UD students create predictive models for Capital One competition

January 23, 2014 under CANR News

UD interdisciplinary team placed as finalists in a Capital One competitionAn interdisciplinary team from the University of Delaware was one of six finalists from universities across America selected to compete in the Capital One Modeling Competition held in the financial corporation’s headquarters in McLean, Va.

The final six teams were chosen from a field of 33 universities and, in addition to UD, included Ohio State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which fielded two teams, Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University.

The five-member UD team consisted of graduate students from three different colleges — Ruizhi Xie, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics who is also a master’s degree student in statistics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and received a master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from CANR; Zhiqi Zhang, a master’s degree student in CANR; Yue Tan and Yan Hu, both doctoral students in the Lerner College; and Du Zhang, a doctoral student in the Lerner College and a master’s degree student in the College of Engineering.

The competition required the team to use creativity and statistical problem solving skills to develop an analytic tool to uncover insights about individuals’ spending patterns. The goal was to predict how those individuals would spend at certain merchants and to develop a strategy for those merchants to assign discounts to customers who use their Capital One cards at their places of business.

Xie explained that the group was given a large amount of real transactional data of customers from 3,000 different merchants. The data included information such as the merchant ID, the date of the transaction, the amount and whether the purchase was made on-line or in the store.

From that data, Xie said the team “basically applied the optimization strategy and the modeling strategy to predict the likelihood of the future expenditures for every customer of certain merchants.”

Zhang said that she enjoyed how Capital One allowed the team to use real data to solve the problem for the competition. “Most of the time, the data from the bank is confidential. They don’t want to provide the data to personnel outside the company but because we were solving a real problem for them, they provided us with the real data.”

Xie said that the group worked on the project for about two months and once they made it to the finals, they spent two sleepless nights preparing for the project’s final presentation to the bank executives.

Zhang said the interdisciplinary aspect of the team helped them greatly as the members could each tackle individual problems on their own and also within the group during meetings, which were held twice a week. “It was very efficient working in this team. Before the meeting, everyone prepared his or her own part for the meeting and during the meeting we could exchange ideas,” Zhang said. “When we talked about our ideas, sometimes we could find that something might be wrong and the other people could give us feedback, and that was great.”

Tan said he had two favorite parts of the competition — the teamwork aspect and the fact that they got to use the real world data. “I enjoyed dealing with the real banking data. If you go into the industry, this is the kind of data you will experience every day. And the other thing was we had very good team work and I enjoyed that part, too.”

The team was introduced to the competition and advised by Titus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC). Zhang said that working with Awokuse was beneficial because he has “a real direct connection to the industry field so we could get this opportunity. The manager of this project sent the invitation directly to him so we could take part in this competition.”

Xie, who has been advised by Awokuse since 2009, said he has helped her with studies and research, especially “how to identify research problems and how to tackle them using different methodologies to try and reach the conclusions. I’m very grateful to him.”

Awokuse said he thought this opportunity was a fantastic one for the students. “I think overall it was a very good experience for our students because not only did they work with data based on a complex real world problem that has potential to help a real company, they also got to interact with people in the industry.”

Awokuse continued, saying that the people at Capital One were very impressed with the students’ presentation. “They liked the models that the students developed. Their models were the best in terms of accuracy of prediction and I was very impressed with them. They did excellent work.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Titus Awokuse Accepted for the APLU national Food Systems Leadership Institute

October 25, 2013 under CANR News

Titus Awokuse Accepted for the APLU national Food Systems Leadership InstituteTitus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), was accepted for the Fall 2013 Food Systems Leadership Institute (FSLI), an executive leadership development program for academia, industry, and government. The FSLI enhances personal and professional development by emphasizing leadership competencies, skills for organizational change, and a broad, interdisciplinary perspective of food systems. The FSLI experience prepares scholars for upper-level leadership roles in food system programs, and to assume broader leadership responsibilities within their organizations.

During the FSLI program, scholars work with expert instructors, leadership development coaches, and an upper level mentor to help increase their leadership abilities. They meet with leaders of universities, political leaders, industry leaders and others who have advanced to the highest levels of leadership. Leadership theory is combined with practical experience, often in the context of food systems and higher education.

The FSLI is a two year program. Year one includes intensive executive education-style residential learning sessions at three university locations. Scholars perform assessments to increase their self awareness of their leadership style, and the results are used to develop and implement a personal development plan, prepared with the assistance of a professional coach. Interactive distance learning is used between residential sessions. During year two participants work, applying what they have learned, to develop and carry out an individual leadership project.

Additional information is available at www.fsli.org.

FSLI is dedicated to advancing and strengthening food systems by preparing a set of new leaders with the skills and knowledge necessary to invent and reinvent the food systems of the future. It is a program of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A-P-L-U), with the initial funding provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. North Carolina State University is the host site with The Ohio State University and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo being residential sites responsible for implementation of the program.

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UD awarded $1.5 million USDA grant to study lima beans

January 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Researchers from UD study lima beansDelaware is currently the number two producer of lima beans in the United States, second only to California and with the possibility of becoming number one in the future.

Because of this, it is imperative to study the many aspects of various diseases affecting the crop in Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Such work requires a collaborative effort and a team has been assembled thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The grant awarded to the University of Delaware includes researchers from UD, Delaware State University, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) who will begin studying the various effects of plant disease on lima beans in the First State.

The many aspects of this grant will include studies that are being conducted for the first time in history.

There are six components to the grant, each with various researchers studying different parts of the problem. They are conducting research on downy mildew, pod blight, white mold, root knot nematodes and germplasm resources and developing an economic analysis.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal-like disease of the lima bean caused by Phytophthora phaseoliand the goal of the research team is to improve disease forecasting and look at genetic diversity of the population of the pathogen. In this way, researchers will be able to inform farmers of their risk of occurrence of the disease and have a better understanding of the genetics of the pathogen.

Tom Evans and Nicole Donofrio, professors of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Nancy Gregory, plant diagnostician for UD, will work together on this part of the project.

Pod blight

Pod blight is caused by the pathogen known as P. capsici and Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, will work on this part of the study with Evans and Gregory.

Unlike downy mildew, which is a disease that generally affects only lima beans, P. capsicihas a very wide host range. Once it strikes a particular crop, it is very difficult to get rid of, with pathogen’s spores lasting up to 10 years in the soil. Because of this, pod blight is an increasing problem for growers. The disease occurs in low-lying areas of fields and is more frequent in wet years. Therefore, this part of the project has three goals: to look for a fungicide to deal with the disease, to monitor the disease, and to look for alternative or organic non-pesticide driven strategies for control.

The study is also looking at risk management strategies, including information for growers in the state about the best time to spray for disease control and consideration of alternate control strategies.

Gregory, who diagnoses field samples collected by the research team and growers, maintains cultures of the pathogens and produces  the inoculum for the studies, said that the researchers are eager to “learn more about the epidemiology and the spread of pod blight and downy mildew, that will enable us to do a little bit better job on forecasting.”

She also noted how great is to have so many expert researchers involved, noting that she is looking forward to making significant progress on problems that have plagued the region for years. “To pull together a strong team of researchers like this and many new graduate students is really going to pull a lot of this research together and we’ll really come up with some great results.”

White mold

Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD and a Cooperative Extension specialist with both UD and the University of Maryland, is leading research on alternative ways to control white mold, another disease that is very difficult to eliminate.

With an even broader host range than P. capsici, and an even longer life — persisting in soils for 20-30 years — finding out as much about the disease as possible, as well as possible ways to control it, is imperative.

Everts will look not just at lima beans but other crops, as well, as she tests biological control strategies and alternative control strategies for dealing with the white mold.

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Department of Food and Resource Economics name change

June 20, 2012 under CANR News

The Department of Food and Resource Economics (FREC) will change its name to the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) effective July 1.

Titus Awokuse, chair of APEC, said that the name change was necessary in order to fully encapsulate the department’s wide range of academic programs and scholarly activites, as well as to inform the University of Delaware community which department housed the statistics program. Awokuse also said that the name change follows a national trend showing “movement toward the name ‘applied economics’ because it better captures the comprehensive nature of economics research we do that covers every aspect of the complexities of the  food and fiber industry,  which includes agricultural production issues, local and multinational agribusiness marketing, international trade, and environmental and natural resource policies.”

Continuing, Awokuse said, “I believe the new name will better position our department in the recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students nationally and internationally and help draw more attention to the innovative and multidisciplinary research conduced by our faculty in applied economics and statistics.”

 

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Joshua Duke Elected President of NAREA

May 25, 2012 under CANR News

Joshua M. Duke, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, has been elected president for the Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA), a group of 250 agricultural and resource economists focused on promoting education and research on economic and social problems related to the environment, natural resource use, agricultural production, and economic development.

Duke has held every major position within the organization, from being an elected member of the executive board, to serving as co-editor with Titus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics, of the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, the official publication of the NAREA. Duke also served as workshop organizer and on the local arrangements committee for the annual meeting. He received the distinguished member award from the group in 2010, only the third UD recipient after Conrado M. Gempesaw II, former dean of the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, and Steve Hastings, professor and associate chair in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

Duke said that he is honored to be elected president and is incredibly excited for the opportunity to head such a great organization. “My career benefited tremendously from the collegiality, sharing of research, and networking opportunities afforded by NAREA,” said Duke. “One of my goals as president will be to recruit the next group of leaders to the organization.” He will begin his 3-year term in June and he said that he is most looking forward to organizing the program for the 2013 annual meeting. “It’s a great opportunity to shape an annual meeting by categorizing selected-paper panels and inviting renowned experts to speak,” said Duke.

Awokuse said of Duke being named president, “I’m excited about the election of Joshua Duke as the next president-elect of NAREA.  This is a great honor for Josh and it is a culmination of his many years of faithful service to NAREA in various roles. As a friend and colleague for over a decade, I can attest to Josh’s passion for professional excellence and commitment to a life of service to others.  As leader, he will lead the organization to greater heights.”

Duke will be the 4th faculty member to serve as president for the NAREA from the University of Delaware. Past presidents include Gempesaw, Gerald Cole, emeritus professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, and Hastings.

There are other strong ties between the NAREA and the University of Delaware as well, as Awokuse, John Bernard, Tom Ilvento, professors of food and resource economics, and Kent Messer, associate professor of food and resource economics, are also involved in the organization.

For more information about NAREA, visit their website.

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UFLA’s Sugano speaks to UD community about Brazilian agriculture

March 19, 2012 under CANR News

Continuing a strong partnership with the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) in Brazil, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Department of Food and Resource Economics hosted a special guest speaker last week.

Joel Sugano, a UFLA professor, gave a talk in Townsend Hall on Thursday, March 15, focusing on “Developing Business in Brazil through Innovation: The Case of Brazilian Business Platform in Ethanol, Coffee and Seed Industries.”

Sugano discussed problems that face global agriculture as population and affluence increases. As affluence rises, Sugano noted that there will be more people looking to buy more products and he asked the question, “Can you say to consumers, ‘You cannot consume?’ To tell someone, ‘You cannot buy a new car,’ that’s impossible.”

Sugano said that a rising world population has increased the need for food and renewable energies, and countries are being faced with a tough decision regarding whether to use their land for fuel or for food.

Sugano noted that in 2000, 1 percent of the world’s grain consumption was used for biofuels, as opposed to 2010 when that number jumped up to 6 percent.

He used Brazil as an example of this, noting that land that was once allocated for growing food has now been used to grow sugar cane in order to meet the world’s growing ethanol demands.

Sugano also noted that Brazil will play a key role in the global food crisis, as the nation is among the leading global exporters of goods such as coffee, orange juice, poultry and sugar cane.

Although there could be cause for alarm due to the potential gap in the world’s growing population and scarcer and more expensive food products, Sugano said that there is reason to be optimistic. He said that the world’s food crisis presents great challenges but also great opportunities for new innovations in agricultural business, which could help mitigate higher global food demand.

Time at UD

This is the second time that Sugano has visited UD. His first visit came in fall 2010 and he said he has fond memories from his time at UD.

Sugano also said he believes the partnership between UD and UFLA “is a door that will open to new possibilities to research, business, the exchange of knowledge and the exchange of ideas.”

Continuing, Sugano said, “the most important research is knowledge and the knowledge can come from any part of the world. If we build such a platform that we can exchange knowledge through this kind of collaboration between universities, we can create the platform to exchange ideas. That is more important than goods and so forth. Without this collaboration, I never would have been able to meet Titus (Awokuse) or other faculty here to exchange ideas and to show what we are doing and then to see what is going on here.”

Sugano said the experience for UD students to study at UFLA and vice versa is one that will benefit both universities, as well. “The important thing about study abroad is that it’s not only about knowledge but it’s about the experience itself. This kind of experience will last for their entire life.”

As the need to come up with solutions on a global basis increases, so too does the importance of studying abroad, according to Sugano. “The effects of one change in one thing will be sensed in another totally different area of the world because of the relationship that has been created through the Internet and through communication.”

To solve global problems, Sugano said, “we need expertise and knowledge and this will be done and exchanged through several different points of view. Not only in one country, but in another country that has another perspective, I think that will be the next way to solve problems.”

While at UD, Sugano also gave guest lectures in two undergraduate classes and visited with other faculty and state officials. He met with David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships; Matt Robinson, director of UD’s Institute for Global Studies; and David Mathe, deputy director of international trade and development for the state of Delaware.

About the partnership between UD and UFLA

In 2011, CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program (USDA-NIFA-ISE) to continue on a three-year partnership with UFLA.

The hope of this partnership is to establish both long-standing academic programs and research partnerships, with both institutions helping each other in those areas in which their research overlaps.

Ranked fourth overall among universities in Brazil in a recent poll, UFLA is equipped with state of the art facilities, 160 laboratories and two experimental farms.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Christy Mannering

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Awokuse named chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics

September 1, 2011 under CANR News

Titus Awokuse, professor of food and resource economics and professor of economics, has been named chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics (FREC) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources effective Sept. 1. As chair, Awokuse will have administrative oversight for research and teaching activities of the faculty, staff, and students and have responsibility for leading department-wide initiatives and day-to-day management of the department’s academic programs and personnel affairs.

Awokuse will succeed Thomas Ilvento, professor of food and resource economics, and he noted that Ilvento has been a great help to him as he prepares for his new role.

“The outgoing chair, Thomas Ilvento, has been extremely helpful in showing me the ropes and helping to achieve a smooth transition. He has been incredible,” Awokuse said. He also mentioned Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, as being a great help in getting him prepared to chair the department.

Robin Morgan, dean of CANR, said of the appointment, “Titus Awokuse is an exceptionally talented scholar and teacher, and UD is very fortunate that he will lead the Food and Resource Economics Department going forward. Under Awokuse’s leadership, I look forward to seeing the department’s bold plans and bright future unfold.”

After earning a bachelor of science degree in economics from Berea College, Awokuse went on to get his master’s in economics from Murray State University and his doctorate in agricultural and applied economics from Texas A & M University.

Awokuse joined the department in August 2000, and he said that he looks forward to the challenge of being chair of FREC and stressed that he hopes the position will allow him to collaborate with his fellow departmental colleagues and staff as FREC continues to move in a positive direction.

“My philosophy is that being the chair of a department is not like being the leader of a business venture. This is more of a group effort. The chair should be a visionary and facilitator who works collaboratively with others to achieve set goals and objectives of the unit. So it should not be just the chair doing all the work. An effective leader must respect and genuinely care for people’s needs, be an active listener, set clear goals and priorities, and share the load by delegating responsibilities to others. It’s basically trying to get the group to work more cohesively so everybody has a role to play.”

Awokuse said that one of his goals as department chair is to make FREC more competitive in terms of research, teaching and outreach on both a national and international level. “I want us to have stronger visibility nationally and internationally. We have some excellent faculty doing great work and we need to showcase that more, we want to continue to attract strong students for both our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

He also wants to increase FREC’s interactions and partnerships with other departments and colleges within the University. “We have worked really well with other departments on campus, and we want to strengthen those linkages and continue to do that.”

Another subject that Awokuse feels passionate about is leading by example. He hopes to remain active in research even with his new responsibilities as department chair.

“Although the administrative demands of being chair will be time consuming, I still intend to carve out quality time to engage in my research work and mentoring graduate students.”

Awokuse conducts empirical research on policy issues related to the economics of international trade and investment, economic growth and international development, agricultural markets and food security. He recently served as the editor, with Joshua M. Duke, for a national peer-reviewed journal, Agricultural and Resource Economics Review. He also co-authored a project report titled “The Impact of Agriculture on Delaware’s Economy,” with Thomas Ilvento and Zachary Johnston, which cited Delaware’s agricultural economic impact to be roughly $8 billion, much higher than the previously reported figure of $1 billion.

Awokuse said that he is humbled by the opportunity to chair the department.

“I thank Dean Robin Morgan for providing me with the opportunity to serve and I’m looking forward to working with the faculty and students and taking the Department of Food and Resource Economics to the next stage of its growth and development.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Delaware agriculture is an $8 billion industry, according to new UD study

March 24, 2011 under CANR News

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware, according to a recent study published by the Department of Food and Resource Economics in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The study — conducted by UD faculty members Titus Awokuse and Tom Ilvento, with help from graduate student Zachary Johnston — used input-output analysis, taking into account the market value of products sold from on-farm production, revenue from processing and manufacturing of agricultural products, and inter-industry linkages to determine the value added to the economy.

A study of this magnitude had not been conducted since the early 1980s. According to the authors, this new report is much more accurate in its calculations for the true impact of agriculture in Delaware.

Historically, $1.1 billion has been the most commonly cited number for the impact of agriculture in Delaware. “But this is the total market value of agricultural products sold at the farm level, just a small piece of the picture,” according to Awokuse, associate professor and director of graduate studies for food and resource economics.

The new report shows that the processing of farm products adds a previously unaccounted for $3.8 billion. Forestry production and processing add an additional $831 million, with ag-related services (i.e. crop dusting, ditch digging) adding $28 million.

The research project was commissioned by Robin Morgan, dean of the college. “This study was needed because the impact of agriculture in Delaware is much larger than farm receipts and (the impact) should account for processing of agricultural products. Agriculture is a large and vital part of Delaware’s economy, and our understanding of its impact needs to be as accurate as possible,” says Morgan.

In addition to the total industry impact, the report provides separate results by county and for several key agricultural commodities: poultry, dairy, fruits and vegetables, corn, soybeans, wheat, greenhouse, nursery and horticultural products.

With Delaware’s long history of poultry production, it was no surprise to the authors that the majority of the economic value of agriculture comes from the production and processing of poultry products, with an industry output of $3.2 billion and over 13,000 jobs.

The report also provides a summary of statistics relative to the changing face of agriculture in Delaware, noting there are fewer farms in Delaware, but the size and productivity of farming operations has increased over time.

Awokuse notes that this trend is in large part because “both technological and biological innovations within agriculture now allow a single operator to be more productive and maintain a larger operation, hence the consolidation of farms across the state.”

And, according to the authors, the state of Delaware agriculture will continue to change.

“Farmers are being asked to produce more on less and less acreage and they turn to science and technology to make that happen. Agriculture is a modern, efficient, technologically advanced industry, even if the image is still rooted in a 19th century image of farming,” says Ilvento, professor and chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics. “Changing that image, assisting farmers to find modern solutions, and promoting the importance of agriculture — that’s what our college is all about.”

A full version of the report can be viewed online.

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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