The 161st Commencement: UD Class of 2010

June 1, 2010 under CANR News, Events

More than 22,100 attended the University of Delaware’s 161st Commencement ceremony, held Saturday, May 29, in Delaware Stadium. Featured speaker was Catherine Bertini, who has played a major role in the fight against world hunger. She served as chief executive of the United Nations World Food Programme for 10 years, and currently is a professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “You are leaving here with a first class degree from the University of Delaware,” she said. “And you are entering a world full of opportunities and a world full of needs.”

For full coverage, other articles, photo slideshows, and more, please visit the commencement website by clicking here.


Dave Frey honored at Student Leadership Awards ceremony

June 1, 2010 under CANR News

University of Delaware student leaders were recognized at the eighth annual YoUDee Awards, held Thursday evening, May 13, in the Multipurpose Rooms of the Trabant University Center.

During the gala, YoUDee Awards were presented for outstanding achievement in Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), Greek chapters and club sports.

Of special note, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources associate professor, Dave Frey, was bestowed the YoUDee Lifetime Achievement Award.

Marilyn Prime, director of student centers, said the awards recognize the commitment and dedication of student leaders and organizations that have made a positive impact on the University and the Newark community.

“”Every year so many students work very hard to provide engaging and enriching programs for their fellow students, for the entire campus and the greater community,” Prime said. “It’s wonderful to have an evening like this where we can pay tribute to their hard work and dedication and show all our UD students leaders how proud they make us every day.”

Read the full story on UDaily by clicking here.


UD Board of Trustees Approves Faculty Promotions

May 12, 2010 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Board of Trustees approved 51 faculty promotions (6 in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) at its spring meeting May 11. The appointments are effective with the 2010-11 academic year.

Four CANR faculty members were promoted to the rank of full professor with tenure: Mark Parcells, animal and food sciences; Eric Wommack, plant and soil sciences; John Bernard and Paul Eggermont, both food and resource economics.

Promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure were two CANR faculty members: Haiqiang Chen and Kalmia Kniel, both animal and food sciences

View the full story on UDaily by clicking here.


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

View on UDaily.


UD Extension Equine Program Expands Under Carissa Wickens

April 19, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Since joining the faculty of the University of Delaware in July 2009, Carissa Wickens hasn’t let the grass grow under her feet. In her dual appointment as Cooperative Extension equine specialist and assistant professor of animal science, Wickens has been expanding the UD herd, developing new undergraduate courses, implementing adult and youth education programs, and meeting with members of Delaware’s equine industry.

About the only thing Wickens hasn’t done these past eight months is to ride horses as much as she would have liked. “I keep a riding helmet in my office closet but there hasn’t been enough time during the week to get on a horse,” says Wickens. “There’s just too much going on.”

Not that she’s complaining. Wickens says that her job is a perfect fit for her interests and strengths. “I was excited to join UD because of the ability to become involved in hands-on teaching opportunities, not only with undergrads but also with youth and adults through my Extension appointment,” says Wickens. “I know what a valuable resource Extension can be for horse owners and want to assist Delawareans with their equine concerns.”               

Wickens has embraced her outreach role from her first few weeks on the job, which coincided with the state 4-H Horse Show at the Delaware State Fair. Accompanied by Susan Truehart Garey, Cooperative Extension’s livestock agent, Wickens strolled the Fair’s stalls, show rings and exercise tracks, eager to connect with horse owners and enthusiasts. 

She is currently working with the state Department of Agriculture to develop an equine educational needs assessment survey that will be conducted this summer. “I want to see what types of programs and educational resources our constituents are most interested in and learn more about the specific issues and topics they need help with,” says Wickens. “The equine industry is very important to the state and I want to offer all possible support.”    

Delaware’s equine industry, which includes race tracks, equine show and competition facilities, and breeding, training and boarding operations, is strong and continues to grow, notes Wickens. Delaware saw more than $279 million in expenditures for equine-related purposes in 2003, the most recent data available.  There are approximately 13,000 horses in the state; the majority used by recreational riders and 41 percent in racing.  

Wickens has been accepted to be a faculty advisor to the UD Extension Scholar Program and will have an Extension Scholar in place this summer to help her further develop Extension’s equine program. 

And Wickens has been just as busy in her role as assistant professor of animal science. She led in the purchase of four new horses, a quarter horse and three Arabians, to complement the three quarter horses and three Haflingers already part of UD’s herd.

She also has assisted with recent improvements to the equine teaching facilities on campus.  

This spring she is teaching Introduction to Equine Science. In the fall, she’ll be teaching Equine Management, a new capstone course that she’ll develop this summer.

“I’ve really been enjoying the Intro Equine Science course,” says Wickens. “I have a wonderful group of 18 students, including a local resident who owns race horses and wants to learn more about equine science.”    

“I served on the search committee for Carissa’s current position,” says Jan Seitz, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension. “I was impressed with Carissa at our initial meeting and even more so now that I have seen her at work. I felt sure she would hit the ground running but I had no idea how fast she would run.”  

Even though she isn’t riding as much as she would like, Wickens is at UD’s Equine Barn almost every day, whether to check in with a farrier who’s trimming a horse or connect with farm superintendent Scott Hopkins.

Wickens comes to UD from Michigan State University, where she received her Ph.D in animal behavior and welfare in 2009. The focus of her doctoral research was stereotypic behavior in horses, with an emphasis on crib-biting, and how to manage such behaviors. She resides in North East, Md., with her husband, Edward, who is a research assistant for UD’s dairy operation, and their three-year-old daughter, Eileen.   

Wickens started riding horses at the age of eight but, thus far, her daughter shows more interest in another farm animal. “Eileen loves seeing the dairy cows when she comes to visit the UD Farm,” says Wickens. “But she is becoming increasingly interested in the horses.”

Fortunately for Delaware’s equine industry, horses are very much on the mind of Carissa Wickens, as she works to improve Extension’s equine program.


April 24: Ag Day to celebrate 35 years with ground breaking of the UDairy Creamery, music, festivities

April 19, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

The 35th annual Ag Day, sponsored by the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 24.

Every year, Ag Day draws more than 3,000 guests who come to experience the wonders of agriculture and the natural world.

This year, those who attend will be able to see the college break ground on its new ice cream store front and processing facility, the UDairy Creamery, at 11:45 a.m.

Ag Day will be held, rain or shine, on the grounds of Townsend Hall at 531 South College Avenue on UD’s main campus in Newark. The event is organized by staff and students with the support of more than 80 organizations.
The money raised at Ag Day benefits student and community organizations.

Following the Ag Day tradition, there will be a variety of educational workshops and live entertainment at this year’s event.

On the entertainment stage will be acts including:
• The Deltones, one of the premier a capella groups at UD;
• Five Points, a student band with a unique blend of rock music;
• Dodging Cupid, a classic rock and roll band from the Delaware Valley featuring Thomas Ilvento, chairperson of the Department of Food and Resource Economics;
• Tater Patch, lively folk music featuring Judith Hough-Goldstein, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and
• The Common Room, a student band with reggae, rock, and acoustic styles.

In the education presentation area, guests will be able to:
• See live animals from the Brandywine Zoo;
• See innovative vegetable gardening with representatives of the Tyler Arboretum;
• Learn about money management with Patricia Barber, associate professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics;
• Hear and sing along with Zach Ladin and his nature songs;
• Participate in a wool workshop wool workshop with Lesa Griffiths, associate provost and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences; and
• Learn how to keep those pesky pests out of your garden in an eco-friendly way with UD’s Cooperative Extension.

Additionally, annual attractions include 3 tents of educational exhibits, pony rides, a petting zoo, YoUDee, face painting and UDairy Ice Cream.

Those with an interest in gardening will want to visit the 18th annual UD Botanic Gardens Plant Sale from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., located in the Fischer Greenhouse behind Townsend Hall. The sale offers a variety of perennial flowers, shrubs and trees that are sure to add flare to any lawn or garden.

Admission and parking for Ag Day are free and open to the public, with minimal charges for food. If you are interested in becoming an exhibitor or for additional information, visit the Ag Day Web site or call (302) 831-2508.


UD researcher battles rice blast disease to protect food supply

March 3, 2010 under CANR News

A University of Delaware scientist is waging an important battle to help protect a major resource in the world’s food supply from a devastating fungal disease known as rice blast.  Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, said rice blast disease affects foods that many developing countries depend on, such as rice, as well as other members of the grass family including rye, wheat and barley.

Read the full story here on UDaily.


Conservationists model smart shopping, save big

February 3, 2010 under CANR News

If there was ever a time for conservationists to shop smart, this is it. Across America, states confront budget shortfalls — a grim cycle of cuts, followed by more cuts that the Pew Center on States refers to as “fiscal crisis.” Tough choices confront land conservationists, who shop the American landscape with big ambitions but slim wallets.

That’s why an emerging economics tool is so timely. Researchers at the University of Delaware and The Conservation Fund have designed a computer based decision making tool that is helping conservationists get more bang for their buck — by evaluating potential conservation projects for best dollar value. With this new tool, government leaders can comparison-shop projects like never before.

“We all want the most bang for our buck, and conservation is no different,” says Will Allen, director of strategic conservation at The Conservation Fund, a leading environmental nonprofit. “Are you spending too much money on expensive projects — what some call budget sponges — or are you getting real value? With public budgets so tight, government officials must be able to justify how they’re spending these dollars wisely.”

Until now, conservation organizations have chosen which lands to conserve based primarily on land benefits. Their goal is to save high-priority land that’s valued for agriculture, perhaps, or open space and wildlife habitat. But Baltimore County, Md., has a better way, using optimization techniques developed by UD’s Kent Messer, an economist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Allen.

According to Messer, optimization strategy, first used by the military during World War II, is gaining new ground in the conservation world. He says it would have once taken a supercomputer to run these calculations. But thanks to evolving technology, people can now run optimization analysis quickly for fields like conservation, which has largely operated more on a wish-list level.

Messer compares buying land to buying wine — choosing well means recognizing good value when you see it.

Messer and Allen have developed and applied a computer model to “optimize” conservation decisions. The model turns raw data about conservation decisions — project costs, benefits (scored numerically), budget constraints — into a user-friendly spreadsheet yielding comparison shopping conclusions.

Using the model, for example, a government agency can quickly compare the relative value of all possible projects — and then make, and justify, an informed choice.

The Baltimore County Agricultural Land Preservation Program in Maryland has one of the nation’s most well-established farmland preservation efforts. Every year since 2007, Baltimore County has tapped an optimization model to choose which agricultural lands to save with impressive results.

Over the past three years, Baltimore County staff estimate that optimization has helped the county protect an additional 680 acres of high-quality agricultural land at a cost savings of roughly $5.4 million compared to the class conservation decisions tools. This amounts to a return on investment of more than 60 to 1. In other words, for every dollar that Baltimore County spent using its optimization model, it has gained more than $60 in conservation benefits.

“This work is especially important in these times of constrained budgets. Making our money go as far as possible is a good thing,” says Michael McGrath, chief of planning for the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA). Messer used data provided by the DDA for some of his initial research related to optimization. He and McGrath continue to look for ways that UD and DDA can use these techniques in Delaware.

McGrath says, “Dr. Messer’s current work in Baltimore County provides important substantiation of his techniques in optimization. These techniques have applicability in Delaware and all across the U.S. in optimizing farmland preservation easement negotiations.”

Read the article here on UDaily.


Native Delaware: Owl watchers can sometimes spot 8 species in state

January 25, 2010 under CANR News

We think of birds breeding in springtime, and while that’s prime time for songbirds and most other species, for owls, winter is the time to start breeding, says Chris Williams, a University of Delaware assistant professor of wildlife ecology. Read the full story at the News Journal.


Food safety training offered to potential on-farm food entrepreneurs

January 14, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Dr. Sue Snider, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, will provide food safety training for potential on-farm food entrepreneurs during a two-session, eight hour training that will be held at the Delaware Department of Agriculture on the following dates:

February 11, 2010 February 18, 2010
6:00 P.M. – 10:00 P.M. 6:00 P.M. – 10:00 P.M.

Participants must complete eight hours of training and pass a written test on the materials presented in order to receive a certificate.

As a result of training in food safety, participants will be able to: Identify potentially and non-potentially hazardous foods, Appreciate foodborne pathogens and understand ways to control them, Apply the basic principles to reduce the risk of foodborne illness Evaluate your plan for controlling potential microbial problems in your operation, and Understand requirements of the new regulations for farm produced food items.

In January 2006, Delaware’s new regulations governing “On-Farm Home Processing of Non-Potentially Hazardous Foods” were adopted. Farmers who wish to process non-potentially hazardous foods in their on-farm home kitchens for sale to the public at farmers’ markets, on-farm markets, or roadside stands must abide by these regulations.

These regulations established standards of practice for on-farm home food processing operations that safeguard public health and provide consumers with food that is safe, unadulterated, and honestly presented.

The regulations provide definitions, define operator qualifications, and establish operation food safety and physical facility requirements. Non-potentially hazardous foods include: Baked breads, cakes, muffins, or cookies with a water activity of .85 or less; Candy (non-chocolate); Containerized fruit preparations consisting of jellies, jams, preserves, marmalades, and fruit butters with an equilibrated pH of 4.6 or less or a water activity of 0.85 or less; Fruit pies with an equilibrated pH of 4.6 or less; Herbs in vinegar with an equilibrated pH of 4.6 or less; Honey and herb mixtures; Dried fruit and vegetables; Spices or herbs Maple syrup and sorghum Snack items such as popcorn, caramel corn, and peanut brittle Roasted nuts.

Under the regulations, potential on-farm food entrepreneurs will be required to have eight hours of food safety training and have their farm kitchens inspected.

Copies of these regulations and applications are available on the Delaware Department of Agriculture website.

On-farm kitchens will be inspected by appointment.

For more information, to register for the training, or to receive a copy of the regulations, please call or e-mail Sheree Nichols at the Delaware Department of Agriculture: Phone: (800) 282-8685 (DE only) or (302) 698-4521