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Sharp Receives UM System’s Jefferson Award

Robert Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Plant Science and Technology, recently received the UM System President’s Thomas Jefferson Award for his research. The award recognizes one outstanding faculty member annually who has been nationally or internationally recognized for and demonstrated clear distinction in research, scholarship, teaching and public service.

Sharp, also former director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG), received the award for his stellar reputation as an international collaborator furthering the field of plant science, his work overseeing key joint hires at MU and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, helping with the development of the new East Campus Plant Growth Facility, hosting the International Society of Root Research symposium and leading the effort to expand the IPG’s engagement with the MU South African Partnership program.

“Dr. Robert Sharp’s leadership of the IPG for more than 10 years speaks to the respect he commands among plant scientists,” University of Missouri President Mun Choi said. “The work at the IPG has improved our understanding of the ways in which plants respond to changing environments, which in turn helps us better serve our citizens in Missouri.”

CAFNR Faculty & Staff Receive Honorary State FFA Degrees

The Missouri FFA Association named a number of CAFNR faculty and staff members Honorary State FFA Degree recipients at the 95th Missouri FFA Convention held April 20-21 in Columbia. This recognition was given for years of support, including service as state superintendents for agriculture, food and natural resources Career Development Events.

Those honored include:

  • Matt Arri, Agricultural Sales CDE
  • Andrew Biggs, Agronomy CDE
  • Addison Byrne, Livestock Evaluation CDE
  • Andrew Clarke, Food Science & Technology CDE
  • Lesleighan Cravens, Floriculture CDE
  • Chris Daubert, Support of CDEs and the Convention
  • Tawnie DeJong, Livestock Evaluation CDE
  • Deborah Finke, Entomology CDE
  • Laura Friedrich, Agricultural Sales CDE
  • Tim Moloney, Nursery/Landscaping CDE
  • Teagan Schnurbusch, Meats Evaluation CDE
  • Bongkosh Vardhanabhuti, Dairy Foods Evaluation CDE
  • Dusty Walter, Soils Evaluation CDE

The Missouri FFA Association recognizes Honorary State FFA Degree recipients for their valuable efforts and contributions to the FFA organization and its members. Those eligible to receive the Honorary FFA Degree include farmers, school superintendents, principals, members of the board of education, chapter advisors, teachers, staff members in agricultural education, business professionals and others who are helping to advance agricultural education and the FFA.

Deborah Finke Received Outstanding Senior Teaching Award as Part of 2023 Celebration of Excellence

Deborah Finke, professor and director of undergraduate studies, Division of Plant Science and Technology, was honored with the Outstanding Senior Teacher Award as part of the 2023 Celebration of Excellence event, held Tuesday, April 11.  

Finke is dedicated to inquiry-based student learning and teaches courses including Insect Pest Management, Plant Stress Biology and Insect Ecology, with teaching evaluations consistently higher than average. She leads a study abroad opportunity to Italy, is the advisor for the C.V. Riley Entomological Society student organization, and works with faculty on the development of courses and curriculum as the undergraduate program director. 

“It is a difficult task nowadays to get students excited about bugs, but Dr. Finke is able to infect students with her enthusiasm about insects,” said nominator Heike Buecking, director of the Division of Plant Science and Technology. “Students commented they ‘only wish we had more time in this course’ or that she made students ‘want to research anything and everything about insect ecology.’  

“In addition, equity and inclusivity in teaching and mentoring is more than just a buzzword for her, she lives it and sees it as an opportunity for us to grow.” 

“Dr. Finke has a fantastic track record of graduate and undergraduate mentees finding their desired careers either as PIs of R1 labs, conducting industry research, facilitating research at universities, or in competitive graduate programs,” said previous student Jessica Kansman, postdoctoral fellow, Penn State University. “She is endlessly reliable and dedicated to student learning and wellbeing.” 

Bing Yang Receives Distinguished Research Award as Part of 2023 CAFNR Celebration of Excellence

Bing Yang, professor of plant science and technology, received the Distinguished Research Award at the Celebration of Excellence held April 11, due to his groundbreaking contributions in crop genome engineering and plant pathology.  

Yang has cloned and characterized a rice disease resistance gene used by breeders to protect rice plants from a devastating bacterial pathogen. Additionally, his research program focuses on developing and applying genome editing technologies for gene/trait discovery and for engineering improved traits, such as disease resistance in crop plants. 

Yang’s research has been published in top-tier journals, including Nature Genetics and Nature Biotechnology. He has mentored 21 individuals in the past six years, has given 66 invited presentations, and is an editor for multiple major journals.  

“His pioneering research, his generous sharing of techniques and tools his lab developed, his collaborative and inquisitive nature, his gifted mentoring and training he provides and his being a terrific colleague and person, motivate me to nominate Bing for this prestigious award,” said David Braun, professor of plant science and technology and director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group. “He is most deserving and will bring honor to the title.” 

“Bing is a remarkable and creative scientist, and a leader in the field,” said Blake Meyers, professor of plant science and technology.“ He is an outstanding faculty member with a superb research track record, a wonderful personality, and a real leader in multiple fields.” 

“From my humble perspective, Dr. Yang is one of most influential and pioneering scientists I have met,” said Wolf B. Frommer, Alexander Von Humboldt Professor at Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf. 

Tracey Mitchell Received Outstanding Staff Award as Part of 2023 Celebration of Excellence  

Tracey Mitchell, CSM associate III, Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) and the Division of Plant Science and Technology (DPST), was honored with the Outstanding Staff Award during the 2023 Celebration of Excellence event, held Tuesday, April 11.   

Michell provides technical repair and support of MU’s plant growth facilities, including the East Campus Plant Growth Facility (ECPGF) and the Sears Greenhouse complex. He maintains the specialized equipment needed for continued research. 

David Braun, professor of plant science and technology and director of the IPG, says, “To put it simply, MU’s plant science community was exceedingly fortunate to be able to recruit Tracey. His qualifications and experience are matchless for the needs of this position. His expertise is absolutely invaluable to the research success of the MU plant community.” 

As an example of his invaluable assistance, Clinton Meinhardt, research specialist and coordinator of plant testing, soybean cyst nematode diagnostics, sent the following unsolicited appreciation of Tracey’s service: “I want to let you know that we greatly appreciate the terrific service that Tracey provided us when he repaired three of our heated/refrigerated circulation baths. His expertise and willingness to help really saved us. In one of the repairs, he replaced a burned-up motor, that according to the folks at Fisher was an “obsolete part with no replacement” with a submersible pump. This type of out-of-the-box thinking keeps us running. I’m very thankful Tracey is working for IPG/ECPGF. He is an asset to our programs and research.”

Mitchell’s colleagues continually notice his willingness to take on additional responsibilities and go the extra mile. David Braun and Bob Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, Division of Plant Science and Technology, say they have “unequivocally” given their highest recommendation of Michell.  



Advisors Recognized as Drivers of Distinction

CAFNR Vice Chancellor and Dean Christopher Daubert recognized 10 individuals as Drivers to Distinction. The awards were given in honor of their exceptional work advising students.

The recipients were:

  • Amy Marek, senior academic advisor, Division of Food, Nutrition & Exercise Sciences
  • Kelsey Marek, academic advisor, Animal Sciences
  • Robyn Eschenbrenner, senior academic advisor, Division of Applied Social Sciences
  • Libby Johnson, academic advisor, School of Natural Resources
  • Laura Hertel, senior student service coordinator, School of Natural Resources
  • Jenna Fusinatto, academic advisor, School of Natural Resources
  • Mackenzie Ewing, senior academic advisor, Plant Science & Technology
  • Katie Ogan, coordinator of student services, CAFNR Office of Academic Programs
  • Laura Friedrich, senior coordinator of student services, CAFNR Office of Academic Programs
  • Jon Simonsen; associate professor and director of graduate studies; Division of Applied and Social Sciences

Each Driver of Distinction received a trophy from CAFNR Vice Chancellor and Dean Christopher Daubert during the CAFNR Faculty/Staff Meeting April 4, 2023. President Choi and Senior Associate Dean Garton joined in the award presentation as well.

CAFNR Faculty Selected to Participate in LEAD21 Program

David Braun, director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) and professor, plant science & technology and biological sciences; and Deborah Finke, professor and director of undergraduate studies, plant science and technology; were selected as participants in the 19th class of the LEAD21 program, a leadership program aimed at developing leaders in land-grant institutions and their strategic partners who link research, academics and extension for leadership roles at colleges and universities across the nation.

LEAD21 provides an immersive professional development program for academic leaders from the land-grant system. Working in regular small groups meetings combined with three week-long immersive sessions, the participants will learn effective leadership skills for increasingly complex higher education environments as well as strategies for influencing institutional transformation in their current and future leadership positions.

The LEAD21 program is targeted at faculty specialists, program and team leaders, research station and center directors, district and regional directors, department heads and chairs, and others in land-grant universities’ colleges of agricultural, environmental, and human sciences and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Learn more about the LEAD21 program on the LEAD21 Website.

Two CAFNR Faculty Named 2022 Highly Cited Researchers

Two faculty in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have been named 2022 Highly Cited Researchers by Clarivate. Ron Mittler, Curators’ Distinguished Professor in plant science and technology, along with Bing Yang, professor of plant science and technology, were awarded this prestigious distinction — marking them as among the most influential researchers in the world.

To earn this honor, a researcher must have multiple highly-cited papers ranking in the top 1% by citations for field and year in the Web of Science. According to Clarivate, fewer than 7,000 or about 0.1% of researchers worldwide earned this distinction in 2022.

Center for Regenerative Agriculture Recognized by Missouri Department of Conservation

The CAFNR Center for Regenerative Agriculture (CRA) was recognized with the 2022 External Partner Award by the Missouri Department of Conservation Community and Private Lands Division at its annual banquet in St. Joseph on Oct. 4. Rob Myers, CRA director and adjunct associate professor in plant science and technology, and Kelly Wilson, assistant director, represented the Center for Regenerative Agriculture to receive the award. The pair were presented with a framed photo of cattle grazing on a Missouri pasture with the award notation engraved on the frame by Jason Jensen and Bill White from MDC.

CAFNR Research Symposium Poster Winners Announced

More than 90 posters were showcased at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ first in-person Research Symposium Oct. 12-13. The symposium was held in Memorial Union, and had more than 300 attendees. Winners in three poster categories — undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral — were announced during the closing session on Thursday. The winners are as follows:

Undergraduate Student Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Kristen Barwick (Biochemistry)
  • 2nd Place – Anna Gonsalves (Food, Nutrition & Exercise Science)
  • 1st Place – Aubrey Pipkins (Food, Nutrition & Exercise Science)

Graduate Student Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Alexis Jones (Animal Sciences)
  • 2nd Place – Alani Antoine-Mitchell (Biochemistry)
  • 1st Place – Ajay Gupta (Plant Science & Technology)

Postdoctoral Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Mohammed Abouelezz (Animal Sciences)
  • 2nd Place – Jamshid Ansari (School of Natural Resources)
  • 1st Place – Nga Nguyen (Biochemistry)