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Elizabeth Prentice Receives Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Elizabeth Prentice received the 2020 Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award as part of this year’s virtual Celebration of Excellence awards celebration in CAFNR. She defended her dissertation, “Narrating Disturbance: Risk, Power, and Mountain Pine Beetles” and completed her doctoral degree in rural sociology in summer 2020. Her advisor is Hua Qin, associate professor of rural sociology. Both Prentice and Qin were honored as part of Celebration of Excellence.

Her dissertation work explores the competing narratives of attribution surrounding a massive bark beetle outbreak in north central Colorado. This research fills an existing gap in the understanding of the human dimensions of forest insect disturbance by examining the power dynamics and economic nestedness of resource management decisions.

This dissertation project was supported by an NSF-funded project. Prentice also successfully secured research funding from other sources such as the Herbert F. & Vivian S. Lionberger Fellowship and the MU Graduate School Dissertation Travel Award. During her doctoral study she authored and coauthored several research publications, including a book chapter in “Human Dimensions of Forest and Tree Health: Global Perspectives” directly related to her dissertation project. She also presented her research at national professional conferences and incorporated findings into the undergraduate courses she instructed/co-instructed at MU.

“Prentice’s work integrates perspectives from multiple disciplines to make a novel contribution to the literature on the human dimensions of forest insect disturbance and to literature on the political ecology of risk and hazard vulnerability,” said Jere Gilles, assistant director for international partnerships, CAFNR International Programs, and retired associate professor of rural sociology. “She focuses on the political and economic context of the disturbance and the degree to which understandings of environmental change and experiences of environmental vulnerability hinge on positionality in ongoing regional economic change.”

“Elizabeth’s work makes important contributions to understanding the connections between ecological outcomes, social inequalities, and prevailing socio-political structures,” Qin said. “The research well reflects her interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary orientation as it seeks to understand environmental attitudes and behaviors embedded in socioeconomic and ecological community contexts.

“Elizabeth represents the highest scholarship caliber among all graduate students I have worked with at MU. She will surely become an outstanding teacher-scholar in interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability sciences.”

Austin Sanders Receives Distinguished Thesis Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Austin Sanders received the 2020 Distinguished Thesis Award as part of this year’s virtual CAFNR Celebration of Excellence Awards. Sanders graduated with his Master’s in agricultural and applied economics from CAFNR in spring 2020. During the course of his Masters program, his thesis research was guided by his supervisor, Sarah Low, associate professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences. He received his Bachelor’s in political science from Mizzou in 2015. Both Sanders and Low were honored as part of Celebration of Excellence.

Sanders’s thesis, Rural Agglomeration: How Does the Distribution of People Across Rural America Affect Entrepreneurship, researches how agglomeration can reduce costs and provide a market for businesses. “He devised a measure for rural agglomeration, tested his expectations appropriately and clearly communicated the results. The major contribution of the thesis is to confirm that there are two types of entrepreneurs who respond differently to the same environment,” says Judith Stallman, professor emeritus.

“Austin grew up on a farm in rural central Missouri and was always interested in how his hometown fared in business, education, and quality of life and wondered what might be done to improve those areas in the future,” Low says.

“Austin was scheduled to present his thesis results at the 60th annual meeting of the Southern Regional Science Association (SRSA). SRSA is the premier venue for rural development-related social science research. The conference was cancelled but Austin’s thesis was one of 10 selected SRSA summer webinars.”

Emily Piontek Receives Distinguished Thesis Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Emily Piontek received the 2020 Distinguished Thesis Award as part of this year’s virtual Celebration of Excellence Awards. This past spring, she graduated with her Master’s in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and a Certificate in Public Policy. During the completion of her research, Piontek was advised by Sonja Wilhelm Stanis, associate professor in the School of Natural Resources. Both Piontek and Wilhelm Stanis were honored as part of Celebration of Excellence.

Piontek’s thesis, Residents’ perceptions of ecosystem services & environmental justice in urban greenspace: A mixed methods exploration in St. Louis, Missouri, provided a more in depth understanding of how members of the public in the St. Louis area weigh the benefits and costs of nature in their communities.

“Due to her undergraduate education in political theory and sociopolitical transitions, Emily brought a unique lens to the field of natural resources,” says Sonja Wilhelm Stanis, associate professor in the School of Natural Resources. “In addition to her own research study, she was involved in another research project examining climate change in state parks, worked as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate course, and served as a research clerk for Renew Missouri.”

“Ms. Piontek’s thesis is wonderfully written and is probably the most carefully written thesis I have read at MU,” says Charles Nilon, William J. Rucker Professor of Natural Resources. “She does a good job of telling the story of her research, why it is important, and why the results are meaningful.”

CAFNR IT Team Recognized with CAFNR Proud Award

The College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources has recognized the CAFNR IT team with the CAFNR Proud award for their tireless work assisting with technology for virtual learning and working over the past nine months. Those recognized included:

  • Drew Backues
  • Matthew Keeler, group supervisor
  • Tonya Mueller
  • Cynthia Richards
  • Greg Rotert
  • Chris Shriver
  • Matt Stanley
  • Gary Tyler

CAFNR Faculty and Alumni Recognized by Mizzou Alumni Association

The Mizzou Alumni Association has awarded the 2020 Faculty-Alumni Award to 10 recipients. Five of these faculty and/or alumni are part of CAFNR. They include:

David M. Braun (PhD ’97), Professor of Plant & Biological Sciences;  Director, University of Missouri Maize Center; Director, University of Missouri Plant Growth Facilities

Patricia Breckenridge (BS Ag ’75, JD ’77), Judge, Supreme Court of Missouri

Bryan L. Garton (BS Ag ’85, M Ed ’89), Senior Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs, College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

Bruce J. Loewenberg (BSF ’61), Owner, Show-Me Salers

Robert E. Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, Plant Sciences; Director, Interdisciplinary Plant Group

First celebrated in 1968, the Faculty-Alumni Awards recognize the achievements of faculty and alumni. Faculty are considered for their work as teachers, administrators and researchers. Alumni are considered for their professional accomplishments and service to Mizzou. Learn more about the awards and this year’s recipients at the Mizzou Alumni Association’s website.

Two DASS Researchers Part of UM System Funding Awards

Two researchers from the Division of Applied Social Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have received funding from the University of Missouri System as part of a series of research and creative works investments in the areas of arts, humanities, and social and behavioral sciences. The strategic investments total more than $630,000, with more than $512,000 contributed in research awards from the UM System and a match of approximately $118,000 coming from the UM universities. CAFNR researchers part of this funding were:

  • Hua Qin, associate professor of applied social sciences, is leading a project to develop general guidelines for systematic reviews and meta-analyses in environmental social science research.
  • Michelle Segovia, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics, is leading a project to target the obesity rate among children by proposing the implementation of a four-period field experiment in the Columbia Public School district to test the effectiveness of monetary incentives in increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables among elementary school students.

In response to the call for proposals in February, 74 applications were received, sent out for external review and deliberated on by an internal review committee made up of faculty from each university. This year, 23 innovative research projects are receiving funding from the UM System and their university. The contribution is part of the Research and Creative Works Strategic Investment and supports the UM System’s vision to advance opportunities for success and enrich the well-being for state, national and global communities through teaching, research, innovation, engagement and inclusion, according to the UM System.

Walter Gassmann Receives Mumford Award for Outstanding Faculty as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Walter Gassmann, professor in the Division of Plant Sciences, received the Frederick B. Mumford Award for Outstanding Faculty during CAFNR’s 2020 virtual Celebration of Excellence awards celebration.

Gassmann joined the University of Missouri in 2000 as an assistant professor in the Division of Plant Sciences. He became an associate professor in 2006 and a professor in 2013. Gassmann has served as the interim director of the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center since 2017.

Gassmann majored in biochemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. He received his PhD in plant biology from the University of California, San Diego before joining the faculty at MU.

Gassmann’s research specializes in molecular plant pathology. He and his colleagues are focusing on the Arabidopsis RPS4 gene specifying resistance to Pseudomonas syringae expressing the cognate avirulence gene avrRps4.

Gassmann has advised more than 10 master’s and PhD students, as well as several postdoctoral fellows. He has published more than 60 refereed articles and given numerous oral and poster presentations. He has earned more than $5 million in research grants throughout his career. Gassmann was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is a member of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG), one of CAFNR’s Programs of Distinction.

“The quality, creativity and significance of Walter’s research has led to national and international recognition as a leading program in the molecular dissection of plant disease resistance mechanisms,” said Bob Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Division of Plant Sciences and director of IPG. “Walter and his team have tackled this complex research area with sophistication, determination and rigor, and his work has been published in the highest-impact journals including a paper in the leading international journal Science in 2011, and co-authored review in the prestigious Annual Review of Plant Biology series in 2017.

“Walter is a deeply committed and highly-valued researcher and educator. He is strongly motivated by a sense of community, and is always willing to contribute wherever and whenever his help is needed.”

Jared Decker Receives Early Investigator Research Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Jared Decker, associate professor in the Division of Animal Sciences and state beef Extension specialist, received the Early Investigator Research Award during CAFNR’s 2020 virtual Celebration of Excellence awards celebration.

Decker received his bachelor’s degree in animal science from New Mexico State University before earning his PhD in genetics from the University of Missouri in 2012. After earning his PhD, Decker served as a USDA-NIFA postdoctoral fellow at MU for a year before joining the faculty as an assistant professor in the Division of Animal Sciences. In 2018, Decker became an associate professor. He has served as the state beef genetics Extension specialist since 2013.

Decker has been awarded more than $5 million in grants during his career and has received numerous awards, including the J.W. Burch Agriculture Extension State Specialist honor during the 2018 CAFNR Celebration of Excellence awards celebration. Decker has published more than 40 peer-reviewed publications and has been invited to give numerous professional presentations and seminars. He is a member of the American Society of Animal Science.

“Dr. Decker’s demonstrated strengths in creativity, collaboration, strategic thinking and communication distinguish him among his peers at this early point in his career,” said David Patterson, Chancellor’s Professor in the Division of Animal Sciences. “Creativity is an invaluable tool in scientific research, and is often born out of new associations. In his research, Jared has analyzed data in new ways to discover new knowledge or create novel methods. In genomic research, as DNA is common to all life forms, methods are transferable across species. Jared has worked in dogs, brassica, water buffalo, quail, cats, soybeans, madtom catfish and human. Not only does Jared collaborate across species, but also across disciplines. He enjoys collaborations with engineering, nutrition, reproduction economics, evolution and anthropology. Jared has a clear focus for his group’s research and works to use available resources in a strategic way to improve agriculture. Finally, Jared is an effective communicator in both written and oral forms, to both lay and scientific audiences, an attribute that supports his success.”

Felix Fritschi Receives Distinguished Research Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Felix Fritschi, C. Alice Donaldson Professor in Bioenergy Crop Physiology and Genetics in the Division of Plant Sciences, received the Distinguished Research Award during CAFNR’s 2020 virtual Celebration of Excellence awards celebration.

Fritschi has published more than 100 refereed papers throughout his academic career and received more than 70 funded research grants, from entities such as USDA-AFRI, NSF, United Soybean Board and MSMC. Fritschi is part of several large grants, including one worth $15 million from the Department of Energy related to climate adaption in switchgrass. Fritschi has also had a major impact on graduate student and postdoctoral education, with 11 current graduate students (14 graduated) and seven current postdoctoral associates (20 former).

Fritschi earned a degree from the Swiss College of Agriculture, in Zollikofen, Switzerland, before receiving his master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Florida. He received his PhD in plant biology from the University of California, Davis. Fritschi joined the University of Missouri as an assistant professor in the Division of Plant Sciences in 2007. He became an associate professor in 2013 and a professor in 2017. He has been the C. Alice Donaldson Professor in Bioenergy Crop Physiology and Genetics since 2018.

“Felix is committed to studying pressing questions of relevance to crop improvement for farmers,” said Bob Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Division of Plant Sciences. “Accordingly, he focuses on the experimentally challenging field environment, and tackles demanding problems including a prominent effort in root system development. His program includes a diversity of crops including maize, soybean, and switchgrass, reflecting both an aggressive funding approach and a long-term goal to gain broad understanding of crop improvement strategies. His interests focus on the vital topics of drought and heat tolerance, and water and nutrient use efficiencies. Of particular note, Felix established several automated ‘rainout shelters’ to control drought imposition in the field. This facility, funded in 2009 by a $1.5 million grant from the Missouri Life Sciences Research Board (notably, the top-ranked proposal), provides vital infrastructure for several major team-based grants.”

Michael Sykuta Receives Outstanding Senior Teaching Award as Part of 2020 Celebration of Excellence

Michael Sykuta, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Division of Applied Social Sciences (DASS), received the Outstanding Senior Teaching Award during CAFNR’s 2020 virtual Celebration of Excellence awards celebration.

Sykuta received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and his master’s degree and PhD from Washington University, with all three degrees coming in economics. He joined the University of Missouri in 1998 as an assistant professor before becoming an associate professor in 2005. Sykuta has served as graduate faculty since 1998 and doctoral faculty since 1999. He is the director of undergraduate studies in agribusiness management and program coordinator for graduate studies in the agribusiness and organizational economics emphasis area of the agricultural and applied economics degree programs.

Sykuta’s research is related to the organization, structure, strategic management, and regulation of firms and markets. He is the author of more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and a handful of book chapters.

Sykuta’s teaching philosophy is focused on stimulating and encouraging students to become active, self-motivated learners who can effectively communicate their ideas. He provides his students with first-hand, active roles in applying knowledge, concepts and skills in a way that each student finds meaningful and relevant. Sykuta puts a focus on written assignments and group discussion, and both play an important role in each of the courses he teaches.

“As both a scholar and teacher I feel he is a valuable and versatile contributor to its academic mission,” said Joe Parcell, director of the Division of Applied Social Sciences. “Dr. Sykuta is involved in both the undergraduate and graduate programs of agribusiness management, and agricultural and applied economics, teaching core courses in both programs. He advises 20-30 undergraduate students per semester, and an additional 1-2 master’s and doctoral candidates as well. He frequently publishes with his PhD students, forging pathways to research productivity and professional achievement for the next generation of scholars.

“Dr. Sykuta is a fixture in this division, whose influence is felt across all disciplines.”