Texas A&M AgriLife

2016 Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2016 Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence!



The Teaching Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Merwyn “Mort” Kothmann, Professor and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Programs, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management

A dedicated professor who aims to see his students become critical thinkers and lifelong learners, Dr. Kothmann has taught Ecosystem Science and Management for more than 40 years. Over the past several years, he has made curriculum redesign his capstone teaching goal. Thanks to his efforts, all five majors in the department now have an effective and innovative curriculum as well as tools for continually assessing and improving program effectiveness. Dr. Kothmann infuses classes and exams with high-impact learning experiences that are essential for teaching students about complex and ever changing ecosystems. His door is always open to all students in the department. A colleague says that Dr. Kothmann embodies what he teaches by being “an exemplary educator and an eternally passionate learner.” Former students appreciate his desire to relate to them and provide them with lasting skills for their career. They marvel at Dr. Kothmann’s ability to teach discipline, hard work, and accountability while being accommodating and caring. A former student says, “I have interacted with numerous excellent professors throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, but Dr. Kothmann has been by far the single most influential in my life.”


BradberyThe Graduate Student Teaching Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Amanda Bradbery
, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Animal Science

Ms. Bradbery has been an outstanding teacher and mentor since beginning her master’s in equine science and animal nutrition in Spring 2013. As a master’s student, she was recognized with the Ronnie L. Edwards Graduate Teaching Award, which is usually given to outstanding doctoral graduates. More recently, she assumed and fulfilled the Instructor of Record role for the equine nutrition course after her mentor, Dr. Josie Coverdale, tragically passed away in February 2016. Ms. Bradbery’s diligence and dedication to her students eased the pain of loss and directed their energy toward successfully mastering the course material. She also ranked at the top of challenging graduate courses, presented an award-winning thesis, and served as an instructor for the Texas A&M Parsons Mounted Cavalry. A faculty member writes that Ms. Bradbery “is one of the rare graduate students who are qualified to teach every course offered in our equine curriculum.” In Ms. Bradbery’s classroom, students want to learn because she makes complex information interesting, and they praise her expertise and patience. A student writes, “I have yet to have a TA who has been as willing to go the extra mile to help her students.”


KOW photoThe Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Kirk O. Winemiller
, Regents Professor and AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

During his 24 years with the department, Dr. Winemiller has developed a world-renowned research program that has been recognized with multiple university, national, and international awards. He has contributed to the development of food web theory, he has enhanced understanding of communities of freshwater and estuarine fishes, and he has improved the management and conservation of fisheries. Cited more than 14,000 times, he has 210 peer-reviewed publications, including two books, with work published in top environmental science journals. Much of Dr. Winemiller’s renown is due to the broad range of his research, conducted in Texas and across four continents. This work was made possible by his ability to attract top graduate candidates from throughout the world, as well as dozens of undergraduate researchers. To support research and student training, he has obtained nearly nine million dollars in research funding during his career at Texas A&M, including 18 grants from the National Science Foundation, two Fulbright Awards, and a significant grant from the Brazilian Government. Dr. Winemiller was awarded the Ecological Society of America’s prestigious Mercer Award and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As one nominator writes: “His work has influenced an entire generation of ecologists.”

WilliamSmithThe Graduate Student Research Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. William Brandon Smith
, Graduate Research Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton

A second-year doctoral student in the departments of Soil and Crop Sciences and Animal Sciences, Mr. Smith is conducting research at the forage-animal interface. Having earned a double major in animal science and agronomy as well as a master’s in ruminant nutrition, he is able to solve particularly challenging interdisciplinary problems. His research at Overton examines the effect of dried distillers grain supplementation on the performance of animals grazing on Bermuda grass pastures. He used statistics and mathematical modeling to propose a novel explanation of the way cattle digest their feed and developed software to help researchers determine the rates at which feeds break down during digestion. This tool will also help other graduate students develop applications to solve problems they face every day. An excellent communicator who helps people find common ground, Mr. Smith understands the needs of producers and serves as a liaison among research, extension, and administration. He also sets the benchmark for service and leadership. His unique background has led him to serve as a graduate student officer for both the American Society of Animal Science and the American Society of Agronomy. In the words of an advisor, once Mr. Smith graduates “he will be in high demand to continue his research, publishing, and leadership.”


The County Extension Agent Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Scott Strawn
, County Extension Agent-Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ochiltree County

Mr. Strawn has served AgriLife Extension for 27 years in Denton, Briscoe, and Ochiltree Counties. Numerous awards testify to the respect he has attained in the North Region. Throughout his career, Mr. Strawn demonstrated outstanding leadership in wheat, corn, cotton, and sorghum education and programming. He has designed irrigation programs such as Efficient Profitable Irrigation in Corn, in which producers reported an economic impact of more than 432 thousand dollars as a result of their participation. Mr. Strawn’s nominators particularly value his work to understand and meet his constituents’ programming needs. For example, after realizing that marketing is a major issue for producers, Mr. Strawn addressed the issue in many ways, including through the Master Marketer program, which became a national award-winning effort. Based on his successful marketing and irrigation programs, he was chosen by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District to help develop and implement the Master Irrigator Program that has garnered almost 700 thousand dollars from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service for the next four years. Mr. Strawn also has created strong 4-H leadership, livestock exhibitor, and livestock judging programs. One nominator writes that Mr. Strawn is passionate and creative about meeting his clients’ needs and finding solutions to their problems. He is open to new ideas, is a total team player, and always has a positive attitude.

HiRes-Jason_Cleere-4088-Edit (1)

The Extension Specialist Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Jason Cleere
, Associate Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Department of Animal Science

Throughout Dr. Cleere’s 11-year tenure with AgriLife Extension, he has constantly pushed himself to improve the industry for which he is so passionate. His presentations, printed materials, and videos reach thousands of beef cattle producers. One of his primary responsibilities is the coordination of the annual Beef Cattle Short Course. Nationally recognized as the largest and most comprehensive Extension beef cattle program in the country, this event is the envy of all other land-grant universities. In preparing for the Beef Cattle Short Course, Dr. Cleere spends countless hours meeting with farm and ranch associations, commodity groups, breed associations, government agencies, extension agents, educators and researchers, and producers to determine the educational needs of the Texas beef cattle industry. His colleagues write that Dr. Cleere “will go the extra mile to help beef cattle ranchers and producers, which may literally entail traveling long distances” and that he “epitomizes the principle of academics and industry working together to better educate our population through Extension.” One cattle producer writes that her steer calves averaged 200 pounds more after Dr. Cleere taught her how to buy better herd sires. She concludes: “Dr. Cleere is improving ranches all across Texas and our nation. He is an asset to our industry and our great state.”


The Public Service in Forestry Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Christopher Edgar
, Forest Resource Analyst, Texas A&M Forest Service

Dr. Edgar has managed the Forest Economics and Resource Analysis Program of TFS since 2010 and has brought new credibility and rigor to the job. His work with Forest Inventory and Analysis, or FIA, the nation’s forest census, is unmatched by his peers. He serves on several national teams that address various aspects of this complex database, and he is often sought out for advice on national issues related to forest inventory data. Since the 1930s, FIA has monitored rural forests of America, and Dr. Edgar played an essential role in extending the database to urban forests. He conducted and published the first analyses of this urban information. He also created and launched a web application that presents this complex data in a fluid, user-friendly interface, making the data easy to access and understand. The web app, which is called My City’s Trees, makes a wealth of urban forest information accessible to city officials, local organizations, and others. As one nominator writes, this “pioneering and nationally relevant work sets a new bar in urban forest data sharing, storytelling, and science delivery.” Dr. Edgar’s nominators say the work provides the basis for disseminating urban forest information in all cities across the nation. His contributions make Texas stand out as a leader in forestry.

Sonia Lingsweiler

The Diagnostic Services Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Sonia Lingsweiler
, Section Head-Bacteriology, Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, College Station

Having joined TVMDL in 1985 as a student worker, Ms. Lingsweiler now oversees the laboratory operations in the Bacteriology Section. Her expertise is frequently sought out at TVMDL and beyond, and she is the go-to person for identifying elusive microorganisms. Ms. Lingsweiler’s dedication to getting accurate, reliable, and timely results to clients is second to none. Her technical skills are superb, and she constantly upgrades both her knowledge and leadership abilities. Ms. Lingsweiler’s nominators say that she is generous with her time and expertise, whether mentoring new technicians or supervisors, answering questions from researchers, or helping children who call for guidance on a school project. She gives such sound advice and input to veterinarian clients that they often assume Ms. Lingsweiler is a veterinarian. “Sonia’s skills as a bacteriologist have been so finely honed that I would be shocked to find her equal in any other veterinary diagnostic lab in the nation,” says one nominator. Beyond her service at TVMDL, Ms. Lingsweiler is actively engaged in the clinical veterinary microbiology community and has served as president of the Association of Veterinary Microbiologists. As another nominator writes: “Ms. Lingsweiler’s enthusiasm for microbiology and commitment to helping others make her an integral part of diagnostic veterinary medicine in Texas.”


The Special Services Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Thomas Hairgrove,
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Science

After 30 years in veterinary practice, Dr. Hairgrove joined AgriLife Extension in 2008 to help meet an ever-growing demand for expertise in livestock and food animal production. Since then, he has made immeasurable contributions to the Beef Partnership in Extension Program, helping cow-calf operations become more profitable and sustainable. He has also helped producers control vector-borne diseases by identifying at-risk areas in the state. He improved diagnostic methods for Trichomoniasis (tri cho mon I a sis) in Texas cattle, and he has led efforts by the Texas Animal Health Commission to modernize Trichomoniasis (tri cho mon I a sis) regulations and education. Dedicated to providing the most up-to-date and accurate information to livestock producers, he earned a doctorate in animal science from Texas A&M University in 2016. His peers in The Texas A&M University System, state agencies, and allied associations regularly seek his advice on antibiotic resistance, biosecurity, emergency management, and toxicology. He serves as a resource for livestock owners and industry groups on issues related to beef, dairy, sheep, goats, swine, and horses. One nominator writes: “His level of knowledge and ability to present information in a way producers can understand and use is remarkable.” Dr. Hairgrove has received many honors and awards for his work, including the Career Achievement Award in 2012 from the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.


The Business and Operational Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Robert L. Pottberg
, Administrative Services Officer and Building Proctor, Department of Poultry Science

Mr. Pottberg has held the lead administrative support staff position in his department for 29 years. His duties would normally require several people to accomplish: He oversees the fiscal management of research accounts, purchasing, budgeting, laboratory support and infrastructure, research farm support, and personnel management. And because of his broad background and exceptional technical knowledge, he has been asked to advise other departments on business matters ranging from budgeting to IT support. He handles his many tasks with a degree of efficiency and professionalism that is rarely seen. During recent budget reductions, Mr. Pottberg was able to extract maximum value from the limited resources available. He recently led an initiative to improve facilities at his department’s research, teaching, and extension center, some of which had not been upgraded for 21 years. He managed the entire project, developing a proposal to renovate five rearing barns, procuring funding, and coordinating oversight of engineers and contractors. One nominator writes: “Mr. Pottberg is unmatched in his knowledge, skill, and support of his department’s mission. I was a faculty member and then Department Head and always found Robert to be the most important person in the department.”


The Office and Administrative Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Ms. Betty Cotton,
Assistant to the Department Head, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

With the department for 16 years, Mrs. Cotton not only assists the department head; she is also an invaluable assistant to the faculty, staff, and students. Formally, she supervises the administrative assistants, secretaries, and student workers, but informally, she is the go-to person any time someone has a question or problem. No matter how chaotic the situation, Mrs. Cotton maintains an even keel and keeps the department moving forward smoothly and efficiently. She also makes it feel like family. For example, she plans charitable activities every year at Halloween to raise money for the department’s Flower Fund. One nominator writes, “Her job should really be defined as staff-supervisor-counselor-mediator-fixer-confidant-arranger-scheduler-editor-secretary-psychologist and other things, including departmental conscience and mother hen (and, by the way, she’s a Notary Public).” Another writes, “When I arrived as a new assistant professor, I thought Betty and her staff treated me well because I was new, but now, fourteen years later, the honeymoon has not ended.”


The Technical and Programmatic Staff Award in Excellence is presented to
Mr. Carlos Rodriguez
, Serology Lab Supervisor, Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, College Station

Mr. Rodriguez began working in the Serology Section shortly after graduating from Texas A&M University in 2012. His exceptional technical and communication skills, outstanding customer service, and dedication to helping move the agency forward led to a quick promotion. As Serology Lab Supervisor, he makes sure more than 75,000 tests per year are performed accurately and on time and that results are immediately reported to clients. When TVMDL was hired to test cattle moving from the United States to Ecuador, Mr. Rodriguez’s team performed the required 762 tests in just three days. Because of this expediency, TVMDL is likely to receive the testing business for tens of thousands more cattle that Ecuador plans to purchase. Sympathetic and calm under pressure, Mr. Rodriguez has also gladly assumed additional duties, even on nights and weekends. These include being the go-to person for resolving problems with TVMDL’s essential Laboratory Information Management System. He has also been recruited to train visiting international scientists and to represent TVMDL at trade shows. One supporter writes, “Carlos is an invaluable asset to TVMDL. He consistently goes above and beyond to make an impact that reaches far beyond his own lab section.”

The Diversity Award in Excellence is presented to the
Food Insecure Families in Hall County Team,
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Team members are:

  • Mr. Josh Brooks, County Extension Agent–Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hall County
  • Dr. Angela Burkham, State Program Leader and Regional Program Leader – Family and Consumer Sciences, Amarillo
  • Ms. Molly Forman, County Extension Agent – Family and Consumer Sciences, Briscoe and Hall Counties
  • Ms. Renda Nelson, Regional Program Director – Better Living for Texans, North District

Food insecurity is not unique to any one culture or group, and food insecure families are often not adequately reached with education and resources. In Hall County, the poorest county in the Texas Panhandle, at least 15 percent of the population live with food insecurity. Some of these individuals earn more than the poverty level, do not qualify for federal nutrition programs, and rely on charitable food assistance. Therefore, complementary programs and strategies are needed to reach food insecure people at different income levels. To help in this endeavor, AgriLife Extension agents throughout the Texas Panhandle have implemented Better Living for Texans, a statewide education program for people on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The agents also collaborate with the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo on monthly food distributions and on the Food 4 Families program, which provides food as well as education on nutrition and cooking. The Food 4 Families program has now been replicated in five other counties. In addition, the Learn, Grow, Eat & Go! Gardening program was implemented in three elementary schools in Hall County. According to one participant, the food distributions “helped to relieve pressures in our lives in so many ways you could not imagine.” Many others said that the Food 4 Families program taught them healthier habits and allowed them to not have to choose between buying food and paying bills. This team brings together families of varied languages, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, letting those struggling know they are not alone.

Lacher Head ShotThe International Involvement Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Thomas Lacher, Jr.
, Professor, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

Dr. Lacher has been a leader in the international conservation biology community for three decades. He first joined Texas A&M in 1996, leaving in 2004 to collaborate on major international projects with Conservation International, and returning in 2007. Dr. Lacher has conducted research collaborations in over 35 countries. He has co-authored articles in the premiere journal Science assessing extinction risks and their implications for international conservation. He is also responsible for starting several international research initiatives that continue to thrive. He was the linchpin for a joint venture involving Texas A&M and Conservation International, creating a network of field stations to monitor tropical biodiversity and train local conservation scientists. He negotiated the agreement between The Texas A&M University System and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — the world’s largest conservation organization — to develop the IUCN Red List Partnership, a group of academic and research institutions that assists the IUCN. He has also demonstrated a deep commitment to international educational opportunities. One of his nominators writes: “If there is someone who rises well above the many colleagues I have had — measured by dedication and commitment to leave a concrete and lasting legacy — this person is Professor Lacher.”


The Administration Award in Excellence is presented to
Dr. Daniel Lineberger,
Professor and Head, Department of Horticultural Sciences

In the past 26 years, Dr. Lineberger has served as department head twice. He has brought the department recognition through innovation — such as creating a new B.A. program — and through national leadership. He has served as president of the American Society for Horticultural Science and collaborated to increase appreciation for horticulture and reverse a national decline in undergraduate enrollment in the discipline. His department ranks seventh nationally and eighth for the number of citations and levels of grant funding per faculty member. Internationally recognized as a pioneer in technology-based instruction, Dr. Lineberger shepherded the department into the internet age in 1994, integrating web technology into the department’s teaching, research, and outreach. The Aggie Horticulture website is still a top horticulture site in the world today. Recently, he created an innovative fund for graduate assistantships that led to a nearly 50 percent growth in enrollment of doctoral candidates. The signature EarthKind program has been expanded and optimized under his leadership. The expanded enology and viticulture program has been embraced by wine industry associations, which encouraged legislation to provide funding for AgriLife Extension. Dr. Lineberger’s nominators praise him for being a highly effective leader with a rare talent for both collaboration and innovation.

The Collaboration Award in Excellence is presented to the
Green Ambassadors Team,
Texas A&M Forest Service

Team members are:

  • Dr. Tamberly D. Conway, Partnerships, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist, USDA Forest Service Washington Office
  • Mr. Juan Elizondo, Education, Career and Technical Educator in Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, The Green Institute at Furr High School, Houston ISD
  • Ms. Nalleli Hildago, College Green Ambassador for Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps, Community Outreach and Diversity Team Member, Texas A&M Forest Service
  • Mr. David Salazar, Education, Career and Technical Educator in Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, The Green Institute at Furr High School, Houston ISD
  • Mr. John Warner, Urban District Forester IV, Forest Resource Department, Texas A&M Forest Service

Many Texans live in urban areas and have limited knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of natural areas. To help counteract this problem, the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Diversity and Outreach Team collaborated with the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas’s Latino Legacy program to form the Green Ambassadors partnership in Houston, with help from the American Forest Foundation’s Green Schools initiative and the U.S. Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council. The ambassadors are high school and college students who go out to schools, communities, and parks to share information on how to take care of the environment. The partnership now involves many individuals and organizations, incorporates bilingual education, and facilitates after-school programming using well-regarded conservation curricula. The Ambassadors help the community maintain forests, mitigate flooding and the heat island effect, and contribute to food security. They have planted hundreds of fruit trees and other useful plants. The Green Ambassadors program helped Furr High School receive a 10 million dollar grant in 2016 from XQ: The Super School Project, which aims to transform the American high school experience and is sponsored by the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. One nominator writes: “The opportunities in the Greater Houston area are rich and deep. By giving a voice to youth and engaging local citizens in conservation, the team is creatively solving issues that have a much larger scope and scalability.”

The Team Award in Excellence is presented to the
Texas Superstar Selection Committee

Team members are:

  • Dr. Mike Arnold, Professor and Associate Department Head, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University­
  • Dr. Tim Davis, Professor and Regional Director for Asia, Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture
  • Dr. Dan Lineberger, Professor and Head, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University
  • Dr. Cynthia McKenney, Rockwell Professor and Associate Chair, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • Dr. Brent Pemberton, Professor of Horticulture and Texas A&M Regents Fellow, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton
  • Mr. David Rodriguez, County Extension Agent – Horticulture, San Antonio
  • Dr. Larry Stein, Extension Horticulturist, Professor, and Associate Department Head for Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde

Most horticultural plants in the United States are ill suited to Texas. By the late 1980s, Texas A&M horticulturists grew weary of recommending plants that would not survive blistering droughts or other weather extremes in our state. They began to investigate why plants that are known to thrive in Texas were not being used in horticulture. AgriLife Research and Extension worked with nurseries to determine how bluebonnets could be made to germinate more evenly, and the Texas Superstar team was formed. The team discovered a simple way to help bluebonnets germinate and then went on to carefully assess other plants — such as the popular Arctic Frost citrus — for hardiness and disease and insect resistance. Today, numerous Texas Superstar annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and specialty plants beautify Texas landscapes. The work is made possible by strong collaborations with breeders, horticulturists, and nurseries such as Peterson Brothers, ColorSpot, Greenleaf, and Seville Farms. At least three new plants per year are promoted by the nurseries, the news media, Master Gardeners, and a widely read Texas Department of Agriculture brochure. Five cents from the sale of each plant is returned to re-invest in the team’s ongoing efforts. The Texas Superstar program has resulted, by conservative estimates, in 50 million dollars in profit for the Texas nursery industry. And in the words of one supporter, the program “has helped build the confidence of consumers that they can be successful in the garden.”
Please click the year below to view the gallery and read about each of the award recipients.






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