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Common Ground

It sure is great to welcome spring. I think we are all very glad to see sunshine and warmer temperatures after such a long, hard winter.

March is also the time to welcome Extension Month in Tennessee. I hope you will join me in thanking all of our Extension professionals within UTIA for what they do across Tennessee. As the outreach arm of the Institute of Agriculture, UT Extension has tremendous impacts throughout the state. We are also proud of the positive partnership we have with Tennessee State University in conducting Extension programs.

I'd like to give a shout-out to our UTIA Information Technology staff. They have made significant strides in moving us forward with technology and increasing efficiency throughout the organization. So often they work behind the scenes and aren't recognized, but they are tremendous partners in getting the job done throughout the Institute. Thanks to Robert Ridenour and the entire team for their leadership and customer service which are so important to all of our faculty and staff. Be sure to read below about how they assisted the Department of Animal Science in enhancing its ties to alumni.

The Tennessee General Assembly is still in session. Nothing has changed with our 2016 state budget since February. On the federal level, our CARET (Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching) representatives were in Washington last week advocating for USDA funding. Tennessee farmers Allen King and Dave Fugate serve as our CARET volunteers. The President’s proposed budget includes increases for most of our land-grant funding lines. I will keep you informed as the budget issues progress.

Go Vols,


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

UT and Ag Days on the Hill Ahead for Legislative Plaza


This month I’ll be joining UT students, faculty, farmers, commodity groups, and stakeholders at the state capitol to share information on the importance and impacts of the University and of Tennessee agriculture with our lawmakers. We’ll meet with members of the General Assembly and their staff at Legislative Plaza tomorrow for UT Day on the Hill and next Tuesday for Ag Day on the Hill. Watch an important message from UT President Joe DiPietro about UT Day on the Hill.

Knoxville Employees Invited to Open Forum on March 27

A near-record 7,200 employees across the state shared feedback on topics ranging from pay to performance evaluations last November through UT’s employee engagement survey. Sixty-nine percent of employees on our campus took part in the anonymous survey.

Knoxville-area employees are invited to join me and survey partner, Modern Think, in an open forum for an overview of the results specific to the Institute at 2:00 p.m., Friday, March 27, in Room 156/157 of the Plant Biotechnology Building.

You can learn about the survey and how findings will be used through the Human Resources website. Survey results will be made available following the forum.

CASNR Students Win Southeastern Wildlife Championship


The Institute's Student Wildlife and Fisheries Society won first place overall and swept top individual honors at the 2015 Southeastern Wildlife Conclave. The 23-member team, co-advised by David Buehler, Chris Graves, Emma Willcox, and Brian Alford from the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, competed against twenty-one college and university fisheries and wildlife programs at a competition last weekend hosted by Virginia Tech University at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

"Winning Conclave is for sure a statement that our academic WFS programs are on the cutting edge of science, teaching, research, and management of wildlife resources and why our program is so widely known and respected," wrote retired faculty member Billy Minser in a congratulatory note to the team's advisers. Minser is a former adviser to the student chapter. More ...

AgResearch Invention Results in Breakthrough Disease Test Kit

Veterinary diagnostic company BioVet has just announced a new diagnostic kit for the costly infectious animal disease, Johne’s disease is on the market for sale. The test is based on an invention by Shigetoshi Eda, associate professor in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and Professor Emeritus C.A. Speer.

Johne’s disease occurs in domestic and wild animals worldwide. In the United States, the disease causes an estimated annual loss of $220 million to the agricultural economy.

The heavy economic burden on the agricultural industry urged the scientific community to develop effective control measures for Johne’s disease. Diagnosis and culling of test-positive animals is recommended for control of the disease; however, current tests suffer low sensitivity, long turnaround time, and/or high cost. About ten years ago, Eda and Speer discovered a way to develop a highly sensitive diagnostic test for Johne’s disease and then worked with the UT Research Foundation to commercialize the method. The USDA and Institute supported their work.

Eda is associate director for the Institute’s Center for Wildlife Health, an adjunct in the Department of Microbiology, and a senior member of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.

CASNR Spotlights Trailblazers Bonnie Ownley, Daniel Yoder

UT has recently garnered significant national accolades, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Trailblazer award for retention and graduation rate gains and the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for outreach.

These successes are due to the hard work of our innovative employees, among them Bonnie Ownley of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology and Daniel Yoder of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science.


The two were recently profiled in Tennessee Today. Learn about their trailblazing paths in and out of the classroom. More ...

Explore Veterinary Medicine with the Family on April 11


Have you ever wanted a behind-the-scenes look at veterinary medicine? Then April 11 is your lucky day! The UT College of Veterinary Medicine hosts its annual Open House on Saturday, April 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The family-friendly event is free and open to the public.

Enjoy various exhibits along a self-guided tour. Kids are encouraged to bring a stuffed animal to the Teddy Bear Clinic where a veterinary student will give it a checkup. The open house will take place rain or shine.

Tennessee Youth Gather at Capitol for 4-H Congress

Some of Tennessee’s brightest and hardest-working teens are headed to the state capitol March 22-25 to become lawmakers for a day and learn how our state government works.

This is the sixty-eighth year for 4-H Congress in Tennessee, and more than 37,000 youth and adult volunteers have participated since 1948. Some 440 are expected next week. Delegates are ninth and tenth graders with finalists in 4-H public speaking, leadership, and citizenship projects ranging from ninth through twelfth grades. More ...

In Brownsville, Meet Peggy Jackson, Extension Program Assistant

What do you do in Haywood County Extension?

I serve as program director for the Haywood County Family Resource Centers. These are lending libraries for our communities. Things are definitely busy. We had 2,400 visits last school year and the free loan of 8,500 educational items to parents. I am also responsible for developing and overseeing programs that advance our parent involvement, literacy, and mentoring for at-risk students. We host “come & go” events called “Happy Hour for Parents” that offer face-to-face communication and the opportunity to put information directly into their hands. We also hold family events, such as the ”Slumber Number” math night that had more than 200 parents attend with their preschool and kindergarten students, and monthly “Table Talk for Parents of Students with Special Needs” support luncheons.

We encourage literacy through our “Reading Wall of Fame” initiative that had more than 60,600 books read last school year, and the Reading Is Fundamental “Book Jams” in which every student in preschool through fifth grade enjoy the pleasure of selecting three new books at no cost to them! Over the past eighteen years, more than 5,000 books have been given to homes in our rural, high-poverty county.

How long have you been with UTIA?

I am in my twentieth year with UTIA.

What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy the opportunity to use creative skills to enhance programs and meet the needs of the children and parents we serve. It is rewarding to see children excited over new books or school supplies and to see parents excited about learning ways to help their children succeed. This year, a grandfather learned to read with his kindergarten grandchild with materials checked out from the Centers. Helping others in unimaginable ways is the best part of my job!

Other thoughts?

The Haywood County Extension office staff is truly my extended family. They have been the support shoulder as my immediate family and myself have encountered severe physical problems during the past several years. I feel very blessed to be a part of the UTIA family!

A Beautiful, Blooming Good Time in Jackson


Hello Spring! The UT Gardens, Jackson, will soon spring to life as close to 10,000 new bulbs hit their peak bloom. A diverse mix of tulips, iris, daffodils, crocus, and more will be on eye-tingling display. Stroll through the grounds surrounding the UT West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in the weeks ahead or watch the colorful progression online.

ITS Creates Alumni Website for Animal Science

The Department of Animal Science recently teamed up with Information Technology Services to develop a new website to help alums keep up with one another and relay stories of their career successes.

Read how ITS developer Michele Wilson assisted the department with a site that brings technology solutions to deliver a marketing tool that spotlights alums while populating the department’s websites with their stories. More ...

Kippy Todd Joins Advancement/Alumni Relations for CVM

The Office of Institutional Advancement welcomes Kiplynn Fritts (Kippy) Todd as assistant director of advancement/alumni relations for the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. She will be part of the Institute's Advancement Team with the University of Tennessee Foundation and begin her role on Monday, April 6.

"I am excited to have Kippy join our team,” says Blake Hudson, director of advancement for UT College of Veterinary Medicine. "She will be a great advocate to advance the mission of UTIA and CVM."

Todd has seventeen years of experience in higher education fundraising and comes to the Institute from Middle Tennessee State University where she serves as development director for the College of Mass Communication. She has a BS in public administration from UT and has held various UT alumni leadership positions since 1993, including past president of the Sullivan County chapter. She currently serves on the UT Alumni Legislative Committee.


Todd’s office will be on the third floor of the UTCVM administration building. She will work directly with CVM constituents including alumni, volunteers, grateful owners of patients/hospital clients, students, and other stakeholders. Todd will provide leadership to the CVM Alumni Council to enhance related engagement opportunities for alumni and friends.

Two Weeks Left to Enter UTIA Photo Contest!

There’s still time to enter your images in our 2015 photo competition! This year’s event focuses on the Institute's Four Pillars. Give some thought to how you can represent how the four pillars relate to your work or study or that of others around you. There are many creative ways to do so.

Upload your images, select the category you're entering, and you're done! You are allowed to enter multiple categories and multiple images. The contest ends April 1.

A link to all images will be shared at the conclusion of the contest. You are welcome to use these images in posters, presentations, or for other purposes.

#UTIAsaysThanks Heard Loud and Clear


Thank you for your help in making Student Engagement and Philanthropy Month such a success. Together we shared stories from eight students of how donor gifts and scholarships have made a difference in their college careers. That message reached thousands of viewers through social media, email, and web stories. It is important to take time to thank those that make our real-life solutions at the Institute of Agriculture possible. Watch videos from students who provided messages during the month.


CASNR will host its fifty-fifth annual awards reception on April 10 in Hollingsworth Auditorium. The program honors faculty, staff, students, and alumni. RSVP by March 30 to Angie Berry.


Calling all Knox-area crafty employees. Land a vendor table for your pet or people crafts at the Companion Animal Initiative of Tennessee Craft Fair set for April 18 at Hollingsworth Auditorium. Click here for details.


The UT Research Foundation's Tech Talks lecture series is focusing on patent essentials in a forum by partners with Kenyon & Kenyon on March 27. Visit here to learn more.

Save the Date–June 23 Debut for Plateau’s Kinder Garden!

A very special garden for children ages three through seven will debut at the UT Gardens, Crossville, Plateau Discovery Gardens in June, and you are invited to help dedicate it. The Kinder Garden, a first for the region, culminates three years of hard work by Cumberland County participants in the Tennessee Extension Master Gardeners program.

Children can wander through a labyrinth, try their hands at potting and digging, explore a pavilion, engage in sensory activities, enjoy music and movement, traverse a

bridge, travel under a living green tunnel, adventure in a fort, and expand their imagination with arts and materials such as puzzle pieces, clay, and magnifying glasses. Each station is designed to enhance their cognition, social-emotional skills, language, literacy, and physical development. The garden is free to all and open daily during sunlight hours. More ...

National Geographic Touts UTIA Fisheries Partner


Conservation Fisheries, Inc., a small Knoxville organization with a huge ecological footprint in sustaining and restoring endangered freshwater fish in the Southeast, is highlighted in the March issue of National Geographic magazine. Founders Patrick Rakes and J.R. Shute are both UT alumni, and many of our students have deepened their knowledge of fisheries science through research and learning conducted at CFI’s hatchery, in UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center–Joseph E. Johnson Animal Research and Teaching Unit, and in the waters of Tennessee.

We’re tremendously proud of this partnership and the impacts that Conservation Fisheries has had across thirty years of pioneering work. Read about them in the spring issue of our UTIA magazine, Tennessee Land, Life and Science, and watch a Knoxville News Sentinel video. (Photo by Joe Sartore)

Students Turn Organic Farm Learning into CSA Shares

The Organic Farm Internship Program gives UT students the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the garden. From January through August, five interns complete a three-credit hour course while growing organic produce at the UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center-Organic Crops Unit.

The fruit and vegetables of their labor, harvested fresh the day they are sold, are offered at the UT Farmers Market as well as through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. When you purchase, you’re helping to make the internship program possible. More ...

Eggstravaganza on March 28 at UT Gardens, Knoxville

Hop on over to the UT Gardens, Knoxville, and get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny, make a spring craft, and go hunting for some eggs. This year the Gardens is focusing on an allergy-free event, and its four egg hunts will be food-free. Hunts will begin at 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., and 12:15 and 1:30 p.m.

The Eggstravaganza is a family-friendly event intended for children ages 12 and under. Bring your Easter basket and a camera! The cost is $6 per child and preregistration is required. Contact Derrick Stowell at
865-974-7151 or dstowell@tennessee.edu for more information.

In Memoriam

Lula P. Burnette, 92, an employee of Mabel’s Cafeteria at UTIA for many years before retiring in 1989.

Ruth DeFriese, 103, retired home economics (home demonstration) agent prior to her marriage to Frank DeFriese, an agricultural economist at UTIA who retired in 1973 and passed away in 2009 at age 95.

Bobby Demott, 90, retired professor of animal science, dairy section, and expert in dairy manufacturing and products.

Elna Harrison 82. Harrison joined the Institute in 1955 and worked for forty-one years, retiring as administrative assistant to the UT vice president for agriculture. (Name links to obituary.)

Judy Kay Heath, 63, who ran the Munch Box at the College of Veterinary Medicine for many years, retiring from the Tennessee Business Enterprise after thirty-eight years. (Name links to obituary.)

Snowy Day Campus Heros!



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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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