Celebration of Excellence

The College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri held its annual Celebration of Excellence Award ceremony on April 11 to honor outstanding faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the College.

CAFNR was founded in 1870 as the MU College of Agriculture. Today, its mission encompasses traditional plant and animal sciences, as well as natural resources, fisheries and wildlife, atmospheric sciences, agroforestry, economics, science and agricultural journalism, food science, hospitality management, tourism, and biological engineering.

Winners announced at the event held at the Reynolds Alumni Center were:


Morgan Beach

Morgan Beach was named the 2013 Outstanding Freshman of the Year. The award recognizes students who demonstrate leadership and CAFNR activity involvement. Beach is studying Agricultural Economics-Public Policy.

“For many CAFNR freshmen, the first year is all about adjusting to campus life and they find little time for engaging in other activities offered in CAFNR,” said Scott Brown, faculty member of the Division of Applied Social Sciences. “Morgan stands out from many students. She currently is interning at the Missouri Capitol while holding down a full-time course load. It takes a lot of commitment to juggle the schedule Morgan has this semester. “


Clarissa Brown

Clarissa Brown was named the 2013 Outstanding Sophomore. Brown is majoring in agricultural education-teaching emphasis with a minor in plant science-agricultural economics.

“Clarissa is a driven young lady and one that is an asset to the University of Missouri,” said Jon Simonsen, director of undergraduate studies in the department of agricultural education and leadership. “She is an ideal student in the classroom and strives to excel in her coursework. In her short time here at Mizzou she has become very active on campus. She participates in numerous organizations and currently serves as an officer in the Agricultural Education Society student organization within our department. In this role she is looked upon for leadership and is well respected by her peers.”


Kody Raines

Kody Raines was named the 2013 Outstanding Junior. Raines is studying agribusiness management with a minor in international agriculture. He is president of the CAFNR Student Council.

“Kody has worked in my office for the last year as our education intern,” said Stephanie Chipman, CAFNR’s director of Career Services. “His work is best described with three words: effective, innovative and motivational. He assumed his leadership role during a staff transition time. He has worked under the supervision of four people in 14 months. During this rapid change and the training of new staff, Kody’s leadership is the sole reason our 15-person volunteer Peer Career Coach program has thrived. He communicated regularly, clearly and with humor and worked well over the required hours to ensure the success of events and the involvement of his volunteers. I’ve worked with many student leaders who are full of ideas, but I’ve never worked with one MORE capable than Kody. His ‘can-do’ attitude and boundless energy are contagious. You cannot help but be motivated by his servant leadership and a true belief in the power of positive thinking and the ability to create good changes.”



The Mizzou Agricultural Economics Club was named 2013 Outstanding Student Club.  They aim to enhance the college experience of students interested in agriculture, agribusiness and agricultural economics. This is achieved through a series of professional development events, networking opportunities and experiences beyond the University of Missouri campus.

Monthly meetings feature professionals in the agriculture industry to provide insight into the companies they represent and career opportunities within. Each fall the club organizes a three-day trip to tour agribusinesses in different states, followed by a spring trip to a local agribusiness. These trips offer in-depth experiences in marketing, sales, commodity trading and other aspects of the agribusiness industry.

The club also is involved in the agricultural economics department by hosting annual fundraisers to support the Jerry West Memorial Scholarship Fund. Beyond these experiences, the Mizzou Agricultural Economics Club fosters networking among members that lasts beyond graduation.


Tony Francis

Tony Francis, Paris, Mo., was recognized with the Past President Award by the Ag Alumni Association. Francis graduated from CAFNR in 1989 with a degree in animal sciences. He has served as Executive Director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Monroe County since 1991.

“I hope folks appreciate all of the great and positive things Tony does for them,” commented Bruce Lane, retired MU Livestock Extension Specialist, Kirksville. “Tony, you are a model when it comes to being community minded and I just want to personally thank you for what you have done and continue to do for our livestock and agriculture producers. You are both noticed and appreciated.”



Steven Niemeyer, Columbia, was presented the True Tiger Award by the Ag Alumni Association.

“When people volunteer for an organization, most people look at what they will gain from the experience,” said Colleen Abbott, Ag Unlimited chair 2009. “This is not true of Steve Niemeyer. He is a ‘behind the scenes’ kind of guy. He does not want his name on the big screen, even though he has done a great deal to make the event successful. If the True Tiger Award is to recognize selfless service to the Mizzou Ag Alumni and CAFNR, then Steve Niemeyer is truly deserving of this award.”


Pat Westhoff

Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, was awarded an MU Ag Alumni Association Honorary Membership.

“Pat Westhoff has brought honor and distinction upon CAFNR through his work in FAPRI,” said co-nominators Jill Findeis, director of the Division of Applied Social Sciences, and Mike Nolan, retired director. “He is respected by his colleagues and by his students. He loves the College and puts it first above others. For Pat, CAFNR is the best place to be. He is a great ambassador for our College.”


William (Bill) Buckner

William (Bill) Buckner, B.S., Ag Economics, 1980, Ardmore, Okla., was presented a Citation of Merit Award by the MU Ag Alumni Association. Buckner was recently named CEO of the Noble Foundation, which conducts plant and animal science research and sponsors agricultural programs to enhance agricultural productivity regionally, nationally and internationally. Previous to this position, he rose through the ranks at Bayer where he became North American president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP.

“He took bold leadership of an environmental stewardship program at Bayer and made it a model for the industry,” noted Ken Schneeberger, CAFNR international training coordinator. “His leadership during this period got him selected as a CAFNR Executive-in-Residence. Students loved him.”


Ron Wolf

Ron Wolf, Master’s, Ag Education, 1977, of Chillicothe, Mo., was presented a Citation of Merit Award by the MU Ag Alumni Association. Wolf is co-director of Grand River Technical School and was a driving force in establishing the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center.

“Ron and Roger are outstanding examples of effective local education leaders,” said Paul Steele, MU Curator Emeritus. “They focus on the potential of each student and influence young people to aspire from high school to post-secondary education excellence. They are fine representatives and supporters of the University of Missouri in their own professional activities and in their influence on students to attend and succeed at the University.”


Roger Wolf

Roger Wolf, Master’s, Ag Education, 1976, of Chillicothe, Mo., was presented a Citation of Merit Award by the MU Ag Alumni Association. Wolf is co-director of Grand River Technical School. With his brother Ron he was a driving force in establishing the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center.

“Their commitment to the agriculture community in Chillicothe is shown with the development of the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center,” said Keith Dietzschold, Missouri FFA executive secretary. “By partnering with teachers, community members, administration, 4-H, fair board and donors, they have worked with agriculture teachers to build a one-of-a-kind showcase of agriculture in memory of Jerry Litton. This is a facility that will stand the test of time and one that will work to educate people about agriculture for years to come.”


Don Johnson

Donald Johnson, B.S., Agriculture, was named Alumnus of the Year by the MU Ag Alumni Association. Johnson resides in Columbia, Mo.

“Don and his wife Gayle help students in ways most people don’t know about,” said Tom Payne, vice chancellor and CAFNR dean. “They will help a struggling student find a good mechanic, dentist or doctor, when needed. If the dorms are closed, a student can find a welcoming bed in the Johnson home. Students undergoing surgery will have the Johnsons there to help the recovery go smoothly. Don is a tireless CAFNR ambassador, giving prospective students a campus tour and guiding them in the right direction.”


wallyWally Pfeffer was surprised with the Vice Chancellor Service Award, honoring his passion for the University of Missouri and Columbia. As an ambassador for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Pfeffer, an insurance agent with Mutual of Omaha, has attended more than 2,300 ribbon cuttings over the past 21 years, taking photos to make sure the people and places are recognized. Pfeffer is an alum of the University of Missouri. The Vice Chancellor Service Award is not given out every year; only when a deserving person is determined.

“Prominently displayed on his website, four words sums up what this man is all about,” said CAFNR Dean Tom Payne about Pfeffer. “My Mission is Helping People.”


Gene Stevens

Gene Stevens, Extension professor based at the Jake Fisher Delta Research Center, was presented the J.W. Burch State Specialist Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Award.

“Stevens’ hands-on research and relentless thirst for knowledge on rice production has given him a tremendous and deep background for his presentations and publications,” said Steven Melvin, irrigation application specialist for the Lindsay Corporation. “This background also makes him the one-stop shop for all questions relating to pivot-irrigated rice. To me, the essence of being an Extension specialist is having both the in-depth scientific knowledge and the hands-on experience on a subject. This combination facilitates the development of wisdom to teach clientele how to apply the scientific knowledge in the real world.”


Deborah Finke

Deborah Finke, assistant professor in the Division of Plant Sciences, was presented the Early Investigator Research Award.

“Dr. Finke was among the first insect ecologists to explicitly investigate the relationship between predator diversity, herbivore abundance and plant yield from a mechanistic perspective,” said Xi Xiong, assistant professor in CAFNR turfgrass science. “Her record definitely shows that Dr. Finke is a prominent national figure in an evolving new area of predator-prey ecology.”


Shuqun Zhang

Shuqun Zhang, professor of biochemistry, was presented the Distinguished Researcher Award.

“Dr. Zhang’s excellence is evidenced by the more than 20 peer reviewed publications in the last five years,” commented Jeff Dangl, plant science investigator and John N. Couch Distinguished Professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “More importantly, they reflect Dr. Zhang’s broad interest in the many facets of MAPK signaling in different parts of plant biology. This broad interest is well reflected in his top 10 papers, which include very highly cited papers on MAPK signaling in stress, immune system function, and more recently, normal development such as floral abscission and influorescence architecture.”


Shari Freyermuth

Shari Freyermuth, assistant dean for academic programs and associate teaching professor, biochemistry, was named the Outstanding Advisor in Undergraduate Advising. Freyermuth has been with CAFNR for more than 20 years. She serves as advisor chair for the Division of Biochemistry and General Agriculture. She has 60 assigned advisees, and more than 400 scheduled advising appointments.

“Dr. Freyermuth fostered my optimism and confidence, and provided me the knowledge that led to my personal triumph,” said Alex Stokowski, a current advisee. “She has supported me since I announced my ambition to become a dentist. She was the first person I notified when I was accepted into dental school. She was happier than I was.”


Jerry Taylor

Jerry Taylor, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Animal Sciences and Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics, was named the Outstanding Advisor in Graduate Advising.

“Although Dr. Taylor has many graduate students in his program, each receive his undivided attention,” said Rod Geisert, professor of animal sciences. “He not only mentors them on research projects, but allows them to develop their own theories to investigate. Because Dr. Taylor is so successful in obtaining grants, he can allow his students the freedom to explore their own scientific ideas. He ensures that all his graduate students attend major national meetings and symposia to help them not only hear the newest cutting information presented by researchers across the world, but network with scientists who they can create ties with for their own personal research programs in the future.”


Trista Strauch

Trista Strauch, assistant professor in the departments of animal sciences and fisheries and wildlife, was named the Outstanding Early Career Teacher. Strauch has been with CAFNR five years. She is the coordinator of the Captive Wild Animal Management program.

“Her devotion to student learning comes easily because she is so passionate about her subject,” said Julia Neidhardt, a senior in agriculture. “From both Zoology and CWAM perspectives, Dr. Strauch finds all areas of the scientific study of life fascinating, from cell replication to reproductive physiology, and she has spent over a decade making herself an expert in these areas. Her enthusiasm is infectious and students, like myself, usually are motivated into further study of the subjects.”


Anna Ball

Anna Ball, associate professor and department chair of agricultural education and leadership, was named the Outstanding Senior Teacher.

“Anna’s teaching style is the best classroom approach I experienced,” commented Ph.D. candidate Michael Martin. “She has high standards for students; yet, she understands that each student has different needs. Anna recognized my need to be challenged and she pushed my thinking. Anna met with me outside of class and encouraged me to conduct a research project which would apply my subject to the complex contexts of my discipline. She did not let me slide through class; her expectations for students would not allow me to slide.”


SCHUMCHERleon2Leon Schumacher, professor and head of the agricultural systems management program, was surprised with the Allan W. Purdy Award. This award honors Purdy, former director of scholarships and student financial aid for the University of Missouri, to recognize those who exemplify the same concern and care for students as did Purdy, who dedicated his life to removing financial barriers to higher education. Schumacher is only the third recipient of the award, which is given only on special occassions and not annually. Purdy was an alumnus of the college of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

“He epitomizes the ideal advisor, a person who is more concerned about what is best for the student, rather than what serves the best interest of the professor,” Dean Tom Payne said of Schumacher. “He has the rare ability to see the best in all students and treats them the way they should be treated… as the top priority at the University.”


Christa Smith

Christa Smith, executive staff assistant in plant sciences, was presented the Staff Recognition Award.

“The large number of important responsibilities Christa has keeps her extremely busy and yet she is always courteous and pleasant, a good test of an employee’s character,” said Division Director Mike Collins. “When an error does happen, which is rare, Christa is quick to say so and then to think about how we might change our procedures or policies to avoid the same issue in the future.”


Jackie England

Jackie England, support systems administrator in animal sciences, was presented the Staff Recognition Award.

“Jackie has provided Animal Sciences with the most cutting-edge multimedia equipment for the classroom, which greatly improves teaching and student learning,” said Rod Geisert, former Division director. “With our extreme computing needs in genomics and bioinformatics, Jackie has provided key leadership to ensure there is sufficient connectivity, computing power and storage available on our servers for over 40 faculty and 60 staff.”


Three individuals were surprised with the Frederick B. Mumford Awards at the end of the ceremony. Mumford was the fifth dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

stacey, garyGary Stacey received the Mumford Outstanding Faculty Award. Stacey is the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council Endowed Professor of Soybean Biotechnology and associate director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology.

“Gary is a renowned leader in the field of plant biology and plant-microbe interactions,” said CAFNR Dean Tom Payne. “In addition to receiving three elected fellowship awards, the far-reaching impact of his research achievements is evident in numerous patents and highly cited refereed publications, in addition to worldwide invitations to lecture.”

Randall Smoot received the Mumford Outstanding Staff Award. Smoot is the superintendent of the Greenley Memorial Research Center in Novelty, Mo., and was the first full-time staff member hired at the Center in the early ’70s.

“Night or day, at the office or at home – this individual is available to provide support and assistance at any time,” Payne said. “Through his dedication, faculty have catalyzed their problem-solving research.”

ludwig, daleDale Ludwig received the Mumford Outstanding Service Award. Ludwig is the Executive Director and CEO of the Missouri Soybean Association and Merchandising Council. He received a degree in animal sciences and agricultural economics from the University of Missouri.

“Because of his foresight, when very few people knew what ‘biotechnology’ was all about, Dale was trying to anticipate its impact on Missouri soybean growers,” Payne said. “His understanding of renewable fuels and biotechnology created unique approaches to agribusiness research and development. The producer/agribusiness partnerships he helped forge have positioned Missouri as a leader in biodiesel production.”