EPP’s New Doctoral Program Proposal Moves Forward

By Parwinder Grewal, Head, UT Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology

The Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology (EPP) had a site visit April 6 and 7 from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) along with a consultant from UC-Davis with regards to its proposal to establish a brand new doctoral program in Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Nematology (EPPN). The site visit was very successful and THEC and the consultant were extremely impressed with the proposal, EPP and UTIA facilities, and with the quality and enthusiasm of the faculty, staff, and students. They hailed the department’s proposal as a model and stated that it has set a new standard at the University of Tennessee. They gave a go ahead to the program. The full program proposal, following minor tweaks, will be submitted to the UT Board of Trustees in June and to THEC on July 1 for final approval. THEC had previously approved the Letter of Intent to establish this program and UT Academic Council also approved the program. Upon final approval from the UT Board of Trustees and THEC, the new program will begin in fall 2015.

The department currently offers a PhD degree through the inter-departmental Plants, Soils, and Insects (PSI) program. However, the name of the graduate program and its multi-departmental organization has hindered student recruitment, departmental investment, faculty support, and competitiveness for garnering external resources. The proposed program is structured with four concentrations (sub-majors): (i) Biodiversity and Ecosystem Resilience; (ii) Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Molecular Interactions; (iii) Organismal Biology and Ecology; and (iv) Sustainable Disease and Integrated Pest Management, but will also have a common core curriculum. In addition to a rigorous formal course work and dissertation research, students would complete professional experiences in Academic Outreach, Extension, Leadership/Service, Mentoring, and Teaching to develop appropriate professional skills to prepare them for their future careers. It is also anticipated that the new program will enable recruitment of high-quality students, the delivery of focused education, as well as in-depth research leading to more rigorous student training, higher student attainment, and greater research productivity.

With the establishment of the new EPPN doctoral program, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will become the second university in the U.S. to offer a formal PhD degree in nematology. The only other institute to offer such a degree is the University of Florida. In addition to serving an important national and international need, the proposed program is well aligned with the University of Tennessee’s priorities. The new doctoral program is expected to increase the number of doctoral degrees awarded (a UT Top 25 Goal) by fostering departmental ownership, enabling recruitment of high quality PhD students typically attracted to these nationally recognized disciplines, and by enhancing competitiveness of the department and the University of Tennessee among peer institutions. The department has already taken steps to recruit high-quality students and has established more stringent admission standards. The department has put in place new structures, processes, and policies to enforce new admission standards and track student progress and learning outcomes. The department has also developed a creative new department-faculty shared funding model to increase the number and quality of graduate students. The new policies have already resulted in doubling of the number of graduate students in the program. Now these students eagerly await transfer to the new program as soon as it is formally approved.

CASNR Living Learning Community Engages Freshmen!

By Caula Beyl, Dean, UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

A commonly heard quote is “From small beginnings come great things.” The CASNR Living Learning Community (LLC) creates a great beginning for freshmen students.

eighteen different Living Learning Communities on campus, the CASNR LLC is one of the larger with sixty-two students and is one of the first each year to fill up its available slots for students. One of the reasons why may be just how active and hands-on the LLC is and how many opportunities and experiences are packed into the year.

All CASNR Living Learning students will enroll in AGNR 103: Team-Building (the mandatory one-credit course that coincides with the program) during the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016, during which they learn about campus resources, leadership, team building, communication, and cultural awareness. Pickett focuses on providing information on student success resources, leadership development, cultural awareness, experiential learning, and community outreach. Students go on field trips to network at the capitol, learn about agriculture at Sweetwater Valley Farms, or interact with natural resources up close while spelunking and hiking.

Students who are part of the CASNR LLC value the involvement tremendously. They describe the experience in many ways including, “the highlight of my freshman year experience,” but the following quote from participant Mary Green sums it up very well indeed:
My involvement in the CASNR Living and Learning Community has presented an array of opportunities throughout the past year, including trips to Bush's Baked Beans Factory, a ropes course, a nature center, and a dairy farm. Also, I was fortunate enough to build relationships with other students through late night study sessions in the dorms. Being in the CASNR LLC has made my freshman year beyond memorable, and I would not want to trade those memories for anything. … I love our LLC so much! It's just hard to put that feeling into words sometimes.

The CASNR LLC may seem like a small beginning to some; however, we know our students will emerge from the experience greater for having had it!

Three Cheers for EPP!

By Ginger Rowsey, Communications Specialist, UTIA Marketing and Communications

This spring, faculty and staff in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology swept four of six awards presented by the Southern Integrated Pest Management Center.

The Center’s Bright Idea Award went to Alan Windham, Frank Hale, Darrell Hensley, and Debbie Joines for their use of social media to promote the UT Extension Soil, Plant and Pest Center. This award is given to groups or individuals for the development of new/innovative ideas or approaches in integrated pest management. This group was recognized for raising IPM awareness of professionals in the green industry, farmers, master gardeners, and the general public using social media. Visit their Facebook page to see their handiwork.

The Thousand Cankers Disease (TCD) Team won the Pulling Together Award. This group was honored for initiating research and outreach efforts to inform the public of the threat of TCD. Team members include Jerome Grant, Frank Hale, Alan Windham, Paris Lambdin, Greg Wiggins, Denita Hadziabdic Guerry, and Mark Windham.

Frank Hale was also the recipient of the IPM Educator Award, which recognizes successful outreach and education programs that increase the implementation of integrated pest management (IPM).

Heather Kelly was named 2015’s Future Leader. In her two-year career, Heather has displayed extraordinary potential through her efforts to promote IPM practices to crop producers.

Students Attend Thirtieth Annual MANRRS Conference in Houston

By Craig Pickett, CASNR Coordinator of Student Life and Diversity

The UT chapter of MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) traveled to Houston in late March to attend the organization’s thirtieth annual national conference.

The conference, sponsored by some of the largest companies within the agricultural industry, including John Deere, Monsanto, and the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services, provided hundreds of underrepresented agricultural students from undergraduate and graduate programs nationwide with an opportunity to come together for three days of networking, professional training, and employment. The UT Chapter of MANRRS, which has witnessed resurgence in membership, service, and engagement in recent years, took seven students (five undergraduates and two graduates) to the conference (along with the chapter advisers Craig Pickett, CASNR coordinator for student life and diversity, and Sharon Jean-Philippe, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries).

While at the conference, students attended a plethora of professional development seminars focused on internships, résumé development, networking, leadership in the workforce, applying for graduate school, conducting research, and interviewing skills. In addition to the seminars, students participated in a career fair, with over sixty companies and graduate program representatives. Employers traveled from across the nation to recruit the best and brightest agricultural students for potential internships, fellowships, and full-time opportunities. In particular, the USDA came to the MANRRS conference to fill more than a hundred internship and full-time positions over the course of three days. Several UTK MANRRS students landed on-the-spot internship and job interviews with major companies, including Cargill, Ardent Mills, and the USDA, while others met with representatives from graduate programs throughout the nation. The UT chapter advisers (Pickett and Jean-Philippe) and doctoral candidate Janeen Abrams of the Department of Plant Sciences represented CASNR at the career fair and spoke with many students who had a strong interest in our graduate programs.

While in Texas, our students had the privilege of meeting UTIA Advisory Board member Isaac Bennett, center above, a key supporter of the UT chapter. Bennett graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 1984 with a degree in agricultural education, before earning a graduate degree in agribusiness and economics from South Carolina State University. Bennett, who currently serves as the vice president of capital markets for Farm Credit Bank of Texas, has become an annual supporter of the UT Chapter. Through his annual donations and support, the UT Chapter of MANRRS has grown substantially (particularly over the past two years). Students had an opportunity to meet with him, discuss their academic and professional goals, and obtain advice for future success. With the chapter’s continued growth, we look forward to attending the fall 2015 region conference in Atlanta and the thirty-first annual national conference in Jacksonville, Florida, in March 2016.

Powell High School Students Get Hands-on with Turf Research

By Scott Boyle, UT Turfgrass Communications Coordinator

Students from Knox County’s Powell High School visited the UTIA’s Turfgrass Science and Management professors and students at the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center to learn about the turf program. The idea for the hands-on visit came about after the UT Turfgrass team talked with Powell High School leadership at a college fair last fall.

“When I heard about the program at the College and Career Fair, I knew it was something that I wanted our kids to hear about because it sounds like a great opportunity for many areas of interest,” says Melissa Glover, Powell High School vice principal.

The seventeen advanced placement (AP) environmental science students performed several experiments exploring putting green speed and consistency tests, turf hardness research, and turf core samples.

“The high school students had a chance to interact with professors and grad students via hands-on activities in small groups,” says Will Roberts, Powell High School AP environmental science teacher. “The activities allowed for each of the students to be engaged and use some of the equipment rather than just simply be shown the equipment on a passing tour.”

Glover says the turf experience gave her students a different glimpse of college work. “The activities were very hands-on and engaging,” she says. “The student actually experienced real-life scenarios and got a taste for what it would be like to work and study in turf science.”

The visit, designed as a hands-on event rather than a standard tour of the facility, challenged the students to record data, come up with theories, and explain their reasoning. “As the high school students worked with the professors and grad students, there were discussions about the activities, programs, majors, and career opportunities on a personal level that would not have been as easy for a large group, question-answer session,” Roberts says. “While they were simple activities, the high school students left this field trip feeling as though they worked with a professor rather than simply being on a tour.”

For the turf staff, the visit was much more than a tour. It allowed for the kind of interaction most often seen in a college lab.

“It was great to have these engaged high school students out there learning that science is a living, evolving thing,” says Brandon Horvath, associate professor in turfgrass science and management.

Glover says she would definitely recommend this type of visit to other schools in East Tennessee.

“The staff and students were incredibly knowledgeable, thorough, engaging, and interesting in their work with our students,” she says. “I know that our kids had a blast, as well as leaving with great information regarding opportunities available at UT.”

Forestry Alum Jerri Marr to Give Commencement Address to CASNR Spring Graduates

Trailblazing U.S. Forest Service careerist Jerri Marr (B.S. Forestry and Natural Resource Management ’92) will deliver the commencement address to CASNR’s spring graduates. The college’s graduation ceremonies will be held at 11:30 a.m., May 6, at Thompson-Boling Arena. The graduating class will include approximately 190 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, as well as thirty-three men and women receiving master’s degrees and five receiving their PhDs.

Marr has served in many positions and in various forests since her graduation. She was recently appointed assistant director for recreation for the Forest Service in Washington D.C. There she oversees planning and coordination of outdoor recreation program policies and provides technical leadership and guidance to the national recreation program. She previously served as the forest supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forest Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, covering 3.5 million acres across Colorado and Kansas.

Marr has represented the Institute of Agriculture throughout her life. As a 4-H’er in her hometown of Memphis, Marr visited the agricultural campus in Knoxville to participate in a statewide competition. While on campus, she met several faculty members who invited her to learn more about the College. Soon she was offered a collegiate scholarship to study forestry in CASNR and quickly became a star student before starting a career with the Forest Service two weeks after graduation. In her spare time, Marr is a motivational speaker, avid photographer, and enjoys traveling with her family and friends.

Learn more about Jerri Marr and her trial by fire in the 2012 wildfires in drought-stricken Colorado in a feature article from the UTIA magazine, Tennessee Land, Life and Science. More …