Five employees of the statewide University of Tennessee AgResearch system are being honored for their professionalism and exceptional contributions to the university’s diverse agricultural research programs.

Directors and assistant and associate directors of 10 AgResearch and Education Centers located throughout Tennessee fund the annual awards. The centers and AgResearch system are units of the UT Institute of Agriculture.

“These awards are very important to the center directors because they allow us to recognize the outstanding work that our employees do every day in support of the research programs of all faculty who work on the centers,” says Blake Brown, director of the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan and state coordinator of the Directors' Awards.

A panel of three directors and a dean select honorees based on their work performance, communication skills and abilities in implementing and reporting research projects. “Through the quality of their contributions, these individuals are judged central to the research missions at their centers,” Brown says.

The 2013 recipient of the Directors’ Award for Outstanding Professional Service
is Steve Smith, research assistant with the Grassland Beef Unit operated by the UT Plateau AgResearch and Education Center in Crossville.

Serving as research assistant since 2005, Smith is responsible for managing the center’s 250-head beef cattle herd for research purposes. “Steve’s experience in production and nutrition have proven to be a real asset to the university,” says Center Director Walt Hitch.

“In conducting research trials, Steve is skilled in implementing protocols that can sometimes be quite complex. He is also skilled in collecting data and takes the initiative to make improvements. From the perspective of a center director, he is the type of leader we all like to have,” Hitch says.

Four AgResearch employees are recipients of 2013 Directors’ Awards for Outstanding Support Service.

The UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, based in Knoxville and with operations in Knox and Blount counties, is honoring Senior Plot Caretaker Vasilj Bobrek, a 13-year-employee.

“Vasilj plays a large role in the layout, planting, management, harvesting and data collection of the many agronomic field trials that are conducted at the center’s Plant Sciences Unit,” says Center Director Bobby Simpson.

Simpson cited Bobrek’s commitment to projects from beginning to end, not only the field work, but also in processing and preparing corn, soybeans and other crops for analysis.

“There are many ways to describe Vasilj, but the first that always comes to mind is 'work ethic,’” Simpson says. “His work ethic is absolutely second to none and the quality of his work is excellent. Faculty scientists, research associates and graduate students recognize his conscientious work habits and know that he will take the job very seriously and do it right. Vasilj is a dedicated employee of UT AgResearch, and his professionalism is exemplary. He is a man of honor, integrity and compassion.”

The UT AgResearch and Education Center in Greeneville is honoring Senior Farm Equipment Operator Dale Gregg, who has 20 years of experience at the center.

Gregg is responsible for operating farm equipment, assisting in the planting, maintenance and harvest of research plots, maintaining equipment and buildings, and handling livestock.

Center Director Rob Ellis says, “Dale’s experience and ability to operate any tractor, sprayer, harvester and other equipment contributes highly to achieving our research goals at the center. His attitude, dependability and work ethic are qualities that make Dale enjoyable to work with on a day-to-day basis, and he is highly deserving of this award for outstanding support service.”

The UT West Tennessee AgResearch Center in Jackson is honoring Research Specialist Matthew Ross. 

Ross joined the center in 2006 and quickly became one of its most mature and experienced employees with unique talents and skills. “He is an outstanding equipment operator, mechanic, welder, fabricator and all-around outstanding employee,” says Center Director Bob Hayes.

Hayes says Ross is always willing to get involved and assist when and where needed. “He has helped install sub-surface drip irrigation, used his education in precision agriculture to build a variable application rate sprayer and is highly skilled at maintaining specialized research plot equipment. When the equipment we needed could not be purchased, Matt worked to build a liquid nitrogen applicator for cotton, modified multiple planters for small plot needs and redesigned the in-basket weight system of a cotton picker. Additionally, Matt helps with duties outside of the research program by working the center’s annual Summer Celebration field day and the semi-annual Milan No-Till field day.

“Matt Ross is one of those employees who loves his job and is willing to do the extras because he takes pride in his work,” Hayes says. “He has an excellent work ethic, impeccable character and respect for others.”

The UT AgResearch and Education Center in Milan is honoring Senior Plot Caretaker Chad Hicks.

Hicks has worked at the center for 12 years. He assists with sampling and data collection in research plots and is also involved with the upkeep and maintenance of facilities and equipment across the center.

Center Director Blake Brown says Hicks is “an excellent equipment operator and is responsible for the majority of the spraying across our 630 tillable acres. He does an excellent job of record-keeping, which is extremely important considering the large number of acres he sprays across multiple crops, has a good work ethic, is dependable, gets along well with his peers and is an asset to the center and the UT Institute of Agriculture.”

The 10 regional UT AgResearch and Education Centers are outdoor laboratories operated by UT AgResearch, a unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. In addition to its agricultural research programs, the UT Institute of Agriculture also provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.