, always with a smile on her face.

Jim Kamas

Mr. James S. Kamas

The Extension Specialist Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. James S. Kamas, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist–Viticulture and Pomology, Gillespie County

Mr. Kamas has been researching Pierce’s disease — an insect-borne disease that can devastate vineyards — since 2007. He was appointed coordinator of the Extension Viticulture and Fruit Lab in Fredericksburg in 2010. When funding was lost in 2012, he found grants to keep the facility running until a benefactor purchased and donated it in 2013. Dr. Kamas’s Pierce’s Disease Overview and Management Guide is the leading publication on the disease for grape growers east of the Rocky Mountains. Through partnerships with researchers in California and Florida, he tests disease-resistant grape varieties and biocontrol agents. His dedication has changed the face of the Texas grape industry and helps to add over $90 million annually to the Texas economy. His new book, Growing Grapes in Texas, was published by the Texas A&M University Press in November 2014, and he is also the author of the Texas Peach Handbook. As the State Fruit Specialist, he helps commercial and home growers manage their fruit trees and control disease, and he developed a sustainable fruit orchard on the West Campus. One supporter says his “warm personality and belief that good scientists should get together to solve problems makes him the model of what an Extension Specialist should be.”

Curt Stripling

Mr. Curt Stripling

The Public Service in Forestry Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Curt Stripling, Geospatial Systems Coordinator
Texas A&M Forest Service

Mr. Stripling has served the Texas A&M Forest Service for 16 years as Geospatial Specialist and Geospatial Systems Coordinator, and he manages the Resource Protection Division’s geospatial programs and employees. Among other accomplishments, he has been the driving force and lead technical expert behind the successful development of the Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal and the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. These game-changing products shape the complexity of wildfire risk assessment for public use. Mr. Stripling’s extensive knowledge, communication skills, and overall vision allowed him to lead a diverse group of experts in fire behavior, wildfire mitigation, GIS analysis, and software development to create these products. The team members reported a highly positive, adaptive, and collaborative working environment. Mr. Stripling also included stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels. Now, anyone in Texas or in the 13 southern states can access the information to help them manage their land, protect their home, or develop wildfire protection plans for communities. “A detailed wildfire risk assessment previously involved a staff of specialists and required weeks to complete,” writes one of Mr. Stripling’s supporters. “Using TxWRAP or SouthWRAP, any homeowner or county planner can now obtain accurate wildfire risk assessments for their property in just minutes.”


Mr. Michael G. Beauvais

The Diagnostic Services Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Michael G. Beauvais, Assistant Head of Diagnostic Services
Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, College Station

Since 1987, Mr. Beauvais has worked to provide quality service in diagnostic testing to veterinarians across Texas and the United States. In his current position for the past 10 years, he oversees the receiving and assigning of up to 800 submissions per day and supervises four to six employees. He puts the client’s needs first in assigning specimens to sections and in shepherding elements of casework through the entire laboratory process. The coordination and communication needed to move cases through the lab can be daunting, requiring the committed investment of every person in every step of a case. Each day, he and his team carefully review every preliminary case for errors or missed linkages. He has invaluable synergy with laboratory personnel, and his institutional knowledge of TVMDL earned him a seat on a recent external laboratory review committee. Mr. Beauvais also made important contributions to TVMDL’s laboratory information management system migration and worked with program developers to solve any issues clients might have in adjusting to the new system. One nominator writes: “Mike Beauvais is synonymous with diagnostic service at TVMDL. He approaches his work with a meticulous mentality and good humor and works to bring out the best in others. He is outstanding.”


Ms. Stacy Morris

The Special Services Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Stacy Morris, Chief of Staff
Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, College Station

In her 14 years with Texas A&M AgriLife, Ms. Morris has worked in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, in AgriLife Extension, AgriLife Research, and, since 2009, at TVMDL. A few examples of her work as TVMDL chief of staff include supporting the development and implementation of the agency strategic plan, leading the integration of TVMDL into the AgriLife Human Resources system, and establishing a communications strategy for the agency. Ms. Morris is a strategic thinker who truly wants the best for both the agency and its employees. She has a collaborative, inclusive leadership style that motivates everyone she works with. One colleague writes: “she truly enjoys the success of others… believing that the accomplishments of the team are more critical than those of any individual.” Several staff members have told me that they credit Stacy as being a key contributor to their own achievements.”  Ms. Morris’s nominators write that she has outstanding organizational abilities, consummate interpersonal and communication skills, and an engaging and positive personality. Her skill set makes her well qualified for the job, but her attitude and personality allow her to excel.


Ms. Kathy Wingate

The Business and Operational Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Kathy Wingate, Administrative Services Officer
Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo

For 20 years, Ms. Wingate has provided outstanding service in business administration to the Amarillo Center. Currently she supervises six support staff and coordinates the business operations for both the Amarillo and Vernon Centers. Thanks to her, both units are known for their reliable financial and human resource records as well as detailed, accurate, and timely reporting. Ms. Wingate’s expertise and knowledge are well known at other Research and Extension Centers as well as at AgriLife Administrative Services. She is recognized as being the “best of the best” in her position, supplying in-depth knowledge, creativity, and strict adherence to AgriLife policies and procedures. Because of the widespread, high level of confidence in her abilities, the Amarillo Center is often used to pilot new Administrative Services programs. For example, in 2012 Ms. Wingate was specifically contacted by AgriLife Human Resources to evaluate a new policy related to recruiting-file management and retention before the policy’s rollout to other units. She has received six awards, including the Texans Caring for Texans Award from the Texas House of Representatives. Ms. Wingate earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from West Texas A&M University in Canyon and is AgriLife’s only unit-level-based Certified Texas Purchaser.


Ms. Linda Bice

The Office and Administrative Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Linda Bice, Office Associate and District 4-H Secretary
Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo

Since 2001, Ms. Bice has supported the 4-H, Gerontology and Health, and Cancer Prevention programs in District 1. She also assists with the switchboard rotation and has served as assistant office manager for the Amarillo Center. And she helps train support staff and County Extension Agents. As the point of contact for 4-H in the district, she supports many events and activities, judiciously handles 4-H funds, and is the source of information for agents, specialists, support staff, and program leaders. She manages her many responsibilities through exceptional organization and problem-solving skills. One colleague writes, “Linda is without a doubt one of the most efficient employees I have ever worked with.” Ms. Bice’s nominators say that she is a consummate professional with a strong work ethic, unquestionable character, and a commitment to serving others. Her positive attitude and friendly personality make working with her a pleasure. She rarely takes credit for her success, but her outstanding service makes her an invaluable asset, and her colleagues hold her in their highest regard. While carrying out the extensive responsibilities of her job, Ms. Bice completed a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Education in Business Administration and a master’s degree in Organizational Management at Wayland Baptist University in Amarillo.


Dr. Lawrence J. Dangott

The Technical and Programmatic Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Lawrence J. Dangott, Research Scientist
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

Since 1997, Dr. Dangott has served as director of the Protein Chemistry Laboratory. This facility offers researchers across the Texas A&M campus services such as protein microsequencing, amino acid analysis, peptide synthesis, and protein mass spectrometry. Dr. Dangott’s work goes far beyond these requirements. He uses his many years of expertise to solve critical research problems, offer suggestions on further analyses, and interpret data. For many of the facility’s clients, he has become a collaborator and a co-author. One nominator writes that his efforts “enabled us to obtain the necessary data that allowed the work to be published in the premier science journal Nature last year. Dr. Dangott was a co-author on the paper, and it could not have been published without his efforts and expertise.” Throughout his career, Dr. Dangott has been an author on over 58 publications and one book chapter, including articles in some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. In addition, he mentors graduate students, serves on thesis committees, trains undergraduates in protein science research, and teaches in the classroom. All these activities go beyond his job description, but he gladly carries them out to help students receive the best possible education in biochemistry and biophysics.

Ann Shurgin

Ms. Ann Shurgin

The AgriLife Services Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Ann Shurgin, Senior Writer and Editor
Promotional Media Team, Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

After 10 years in her position, Ms. Shurgin is the go-to person for copywriting, editing, and scriptwriting at AgriLife. Her writing is woven into much of what the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and AgriLife Research and Extension say and share about who they are, including brochures, fact sheets, marketing guides, video scripts, and the timeline history book The Land-Grant Legacy in the Lone Star State. Her work supports major events in AgriLife, including the AgriLife Conference and the annual Legacy and Leadership Banquet. Ms. Shurgin’s nominators say that she is remarkably quick and responsive, and that her deep understanding of clients’ needs and goals for their promotional materials allows her to accurately capture the right message and tone. Her colleagues also commend her work philosophy. She considers every project a team effort and jumps in when needed to mentor younger writers, work closely with graphic designers, and help with videography and video production. With the recent retirement of her supervisor, she has taken on some of his duties to keep the team’s projects on time, on track, and on point, to best serve her AgriLife clients. “If anyone reflects the idea of ‘excellence,’ it is Ann,” writes her nominator.


Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan

The International Involvement Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan, Professor and Director of the Spatial Sciences Laboratory, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
Professor, Blackland Research and Extension Center
Senior Scientist, Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture

Dr. Srinivasan has brought international acclaim to Texas A&M over the past 15 years in spatial sciences, climate change impacts on water and crop production, and computer-based natural resource modeling. As one of the developers of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, or SWAT, he has contributed to sustainable agriculture and conservation in the United States and more than 90 other countries. SWAT has been used extensively in Europe, Africa, China, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Almost all of the world’s major river basins are being studied using the model. SWAT and other tools Dr. Srinivasan has developed are used to assess U.S. policies on natural resources and Clean Water Act programs. He collaborates with international institutions for scientific research and participates in student and faculty exchanges in many countries. His work with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas helps to improve the livelihoods of the poor in Africa and Asia by enhancing food security through agricultural research. He has inspired international researchers to start solving the water issues facing their nations, and he is co-principal investigator on a five-year USAID project finding innovative solutions to improve small-scale irrigation in three African countries

The Partnership Award in Excellence is presented to
The Urban Water Team, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas

Team members are:

  • Patrick E. Dickinson, Horticulturist and Project Coordinator, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
  • Karen L. Sanders, Rainwater Harvesting Specialist and Program Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
  • Clint D. Wolfe, Program Manager, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
  • Dr. Dotty M. Woodson, Program Specialist–Water Resources, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Through effective teamwork and by collaborating with over 40 cities; local, state, and federal agencies; municipal water districts; and over 30 major corporations, this AgriLife Research and Extension team delivers programs that help conserve and protect dwindling urban water resources. A major focus is teaching homeowners how to reduce landscape water usage, the largest single use of potable water in North Texas. The team conducts about 240 programs a year, reaching 12,000 homeowners. If each participant saves just 50 gallons a month, more than seven million gallons of urban water would be saved each year. The team’s most popular program is rainwater harvesting, and in 2014 it completed its ten-thousandth rain barrel for homeowners, saving them both water and money. The team also helped large corporations and two major airports install sustainable landscapes. Partnering with the EPA Region 6 and Dallas Water Utilities, the team refurbished a house into a WaterSense Home in 2013 for public demonstration — and also created a mobile version of the home for demonstrations in other cities. In 2014, it completed a WaterSense multi-family unit, the first of its kind in the world. The team members are sought-after experts in urban sustainability. One supporter referred to them as “priceless water conservation resources.”

The Team Award in Excellence is presented to the
National Earth-Kind® Rose Team

Team members are:

  • Ms. Kimberly Benton, County Extension Agent­­–Horticulture, Cherokee County
  • Dr. Derald Harp, Associate Professor of Horticulture, Texas A&M University-Commerce
  • Dr. John Sloan, Watershed Scientist, University of Illinois
  • Ms. Allison Watkins, County Extension Agent–Horticulture, Tom Green County
  • Mr. Todd Williams, County Extension Agent–Agriculture and Natural Resources, Rockwall County
  • Dr. David Zlesak, Associate Professor of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin–River Falls

Homeowners often waste water on their landscapes, overuse fertilizers and pesticides, and overburden landfills with tree leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips. To address these problems, an interdisciplinary team led by AgriLife Extension introduced the Earth-Kind landscaping philosophy, which aims to create beautiful landscapes that are kind to the environment. The team chose the rosebush as a flagship plant due to its popularity as well as its reputation as the hardest, most expensive ornamental plant to grow. Through many years of dedicated research and field trials, the team has changed the plant’s reputation by designating 23 beautiful, low-maintenance rose cultivars with greatly reduced needs for irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides. Their work on rose culture and soil management applies to most types of landscape and garden plants and has been adapted both nationally and internationally. Collaborators in 27 states and four foreign countries are testing Earth-Kind roses. The team’s work has also resulted in many research publications, invited presentations, and favorable reports in the popular press. The Editorial Committee of the American Rose Society Annual deemed Earth-Kind to be the future of roses in America. By all accounts, this program enhances quality of life by making beautiful roses more accessible — and it protects the environment.


Please click the year below to view the gallery and read about each of the award recipients.




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