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CALS Faculty, Staff Honored At Gamma Sigma Delta Awards Banquet

A number of faculty and staff members of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences were honored at the Gamma Sigma Delta awards banquet, April 17 at the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

N.J. Benevenga
Spitze Land Grant Faculty Award

During his 35 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, N.J. Benevenga has compiled an outstanding record of research, teaching, and service to science and humanity. On April 17, Benevenga will receive the Spitze Land Grant Faculty Award for Excellence, recognizing his contributions to human and animal health and nutrition, as well as his service as an educator and advisor.

Benevenga has developed an internationally recognized research program in amino acid metabolism. He is a world authority on sulfur amino acid metabolism, and his work resulted in the most effective treatment yet developed for homocystinuria, an inherited metabolic disorder.

His current collaboration with UW-Madison pediatrician Frank Greer on protein and energy metabolism of low birthweight piglets promises to produce nutritional interventions that will benefit premature infants. The researchers are also using the piglet model to study ways to alleviate the negative effects of dexamethasone, a hormone that”s used to treat respiratory distress syndrome in premature infants.

He has developed mathematical models used by pork producers to determine when adding more amino acids to swine diets hits the point of diminishing returns, thus reducing feed costs. His early work on feeding liquid whey alerted pork producers to an economical feed ingredient, while also finding a use for a byproduct from cheese manufacturing that was spread on the land as fertilizer and sometimes contaminated waterways.

Benevenga has published hundreds of journal articles and abstracts, and trained 43 graduate students, many of whom are now leaders in industry and academia. Colleagues point out that while Benevenga”s research has had significant impacts on human health and livestock production, he has often said that he considers his most valued “outreach products” to be the students he has mentored.

Benevenga has taught a variety of courses in nutritional sciences and animal sciences. His students don”t expect to be coddled, and they aren”t — but they complete his classes armed with the ability to recognize problems and the intellectual tools to solve those problems. His intensity in the classroom has earned him a somewhat fearsome reputation, along with a great deal of respect.

For example: since 1968 Benevenga has taught the capstone Senior Seminar for Animal Sciences students, each of whom develop and present an in-depth presentation to a critical audience. Students dread the course beforehand; after completion, they rate it as one of the best courses of their undergraduate careers.

A former student explains it best: “Before entering his class, a friend told me that he was quite intimidating and was very critical of people who didn”t pay enough attention to detail. I found this to be the case. However, after a few weeks, I began to see him in a different way.

“Benevenga always had his door open and was willing to help me achieve a high level of excellence. He wants his students to experience what it will be like to be in tough situations that make them have to think on their feet. Because of his high expectations, I feel that I am more prepared to be put in real job situations.”

Benevenga has chaired the CALS Honors Degree and Undergraduate Research Program Committee since 1993. In the program, freshmen participate directly in research through special programs or work experiences. Sophomores work on their own research project, closely supervised by a faculty member. Juniors participate in the Junior Honors Seminar and prepare a research proposal, and seniors conduct honors thesis research, write a thesis and present their results at the College”s spring research forum.

He routinely involves undergraduates in his own laboratory research. One of Benevenga”s fundamental philosophies is to conduct research projects that train students, not to simply use students to accomplish his research objectives. “He conducts and evaluates his research based on the highest possible professional standard,” a former student noted. “In the process, he effectively works with the students involved in the research to ensure that they understand and embrace those standards of excellence.”

“Ben Benevenga has exemplified the Land Grant philosophy throughout his distinguished career,” says colleague Tom Crenshaw. “While excelling in research and teaching, Ben has aggressively embellished the Wisconsin Idea as a mode of operation, and succeeded in extra efforts to reach out and serve state constituents and the general public.”

Benevenga joined the CALS faculty in 1966, and holds appointments in the departments of Animal Sciences and Nutritional Sciences.

Irwin Goldman
Jung Excellence in Teaching Award

What really impresses Irwin Goldman”s fellow professors and students, more than his list of awards and honors earned during his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the innovation, enthusiasm, and creativity he brings to teaching. These qualities earned him this year”s Jung Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“Over the past decade, Professor Goldman has developed an inspirational innovative approach to teaching that has resulted in excellent evaluations from students as well as colleagues,” says Larry Binning, Department of Horticulture chair.

One of Goldman”s students wrote in a course evaluation, “Irwin is the best instructor I have had at this university. Period.”

Another wrote, “I appreciated Irwin”s enthusiasm, presentation, and thought-provoking questions.”

Goldman has been a professor in the College”s Department of Horticulture since 1992. He teaches classes on the principles and techniques of plant breeding, and a class on world vegetables.

Goldman demonstrated his innovative teaching approach when he and plant pathologist Paul Williams developed one of the first hands-on in-class plant breeding experiments. The experiment is designed to teach students about selection by demonstrating the process within a 15-week semester using Wisconsin Fast plants.

Goldman earned the American Society for Horticultural Science”s Best Paper of 1999 Award in the education category for his article, “Teaching Recurrent Selection in the Classroom with Wisconsin Fast Plants.”

Besides improving courses for UW-Madison students, Goldman helped develop one of the first national interdisciplinary courses on functional foods. The course, Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables to Improve Human Health, is supported by a USDA challenge grant, and exemplifies Goldman”s drive to teach beyond the classroom as well as within it.

Goldman also serves as an instructor for the Salad Bowl, a course offered to elementary school teachers in the state as part of the Wisconsin Teacher Enhancement Program.

Along with his teaching and advising duties on campus, and his outreach activities, Goldman has given 48 invited research presentations during the last nine years, including international conferences in Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, China, and the United States.

Goldman”s colleagues recognized his contributions to teaching by electing him to the university”s Teaching Academy in 1999. The Academy serves as a forum and advisory board for promoting teaching activities on campus.

“With the perspective of an individual that has been immersed in undergraduate instruction on the UW-Madison campus for more than three decades, I view Irwin as one of the College”s most talented and dedicated instructors,” says McCown. “His goals are to inspire not only an appreciation for the basic principles under discussion, but also a passion for the wonder and complexity of biology.”

Wolfgang Hoffmann
Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Service

Wolfgang Hoffmann, a photographer, teacher and filmmaker, will receive the first CALS Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Service.

Working with CALS scientists and educators, Hoffmann has made photographs and films that have reached millions of people in Wisconsin and throughout the world.

Over the past 30 years Hoffmann has created a vast image library. His award-winning photographs illuminate the College”s research, teaching and outreach efforts. In addition to his photography duties, he teaches the only photojournalism course offered at the UW-Madison.

He has produced and directed 20 film projects (and filmed and edited many more) on topics ranging from resource management and environmental quality to farm health and safety, meat quality, community development, and international issues.

Hoffmann joined the Department of Agricultural Journalism in 1971, earning two degrees while working as a filmmaker. He has received more than 40 awards for his photography, mostly from Agricultural Communicators in Education (an international professional organization), along with 20 awards in national and international film-making competitions.

“Wolfgang epitomizes what service and outreach is about in a land-grant university such as ours,” says department chair Tom Schomisch. “Connecting research-based knowledge to students and to many client groups across the state is a role that Wolfgang has performed throughout his professional career at UW-Madison. Most important, he has performed that role with exceptional skill and dedication.”

Jiming Jiang
2001 Pound Research Award

Jiming Jiang is developing new genetic methods that will give scientists new control over the plants of the future. His contributions to plant cytogenetics have earned him the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences 2001 Pound Research Award.

A geneticist who directs the Wisconsin potato breeding program, Jiang studies how genetic information is organized in plants. His research on centromeres and DNA mapping in potatoes and several model plants could change the way scientists think about improving crops.

Scientists have developed several methods for improving plants by moving genes that code for desirable traits into them. The list of methods may soon expand to include synthetic chromosomes.

Using artificial chromosomes, plant breeders may soon be able to move genes into plants that are more complex than the genes they can currently introduce. Jiang believes that adding genes on an artificial chromosome is less likely to alter the expression of genes already in the plants than adding genes to a plant”s existing chromosomes.

“These artificial chromosomes can hold a lot of DNA,” Jiang says. “That will allow scientists to move large, complex genes or several genes all at once.”

An artificial chromosome must be perfectly designed before a plant cell will accept it and pass it on as it grows and divides. Therefore, researchers needed to understand the basic structural features which define natural chromosomes in plants.

For scientists, one of the most difficult features of chromosomes has been the centromere. A specialized region of DNA found in all plant chromosomes, centromeres play a critical role in cell division. Jiang”s pioneering research on plant centromeres will help scientists clone a working plant centromere and eventually make artificial plant chromosomes.

To identify genes and create artificial chromosomes, researchers also need to determine the physical location of certain regions of DNA within the larger chromosome. Jiang has been instrumental in developing new methods of mapping DNA.

Previous methods for determining where a region of DNA was located along a chromosome were useful when the region of interest was small, but laborious and time-consuming for larger regions.

Jiang has simplified this task by applying a new technique, known as fluorescence in situ hybridization. With this method, DNA can be visualized under a microscope. He uses special antibodies that will bind to a specific DNA sequence and cause it to glow. Researchers can then actually measure its location, which will be very useful in cloning a gene.

Jiang”s research, which promises new advances in agriculture, complements his work with Wisconsin”s potato industry.

Jiang has been recognized for his work on a national level by the Crop Society of America, which awarded him the prestigious Young Crop Scientist Award last year. The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association also honored him by presenting Jiang with its 2000 Researcher of the Year Award.

These awards acknowledge not only Jiang”s significant research contributions, but also dramatic improvements in the Wisconsin potato breeding program under his direction. Jiang has improved and expanded the program, which more than doubled the number of potato lines that are produced and evaluated each year.

An important goal of Jiang”s is to develop a strong working relationship between researchers and the potato industry. He has been active in the Wisconsin potato growers” community, attending meetings and encouraging growers to participate in trials of new selections from the breeding program.

Robin Kurtz
Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Leadership

The Bacteriology department”s undergraduate instructional laboratories are among the best on campus. Robin Kurtz, winner of the first CALS Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Leadership, has played a major role in helping the labs achieve and maintain that reputation.

Working with a team of academic staff instructors, Kurtz continuously monitors and updates the curriculum for all Bacteriology lab courses, and helped to procure several instructional lab modernization grants for the department. She helped develop and implement the department capstone experience, and initiated an undergraduate grant award to enhance the capstone experience.

Kurtz teaches labs in microbial physiology and microbial diversity, and participates in the introductory lab for Bacteriology majors. She also advises 35 to 40 Bacteriology majors each year.

Under Kurtz”s direction, the Bacteriology department”s summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program has flourished, becoming one of the most successful programs in the country. Kurtz has been asked to coordinate other summer research opportunity programs on campus, and her program has served as a template for the larger Summer Research program at the UW-Madison. She serves on the National Science Foundation panel that reviews grants for such programs nationwide.

Kurtz joined the department in 1980 as a research assistant while working on her doctorate, and was named a faculty associate in 1990.

“Robin is an excellent example of an academic staff member who has assumed, on her own initiative, a leadership role in maintaining and enhancing the academic excellence of her home department,” said department chair Glenn Chambliss. “It is hard to imagine a more dedicated employee, nor a more deserving recipient of an Excellence in Leadership award.”

Patricia McManus
Pound Extension Award

“Investigating problems in the field is the most interesting part of my job,” says Patricia McManus, an Extension fruit pathologist. “Listening to clientele and observing their situations firsthand is a high priority because growers” needs steer my extension program and inspire new research.”

McManus”s approach exemplifies the Wisconsin Idea. For her success in implementing it, she has received the Pound Extension Award for 2001 from the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Working as part of team with horticulturist Teryl Roper and entomologist Dan Mahr, McManus delivers programs focused on profitable and sustainable fruit production. Her information helps growers manage disease problems in an economically and environmentally sound manner.

McManus works with agents, crop consultants, industry researchers and agrichemical field people. But for difficult problems, she prefers one-on-one contact with growers. She visits between 50 and 60 farms a year. There, she sees the problems firsthand, collects samples, and – based on her laboratory analyses – follows up with calls or letters to growers.

Growers see McManus as a friend dedicated to their needs, and a scientist whose extension programs help them in the short term and whose research addresses long-term issues.

McManus is particularly concerned about managing disease-causing bacteria and fungi in ways that minimize the chance that they will become resistant to pesticides. Each Wisconsin fruit crop has at least one disease that may become resistant to pesticides used to control it, she says.

“We seek ways to decrease growers” dependence on pesticides and delay the development of resistance in plant pathogens,” McManus says. For example, she studies biological control and cultural practices that growers might use to minimize pesticide use.

Yet McManus knows that pesticides will be needed and must remain effective until more sustainable pest control methods become practical and profitable. Therefore, she helps screen and test more environmentally friendly chemicals so growers have effective and safe pesticides when no other options are available.

McManus spends most of her time on diseases of cranberry although she also works on apple, strawberry, tart cherry and raspberry. Wisconsin cranberry producers lead the nation. The crop has a market value of $145 million and faces problems with diseases such as cottonball, in which a single fungus attacks the berries.

Based on her research, McManus showed that growers could manage the cottonball fungus with two rather than four pesticide sprays. Her educational efforts resulted in growers changing when and how often they applied fungicides. This reduced their production costs and the amount of pesticides in the environment. It also reduced the risk that the fungus would evolve resistance to the fungicide.

With cranberry prices at historically low levels, growers are looking for ways to save money on crop inputs but are concerned that reducing sprays might result in future disease problems. The research-based information McManus provides allows them to make informed decisions.

Lately McManus has been increasing her emphasis on identifying diseases. She is training growers to identify symptoms truly caused by diseases and helping them evaluate which diseases warrant chemical treatment.

Again, her efforts are saving growers money and leading to new findings. As a result of a farm visit, McManus diagnosed the cause of cranberry stem gall. It is the first cranberry disease linked to a bacterium. Understanding that stem gall is caused by a bacterium rather than a fungus has saved growers needless fungicide applications.

McManus”s doctoral research focused on the development of antibiotic resistance in Michigan apple orchards, where streptomycin was used to control the bacterium responsible for fire blight. Although she is not currently doing research on antibiotic resistance, she continues to emphasize it in her extension program. She outlines for growers the steps needed to delay resistance and the human safety concerns involved in using antibiotics to control bacterial diseases in orchards.

McManus”s expertise in antibiotic resistance has attracted the interest of scientists in the United States and Europe. She has spoken to medical and veterinary professionals at major scientific meetings about pesticide resistance and the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

Eileen B. Somers
2001 Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Research

Eileen Somers, a microbiologist who has studied several important causes of food-borne illness, will receive the inaugural CALS Academic Staff Award for Excellence in Research. Each year the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will present the award to an outstanding member of the academic staff for her or his scientific contributions.

A senior research specialist, Somers works in the laboratory of food microbiologist Amy Wong at the Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology, and the Food Research Institute. Somers and Wong are doing pioneering research on the films of microbes that can develop on the surfaces of machinery used in the food-processing industry.

“Eileen is an accomplished scientist and a tremendous asset to my research program. She”s a true partner in the design and development of our research projects,” says Wong.

“Eileen also is a role model for students at the Food Research Institute and an outstanding member of our staff,” Wong says. “For example, as the department”s safety officer, she recently revamped the training program that all students and employees must take.”

Somers has been employed continuously by the department since graduating from the Department of Bacteriology in 1971. During those 30 years she”s worked as a valued colleague on projects with five different scientists. She has co-authored more than 15 scientific articles on topics ranging from antibiotic-resistant pathogens to similarities in the genetic sequences of related toxins.

Monica Theis
2001 Spitzer Excellence in Teaching Award

Monica Theis”s tireless commitment to teaching, depth of knowledge in her field, and concern for her students have earned her the 2001 Spitzer Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

During classtime, Theis prepares her students for life after college as interns or in the job market by providing them with real-world experience while on campus. Outside the classroom, Theis offers students her time, advice, and expertise.

“It is Monica”s ability to elevate her students” own expectations of their performance that truly sets her apart,” says James Steele, food science department chair. “I believe this is the result of Monica serving as a role model for commitment to excellence.”

Theis has been a lecturer in the College”s food science and nutritional sciences departments since 1990. She teaches eight courses each year, including Food Laws and Regulations, Organization and Management of Food and Nutrition Services, Professions of Dietetics and Food Service Administrations, and Supervised Practice in Foodservice Administration for the Coordinated Undergraduate Program in Dietetics (CUP).

She also participates in several departmental and College committees including the nutritional sciences department”s selection, and marketing and recruitment committees for CUP, and the College”s Instructional Improvement Committee. Theis also serves as advisor to the Dietetics and Nutrition Club.

In addition to her teaching and service activities, Theis writes frequently for peer-reviewed journals in her field, and speaks throughout the nation on topics related to foodservice administration and food safety. She recently completed the 9th edition of a foodservice textbook with co-author June Payne-Palario, and plans to launch her courses on WebCT.

“Her excellence in classroom teaching and her co-authorship of a major textbook, Introduction to Foodservice, has contributed significantly to the success of our graduates and the national prominence of our Dietetics Program,” says Denise Ney, nutritional sciences department chair.

Theis” students find her enthusiasm “contagious.” One student said on a course evaluation, “She shows genuine concern and interest in her students and their future interests.”

Another wrote, “She clearly loves her job.”

Bernie Wentworth
CALS Outstanding Advisor

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences prides itself on providing a “small-college atmosphere within a world-class university.” Excellent undergraduate advising accounts for much of that small-college feel, and the advisors don”t get any better than Bernie Wentworth. The enthusiasm he shows and the energy he invests in sharing his time and knowledge with students have earned him the CALS Outstanding Advisor Award for 2001.

Students quickly recognize Wentworth”s willingness to meet with them at convenient times, and his ability to assist them with both academic and non-school problems. Over his 28 years on campus, he has developed a thorough knowledge of the College and UW-Madison — knowledge that serves students well as they plan their academic careers.

Wentworth is a stickler for detail in his academic record-keeping. Knowing exactly where they stand with the registrar”s office helps to minimize unpleasant surprises for students navigating the Timetable”s thicket of credits, prerequisites, and required courses.

Wentworth also served as advisor to the department”s Poultry Science Club and the College”s Alpha Zeta chapter. He advises students in independent study and special problems projects, and helps place students in summer jobs and internships in the poultry industry.

Wentworth”s counsel has earned high praise from students in evaluations.

“He has helped me plan my undergraduate studies and has helped me to prepare for applying to vet school,” one student noted. “He is very knowledgeable and willing to help. I am so thankful that I have had such a wonderful advising experience so far.”

Students find Wentworth a good listener who is sincerely concerned for their personal and academic welfare. They noted “He was very straight and honest with me, and made me more confident in my studies. Bernie Wentworth seemed to listen to my concerns and advised what would truly be the best for me.”

In addition to his advising duties, Wentworth teaches in three classes a year, as well as guest-lecturing in various courses on reproduction. He has advised 15 M.S. and 10 Ph.D. students and has trained five postdoctoral students.

Wentworth has served on a variety of College and UW-Madison committees. Undergraduates today owe a debt to his service on the campus Registration and Records Committee from 1975 to 1994. During this time, the committee developed and implemented the current touch-tone registration system, which replaced the universally dreaded and despised assignment committee registration system.

“His advisees are very pleased with and enthusiastic about the quality of advising they receive from him,” says animal science department chair Dan Schaefer. “In addition, he has willingly committed extra time and effort to advising student clubs, working with students in out-of-classroom educational experiences, and serving on committees that have enhanced the undergraduate educational experience. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is proud of its reputation for high-quality and personalized undergraduate advising, and Bernie Wentworth is the type of advisor on which this reputation is based.”