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Common Ground

Photo of Fred Thompkins with the UT AgResearch logo over a blue background

Interim Dean Named for AgResearch

Fred Tompkins, a familiar face to many of our longtime Knoxville employees, has been appointed interim dean for AgResearch. He fills the position recently vacated by Bill Brown and began his appointment earlier this month. A national search is being organized with the goal of appointing a continuing dean within a year.

Tompkins brings excellent credentials in research leadership to his interim position. He has served the university in many research-focused capacities, among them associate dean of the UT College of Engineering, president and CEO of the UT Research Foundation, and associate vice president for research and economic development. Closer to home, he began at the Institute and university as an assistant professor of the Department of Biosystems Engineering where he ultimately rose to distinguished researcher and department head in the early 1990s. In recent years he returned to his roots, teaching a course on our campus that guided students step-by-step in how to transform their ideas into successful business startups.

Soil Vols Capture National Title

A screen capture of a Facebook post showing the Soil Vols after their title win

It takes a discerning eye and body of knowledge to characterize soil profiles. That's precisely what members of the Soil Vols team demonstrated last month when members correctly identified, evaluated, classified, and described soil profiles individually, and as a team, in the National Collegiate Soils Contest. The students' skills took them all the way to first place, seeing them outcompete twenty-two of the nation's top collegiate soil judging teams. The Soil Vols program is part of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science. The win places the UT soil judging program among an elite company of national winners.

For individual top finisher David Gentry and for coach Andrew Sherfy, a lecturer in Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, the win also brings the opportunity to compete internationally in a contest held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Gentry was invited to join Team USA, and Sherfy was chosen to head it. Click to read more here.

Logo for Peace Corps PREP

Peace Corps Prep Program Kicks Off at UTIA

The Institute is now home to a Peace Corps Prep Program. While the certification track is open to all UT students, it's housed in CASNR and is one of a kind in Tennessee. As a university participating in the program, we will enhance students' undergraduate experience by preparing them for international development-focused fieldwork and potential Peace Corps service.

Adam Willcox, CASNR study abroad coordinator, will also coordinate this program. Willcox can also offer students his direct experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. Click here to learn more.

Fruit & Veggie Race Cars? 4-H'ers Say Yes!

Screen capture of children making race cars out of fruits and vegetables

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your eggplant. Or cucumber. Laughter and giggles ensue when youth are challenged to build edible race cars. Their fun ultimately arrives at better nutrition with important STEM learning in engineering and physics along the way. Meet Tennessee 4-H program "Lunch Box Derby."

"These kids have heard their whole lives not to play with their food. Well, now they get to break that rule bigtime," says Charles Denney of Marketing and Communications. Denney put together a video of students in Alamo, Tennessee, taking part. He says, "The whole notion of using edible vehicles to teach nutrition is an exciting way to send a good message to these 4-H'ers." Click to watch the video here.

Graduations—Milk, Ice Cream & Honest Advice

Photo of Colleen Cruze Bhatti

Dairy innovator Colleen Cruze Bhatti will address CASNR spring graduates—graduates, in fact, of her own college. Cruze Bhatti completed a BS in agricultural science in 2011. She credits that learning as a factor in assisting her as she transformed the products of her family's fifth-generation Cruze Dairy into one of Knoxville's most well-known brands. Click here to learn more.

At the podium, too, will be Neal Schrick, professor and head of Animal Science. Schrick is the honoree of the Faculty Advisor of the Year Award. The College's third traditional speaker is a student, to be named. CASNR's graduation ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m., May 11, in UT's Thompson-Boling Arena.

In UTCVM, Dr. Jeffrey Biskup, an assistant professor of Small Animal Surgery, is the featured commencement speaker. Biskup is with Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, a unit of Oregon State University. He is a former faculty member at UTCVM and will channel his own college days, borrowing tips from the professors he found most effective. Four alumni will receive awards: Dr. Tim Mandrell, Drs. Rebecca and James Lillard, and Dr. Russell Reel. Reel will also address the eighty-two-member graduating class as president of the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association. Drs. Linden Craig and Andrea Lear will serve as marshals; faculty hooders are Dr. Marc Caldwell and David Bemis; Michael Sims is the standard-bearer. Graduating seniors Casey Clements and Nathan Crilly will also speak. The hooding and commencement ceremony will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 12, in the James R. Cox Auditorium.

Photo of Douglas Bohner

New HR Director Arrives Soon

Douglas Bohner starts May 1 as the new human resource officer for UTIA and as human resource director for UT Extension. He brings more than seventeen years of HR experience to the Institute, through positions such as director of human resources for HomeServe USA and in human resource leadership for Express Scripts and The Walt Disney Company. He holds degrees in criminal justice and human resources.

Photo of a child playing in the KinderGarden

Special Garden, Special Honor

The KinderGarden at the UT Gardens, Crossville, has received certification as a Nature Explore Classroom. The designation indicates this is a garden that turns outdoor play into outdoor learning—a form of learning that broadens children's minds while delighting all five of their senses. It's no wonder the KinderGarden is popular with children, parents, scouts, and even teachers.

Many cite how one visit fulfills science objectives. Just as many praise the KinderGarden as a safe space for children.

The UT Gardens, Crossville, is known locally as the Plateau Discovery Gardens. Cumberland County Master Gardeners developed them to convey the benefits and challenges of gardening on the Cumberland Plateau. Opportunities are available for volunteers of all ages. To learn more about the Gardens, including the KinderGarden itself, visit ag.tennessee.edu/plateaugardens, or ccmga.org. Information will soon be added about Nature Explore workshops planned for July 27.

Students Use Spring Break for In-Country Learning

Photo of students studying abroad in Guatemala over spring break

During spring break, students from CASNR and other colleges across UT stepped into diverse landscapes through their experiences abroad. In "embedded" courses, students registered for 3 credits in spring semester, then attended class on campus here in Knoxville, with one twist: they spend their spring break in a different country experiencing the course content. The UTIA Smith International Center for Sustainable International Agriculture has more.

Help Pick TN’s Top 10 'Green' Changers

Photo of students studying abroad in Guatemala over spring break

Imagine Florida without oranges or Georgia without peaches. What's our special plant? Natalie Bumgarner and Andy Pulte, faculty members in Plant Sciences, invite you and the public to tell us. Nominate the plant you think most represents Tennessee. To do so, choose a single plant that fits into one of six categories: food, economy, health, history, landscape, and spiritual or cultural. Plants will be judged by their impact—positive or negative—across our state's history, with results used in lesson plans for grades K-5. Jennifer Richards, a UT Extension 4-H curriculum specialist in Food Science, is also contributing to the project.

So, ponder some plants then visit the following website to submit your nomination: tenplants.tennessee.edu

Message from the Chancellor

A Decade of Excellence, our new UTIA strategic plan, was approved by the UT Board of Trustees at their recent board meeting, and now our attention will be focused on implementing the plan, defining and reporting the metrics to assess our progress, and sharing the plan broadly with all of our faculty, staff, and stakeholders. The board also approved the naming of our latest addition to the UT Gardens, Knoxville, an outdoor pavilion made possible through the generosity of Henry McIlwaine Jr. and other supporters. The arrival of spring brings with it the return of special moments throughout the Institute, such as the tremendously popular CVM Open House, on April 7, the new year of field days ahead, and the final weeks of studies for our graduating seniors. Each year, I look forward to these exciting times and hope you join with me in celebrating their success. I also hope I may see you at one or more of our events in the coming weeks.


P.S. Be sure to follow me and the latest Institute developments on Twitter at @UTIAChancellor.

A Moment in UTIA's Fifty Years

Photo of an early field day

No-till crop production may be considered the norm to many farmers, but that thinking would not have been possible without scientists, specialists, and agents with the UT Institute of Agriculture who worked tirelessly to convince the farming community of no-till's benefits. The subsequent adoption of no-till farming is still recognized as one of the greatest accomplishments of the last century.

The Volunteer State is considered a leader in no-till farming, and the benefits of its implementation range from a drastic increase in agricultural efficiency (the average farmer provides food and fiber for nearly 130 people compared to twenty-five in 1960) to cleaner air and water. The state's soil erosion levels have decreased by approximately 80 percent.

Perhaps the biggest promotion for no-till was the Milan No-Till Field Day. This event began in 1981 and was led by Tom McCutchen, the first superintendent of the Milan Experiment Station, and a team of researchers and Extension specialists. It's still held every other year at the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan with the next field day scheduled for July 26, 2018. Thanks to this field day and our people, more than 90 percent of Tennessee producers have embraced conservation tillage—another example of the Institute's positive impacts on Tennessee and beyond. Photo of cars surrounding a barn for the Milan No-Till Field Day


Common Ground is published monthly by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Send comments and suggestions to commonground@tennessee.edu. The University of Tennessee is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA institution in the provision of its education and employment programs and services. All qualified applicants will receive equal consideration for employment without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, or covered veteran status.

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