Kent Messer co-authors new book

February 17, 2011 under CANR News

Kent Messer, assistant professor of food and resource economics and assistant professor of economics, has written a book on Mathematical Programming for Agricultural, Environmental and Resource Economics. The book is co-authored by Harry M. Kaiser of Cornell University.

Finding that many mathematical programming textbooks don’t cover natural resource and environmental issues, Messer said that he and Kaiser decided to write a book that would address these. “My passion is the world of environmental and resource economics and I also work in agricultural economics, and so while there are many books on operations research and math programming, they end up being targeted towards MBA students. I thought that there are some unique applications to natural resource and environmental problems that these books just don’t cover. And those are the areas that I am most interested in.”

Messer said that Kaiser does a lot of work on agricultural marketing, and since he had an interest in the subject too, they both decided to combine their interests and turn them into a book. “We were really pleased to have Wiley and Sons, a top flight publisher, be willing to publish this book, which will provide a global distribution network.”

The book is divided into two parts, with 13 chapters total. Each chapter contains at least 20 exercises and several research examples.

Messer said that the goal was “to make a reader-friendly textbook that would be great in the classroom and would develop the foundation of quantitative skills needed for research. Thus, the textbook doesn’t just cover theory, but also provides instruction on how to bridge the gap between ‘here are the techniques and here’s how you apply them to research.’”

The book is geared toward graduate students as well as upper level undergraduates who might be looking at doing research in the area.

Messer said he plans to use the book in his future classes but also notes that he has been using parts of the book in his course in a paper version for the past four years. “My previous students have been great at ‘proofing’ the chapters and testing problems.”

For more information about the book, see the website.

This article is an excerpt from a larger UDaily article “Books in Brief.”  Books in Brief is a roundup of recent books by University of Delaware faculty, staff and alumni. For the full article, click here.

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Nov. 10: UD, state to host issues forum about Chesapeake Bay

November 3, 2010 under CANR News, Events

The Chesapeake Bay is a national focal point for water quality issues. New environmental regulations will require Delaware and the other five bay states — Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York — and the District of Columbia to significantly reduce pollution entering the bay and its tributaries.

These rigorous federal and state program aims to restore the bay’s water quality by 2025.

Because the two main pollutants that are under consideration are nitrogen and phosphorous, agricultural entities in Delaware and the other bay states have a vital role in this process.

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will host an agricultural issues forum to address agricultural and environmental concerns surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay as it relates to water quality.

“The Intersection of Agriculture, the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay” will be held in the Trabant University Center Multipurpose Room A from 7-9 p.m.

“The goal of this event is to bring awareness to one of the major environmental issues in our area,” says Craig Parker, president of Alpha Gamma Rho. “We hope that UD students, faculty, and other community members will join us to learn about the issues from everyone involved.”

The program will be moderated by Ed Kee, secretary of the Delaware Department of Agriculture, who is also a CANR alumnus and former UD employee.

Kee will be joined by science and regulatory advisors Rick Batiuk, science adviser for the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Kathy Bunting-Howarth, director of the Division of Water at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Industry and government panelists for the evening include:

* Steve Schwalb, vice president, Environmental Sustainability, Perdue Farms;
* Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for Region III, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
* Dave Baker, farmer and member of Delaware Nutrient Management Commission; and
* Jim Borel, executive vice president, DuPont.

The forum will conclude with networking and free UDairy Creamery ice cream.

For more information call (302) 831-1355 or send email to [kvo@udel.edu].

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Sparks wins distinguished mentoring award from Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools

April 19, 2010 under CANR News

Donald L. Sparks, the University of Delaware’s S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has won the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.

The prestigious award, bestowed in memory of the association’s former president, recognizes outstanding mentoring support of graduate students.

Sparks received the award, which included a certificate and cash prize of $1,000, on Friday, April 16, in Montreal at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools. The association, one of four regional affiliates of the Council of Graduate Schools, has members from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.

So far, during his distinguished 31-year career at the University of Delaware, Sparks has mentored 49 graduate students, from coursework through research and job placement. He has created an internationally prominent graduate program in environmental soil chemistry, authored more than 280 scientific publications and three textbooks, served as an invitational speaker at 67 universities and institutes on four continents, successfully competed for more than $31 million in research contracts and grants, and won numerous awards and honors, including the University’s highest academic recognition, the Francis Alison Award, and UD’s Doctoral Student Advising and Mentoring Award, of which he was the first recipient.

Yet the accomplishments of his students give Sparks the greatest satisfaction.

“You can be the greatest scientist or engineer in the world, but there’s more to it than that,” notes Sparks philosophically. “Mentoring students has been a wonderful part of my career — nothing has been more meaningful to me than to see them go out into the world as young scientists.”

“We congratulate Don on this terrific accomplishment and also honor his commitment to providing graduate students at the University of Delaware with the finest education possible,” said Debra Hess Norris, vice provost for graduate and professional education. “He is truly inspiring and serves as a role model for so many on our campus and beyond.”

The official nominating package, which was assembled and submitted by Norris and assistant provost Mary Martin, was filled with heartfelt testimonials from Sparks’ former students, as well as the admiration of faculty colleagues.

“The accomplishments of Don’s students are evidence that he provides sound advice with regard to coursework, expects excellence from his students, invests his own time in assuring student success, encourages timely publication and presentation of research results, and assists with placement of graduates in high-profile positions that will advance their careers,” noted Robin Morgan, dean of the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Sparks’ students in plant and soil sciences have earned numerous accolades over the years, including three Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor in the U.S. for beginning scientists and engineers; three UD Theodore Wolf Dissertation Prizes; two Emil Truog Soil Science Outstanding Dissertation Prizes; NSF and NASA graduate fellowships; three University Presidential Achievement Awards and other competitive fellowships; and the prestigious Clark Medal for postdoctoral research from the Geochemical Society of America and the European Association of Geochemists.

Former students wrote of Sparks’ concern for their success on both professional and personal levels.

Scott Fendorf, who received his doctorate in plant science from UD in 1992, and is now professor and chair of environmental and Earth system science at Stanford University, wrote: “My impression of Dr. Sparks is that he views his students as his children, and he is truly an amazing (academic) father to all of us — during not only our time as his students but throughout our careers. The time he afforded us to discuss matters of balancing personal and professional activities, where our careers should head, where jobs might be coming, and how to position ourselves to successfully obtain positions we sought were all regular points of conversation. Not only do I consider Dr. Sparks my Ph.D. adviser, but a life-long friend and mentor.”

Maarten Nachtegaal, who earned his doctorate in plant and soil sciences in 2003, and is now head of the In-Situ X-Ray Spectroscopy Group at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland, noted that Sparks even helped him with a first apartment rental.

“I am Dutch, so when I came to the U.S. I had no credit history,” Nachtegaal wrote. “Don signed the apartment lease for me and my wife so that we could rent an apartment, similarly as loving parents would have done. Don is not only the best mentor I could have ever wished for, but also a great friend for life.”

When asked the secret to his mentoring success, Sparks noted that setting a good example is important, as well as cultivating a positive group dynamic among his students, who are often diverse not only in their academic interests, but also in their cultural heritage.

“I’ve always had high standards,” says Sparks. “I expect a lot from my students, yet I also try to be a nice person. I want to be a really good scientific adviser, and also care a lot about my students as individuals. They see me working hard, too, and I feel that’s important.”

Sparks and his students meet as a group over lunch twice a month, and he meets individually with each student at least once a month. Dinners at his home are fun events that often involve the research group in preparing recipes from the home country of one of their international colleagues, from Swiss fondue to Chinese stir-fry. Such events are entertaining, educational, and help build a strong esprit de corps, Sparks says.

Also important, Sparks says, is giving students the independence to explore research questions, as well as professional opportunities to co-author papers, work on research grants, and present at conferences, which contributes to their maturity as scientists. In fact, some of his students have bypassed postdoctoral research and gone directly from graduate school into faculty positions.

“It’s been an amazing group of students,” Sparks notes. “Whatever I’ve accomplished, they’ve been a big part of.”

Article by Tracey Bryant
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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