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Standouts in their field: Three UW dairy science faculty receive awards

Left to Right: David Combs, Randy Shaver and Laura Hernandez with a member of the Allenstein Dairy Teaching Herd.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy science department prides itself on its top-notch faculty. This summer, three faculty members are justifying that high regard, receiving awards for the contributions they’ve made to the teaching, research and business of the dairy industry.

“Congratulations to David Combs, Randy Shaver and Laura Hernandez,” says department chair Kent Weigel. “Our faculty and staff work very hard to provide outstanding learning opportunities for our students and high impact research and outreach to our stakeholders. That hard work leads to awards like these.”

Shaver and Combs received their awards at the American Dairy Science Association’s (ADSA) Annual Meeting on July 22.

Combs was recognized for his global contributions to dairy cattle nutrition. He received the 2014 DuPont Pioneer Forage Award, which recognizes outstanding research and educational contributions in the area of forage production, processing, storage and utilization. Combs’ work has led to improvements in the dairy industry that have made forages both more nutritious to the cow and more affordable for the farmer.

The ASDA committee said that Combs’ research has had “immense” impact on everything from animal health to farm profitability to environmental stewardship and that his “fundamental work in fiber digestion is probably one of the single greatest accomplishments in dairy science history.”

Shaver was also recognized for his high level of research in dairy cattle nutrition, receiving the 2014 American Feed Industry Association Award. In just the past seven years Shaver published 32 articles in peer-reviewed journals and authored or co-authored 59 scientific abstracts. He has also mentored 28 graduate students in his career. The bulk of Shaver’s research has focused on nutrition in lactating dairy cattle. The ADSA committee noted that Shaver’s impressive output and mentoring has led to “widespread improvements in feed utilization and milk production.”

Compared to Combs and Shaver, Laura Hernandez, an assistant professor in dairy science, is just getting started making her mark, but she’s already considered one of the top young animal scientists in the country. This year UW’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences presented her with the Alfred Toepfer Faculty Fellow Award, which recognizes promising assistant professors whose research benefits agricultural activities within the United States.

Hernandez’s work on early lactation health and productivity of dairy cattle has already earned her several patents and high-impact publications. Just as importantly, her skills as an educator have, as department chair, Kent Weigel, puts it, “resurrected” lactation physiology and animal physiology courses in CALS, turning what were once dreaded undergraduate requirements into classes now popular with students.

In her lab, Hernandez is a mentor to students who are busy winning their own awards. At the same annual meeting where Combs and Shaver received their accolades, Samantha Weaver, a senior majoring in dairy science, took first place in the original research oral competition in the student affiliate division. Graduate student Spencer Moore took third in the poster competition for the ADSA’s production division.

“With faculty and students like these, the department of dairy science at the UW-Madison is well positioned to continue its run of scientific innovation and education that makes it one of the world’s top programs.” said Weigel.

For more information: Ted Halbach (608) 263-3305 or (608) 219-5289