Erin Sparks New Professor Profile

 Could you give me a little background about yourself?

I grew up in Illinois, in corn country, in the home of John Deere tractors and I never wanted anything to do with agriculture because I grew up with it. I went to Northwestern and got an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and was interested in medical research. So, I completed a PhD on the medical side of things, working on liver development in mice at Vanderbilt University.

When I finished that, I wasn’t sure which career path was right for me, but I really liked research and teaching, and I hoped to become a professor. However, I wasn’t sure what type of institution I would end up at. I knew that if I went to a primary undergrad institution to teach that I would still be doing research and there was no way I could take any of the things that I had been working on—you can’t work on mice unless you have the infrastructure for mice—and so I started to look at other model systems that might be a bit more flexible in terms of future career options. I had a bit of good luck when I found my post-doc lab at Duke working on root development in plants.

New Professor Profile Erin SparksAlthough it was a completely new research area for me, I went and interviewed and I just loved it. I loved the way the lab asked questions and the way that they did science and so, despite trying to avoid working on plants early in my life, I realized that plants are incredibly fascinating and found myself drawn in.

Around the same time, I got married and as our wedding gift from my husband’s parents, we got five beef cows—they’re in Kentucky on his dad’s farm. We also purchased part of the family farm. Because of these connections, I have developed a personal investment in agriculture and I became much more interested in the on-farm operation. Being at the farm, planting and harvesting the fields, gave me a whole new perspective on my research.

What happened after Duke?

I came here. During my post-doc, I realized that I had an incredible post-doc mentor who gave me the freedom to run my own mini-lab within his lab. I supervised students, I had a technician, I got experience managing people and starting to think about the other aspects of being a professor which includes grant writing, management, and outreach.

My favorite part of being an assistant professor is thinking about the big picture and how to craft an idea. I’m someone who likes to write grants because I enjoy the challenge of asking, “How do I take these ideas in my head and put them down on paper in a way that can communicate to a broad audience and allow people to understand what I think is really cool? How do I get everyone else excited about it?”

What are you excited about research-wise? What will you start looking at?

Given my varied background, my research program merges all these different aspects. My lab works at the interface of engineering and plant biology and a lot of what we do is bioengineering. Many of the collaborators I’ve established here so far are in engineering whether it be biomedical engineering or mechanical engineering.

We work on corn roots, more specifically a root type that is called a brace root. As its name suggests, it is thought to brace the plant and provide structural stability. This is an unusual root type in the fact that it comes out of the stem above the soil and it looks almost like stilts coming off the plant. These root types have not been well-studied and so half of the lab is looking at their function. We’re taking a structural engineering approach to understand the mechanical properties of these roots, the arrangement and how they could be engineered to make a more stable plant. We’re also doing classic plant physiology, because they’re still roots so they likely have a role in water and nutrient uptake.

The other part of the lab is taking a basic development approach. We know a lot about root development but what we know about root development comes from the initiation of roots from other roots. We are interested in roots coming from organs other than a root (e.g. a stem). It’s what we’re calling de novo (latin for anew) trans-organogenesis, in other words something that is different than its parent. It would be like if you grew a finger from another finger, that’s what we know a lot about. But we don’t know how you would get a finger from a hand and so when we think about human regeneration in the bigger context of growing back an arm, we don’t need to know how you get an arm from another arm, we want to know how you get a completely different organ from the one it’s coming from. This is one of the few systems that allows us to study in depth what are the signals controlling this process?

With the brace roots, why hasn’t that been studied before?

They’re called brace roots and it’s almost an old wives tale that farmers have seen them forever and think “Oh yeah, they brace the plant, that must be what they do” but no-one has systematically tested it. Part of the reason is that roots are challenging to study because they’re underground. Most root research has been done on what’s called the primary root – at the seedling, as your seed germinates, you have a single root that’s called the primary root that comes from the seed. These studies are really fast. You put a seed on a plate in a lab and you can start to study that root within a few weeks.

In contrast, brace roots are coming out a month, two months down the road so timing-wise, they’re much more difficult to study because you have to wait for your plants to get big before you study them. I think we’re just hitting the point in science where questions about roots other than the primary roots can be thoroughly asked. You have to start somewhere and where the field started was with the primary root and now we’re trying to understand other root types. 

Will you use the field plots around here?

We share field space with Randy Wisser. Randy and Teclemariam [Weldekidan] have been managing all of our fields.

One of the challenges for me is that I’ve never grown corn before and so their expertise is just incredible. Going out there, learning when we plant, when we harvest, how to pollinate, just field management type things. A huge draw to coming here was having people who were willing to take the time to help and to some extent, there’s so much still to learn for us with field management. Although, our work spans the field, the greenhouse and the lab. We have different experiments for each of these growth environments.

What’s been your impression of UD?

I started in June and the thing that I have absolutely loved is the willingness of people from different disciplines to work together. These cross-discipline and cross-college collaborations are essential to my research. Just how quickly I’ve been included in things has been incredible. You meet one person and then you meet another person and then you meet another person and now all of a sudden, you’re included in this giant network and it was instant connection which was incredible.

The biggest thing we get warned about as new professors is that when you start your own lab it is very isolating. But that has not really been the case at UD, because of the great community in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and at DBI. At DBI, we have faculty lunches on Monday, which means that every Monday, I get to go hang out with other faculty in an informal environment, and it’s been great how quickly I feel connected and integrated into the community.

Any interesting hobbies outside of work? Besides the cows?

I have a big dog who requires a lot of love and attention, so activities tend to revolve around enjoying the outside with her. I also enjoy cooking and I am a from scratch, 10-hour meal preparer.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD Cooperative Extension offers Master Gardener workshops to Delaware community

The University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners will offer a series of workshops throughout the spring across all three counties to help educate Delawareans with an interest in gardening.

The Master Gardeners recently celebrated 30 years of service to Delaware and year 32 continues with a diverse and interesting series of spring workshops.

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices.

New Castle County

March to the Garden: Saturday, March 10, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, located at 461 Wyoming Road in Newark. The March to the Garden is designed for novice and experienced gardeners alike. The day features a variety of workshops, giveaways, food and an opportunity to network with other gardeners. The Master Gardeners will focus on gardening essentials to help participants with everything from plant selection to garden harvest.

UD Cooperative Extension offers Master Gardener workshops to Delaware communityBeginner Vegetable Gardening: Monday, Feb. 12 and Thursday, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sign up is for two sessions and costs $25. In two fun and informative sessions, the Master Gardeners will cover the essentials for success: soils, siting, amendments, and of course all the individual vegetables, from arugula to zucchini.

Pest Management – Stress Relief for you and your Garden: Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $15. From critters to slugs, bugs to grubs, weeds, seeds, spores and more, pests can cause stress to garden plants and frustrate carefully prepared garden plans. This workshop will offer tips on how to deal with these problems. Participants will learn about the variety of pests that can attack their plants and the clues they leave that will help to identify the likely culprit. Participants will also consider strategies, practices, tools and a little philosophy of managing pests so that they and their plants can reduce the stress from pests.

Shade Garden Success: Tuesday, March 27, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cost is $15. Participants are invited to learn how to transform a shady spot into a lush, peaceful, calm and relaxing oasis.

Pruning Basics: Wednesday, March 28, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cost is $15. This workshop will cover the basics of pruning common plants, including shrubs and trees, for the health of the plant and the desired shape. Master Gardeners will discuss height, form and function, future growth, and the overall health of each plant to help participants develop the landscape they’ll enjoy.

Containia Mania: Tuesday, April 17, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cost is $25. A hands-on, messy workshop, where participants can keep the plants. Bring gardening gloves and a 12-inch (diameter) container to learn the basics for container planting with annual ornamental plants.

Click here to sign up for any of the New Castle County workshops.

Kent County

The Kent County Master Gardeners are planning a series of workshops for the community through February. Classes are held at the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Office, Paradee Center, 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, unless otherwise stated.  Contact the Extension Office at 302-730-4000 to register. The schedule is as follows:

Claude E. Phillips Herbarium: Friday, Feb. 16, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. No cost, but space is limited to 20 participants at the Delaware State University Herbarium. The Claude E. Phillips Herbarium, located at Delaware State university, is the only public herbarium on the Delmarva peninsula. It is a botanical resource center that houses a diverse collection of more than 210,000 plant materials from around the world. In this event, Cynthia Hong-Wa, curator, will share the functions of the Herbarium and provide an overview of the scientific collections that include mounted plant specimens as far back as 1799. Participants will also receive an exclusive look at other collections that highlight the importance of plants in general.

Time to Multiply Greenery – Propagation Workshop: Wednesday, Feb. 21, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is free, at Delaware State University Greenhouse. Spring is a great time to start plants or nurture them in readiness for the growing season. During this workshop, Rose Ogutu, DSU Horticulture Specialist, will explore the many ways used to propagate plants. Participants will learn the basic principles for propagation. Together, they will explore the best way one can determine how best to propagate a plant that one might not be familiar with. Participants are encouraged to bring plant materials that they wish to propagate.

Sussex County

The Sussex County Master Gardener Workshop schedule includes a wide variety topics. Of special note, the Master Gardeners are hosting a presentation and book signing by Author Ruth Clausen.  The classes are free, unless otherwise specified, and held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown 19947.

Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m.:  Master Gardener Judy Pfizer will talk about Growing Native Plants from Seed. Learn how to grow native plants from seed – a great way to populate a garden with native plants without breaking the garden budget.  Participants will learn tips and techniques for seed starting indoors and outside, requirements for germination and will take home native seeds to start their own plants.

Tuesday, March 6, 6:30 p.m.:  Michele Walfred, University of Delaware Communication Specialist, will present Snap It and App It, a presentation on photography and creating gorgeous garden portraits and photo journals. This session will examine DSLRs, smart phones, lenses, apps and software as well as an array of gadgets and techniques to turn garden portraits into works of art. Participants are asked to bring their devices to this session.

Tuesday, March 20, 1 p.m.:  Master Gardener, Penny Deiner will share The Idea Garden. Participants will look back on last year’s garden to see whether they want to make small changes or big ones, subtle or profound, a larger garden or a smaller one, primarily annuals or perennials, vegetables or flowers. Deiner will share ideas that have worked in the Extension demonstration garden and in her personal garden.

Tuesday, April 3, 1 p.m.:  Master Gardener Betty Layton will present a workshop on Accessible Gardening entitled Garden Smart, Garden Easy. Learn what tools and techniques are available for the gardener as we age or develop mobility issues.

Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 p.m.:  Author Ruth Clausen will speak on her book, 50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants. Keeping a beautiful garden safe from deer is as simple as choosing the right plants. Clausen introduces the most versatile options: white snowdrops that bloom in the spring; shade-loving, electric gold hakone grass; long-blooming Texas sage in vibrant reds, peaches, and pinks; and the feathery foliage of Arkansas blue stars that glows golden in the autumn. Books will be available for purchase at about $20 and Clausen will be available to sign books after the presentation.

Tuesday, April 24, 1 p.m.:  Master Gardener Bill Huxtable will talk about Shade Gardening.  This workshop will help participants decide what plant or plants to use in their garden’s shady areas. There are a number of plants that love the shade from which to choose. Handouts will be available to assist in picking the perfect plant.

Tuesday, May 8, 6:30 p.m.: Master Gardener Tracy Mulvaney will hold a craft workshop called Making Seed Tape Cards and Other Items for Gifting to gardening friends.  Bring your children and grandchildren to this fun workshop. Limit to 25 participants. Fee $5.

Tuesday, May 15, 1 p.m.:  Master Gardener Terry Plummer will present Landscaping with Native Perennials. Make garden life easier with less watering and less fuss. Plant native perennials for a delightful landscape. Plummer will introduce you to a wide variety of native plant materials that will draw insects and the birds that love to eat them.

Pre-register for workshops by contacting Tammy Schirmer at (302) 856-2585, ext. 544 or by email at

It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. If you have special needs that need to be accommodated, please contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

For assistance with home lawn, garden and pest questions, contact:
Sussex County Garden Helpline (302) 856-2585 ext. 535.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Borel Global Fellows Learn Agriculture Science at UD

As Borel Global Fellows, Susan Gachara and Mariam Gharib have had the opportunity to gain valuable hands on experience studying agricultural problems afflicting their home country of Kenya which has equipped them with the tools needed to help solve those issues when they return to Africa.

The Borel Global Fellows program is a partnership between UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) in Africa to build a Master’s degree program to train African students in plant breeding, crop protection, soil science, agricultural economics, and other areas vital to food security in Africa.

Made possible by a generous gift from Jim and Marcia Borel, the program provides opportunities for one to two students per year to complete a Master’s degree at the UD while conducting research in their home country in an area of critical need.

Susan Gachara

Gachara works with Randy Wisser, associate professor of plant genetics, and conducts research based on developing a diagnostic tool for plants infected with maize lethal necrosis disease, a disease caused by a combination of two viruses that is prevalent in many parts of Kenya and neighboring countries.

Susan Gachara has studied maize lethal necrosis with Randy Wisser, associate professor of plant genetics, during her time as a Borel Fellow.Gachara has a background in environmental science but when she took a class on environmental biotechnology, she was amazed at how genes could be incorporated from different plants.

“It was a new whole world for me and so I was like, ‘Moving forward, I would like to be involved in agriculture instead of the environment.’ Plus, I grew up on a farm so it was natural. My dad taught me everything to do with farm,” said Gachara who added that plant diseases were a big problem in the farming communities’ activities.

“Every time there was a new disease, we could not get very high yields,” Gachara said. “It wasn’t only us but the whole community and the whole country so I just wanted to be more involved and understand what exactly happens and the underlying mechanisms of how plants can defend themselves and what can we do to help the situation.”

Having arrived at UD in August 2016, Gachara will stay on for one more year and said that she has enjoyed her time at the university.

“It’s impressive,” said Gachara. “It’s resourceful and that’s a very big plus for me as I’m trying to navigate the scientific field and the people are very nice, very friendly. That’s a major concern because I’m far from home and I need somewhere I can call a home and people I can take as my family so it has been my home and I have enjoyed the stay.”

She also said that it has been great working with Wisser.

“He’s well versed with genetics and in the plant science world and he’s also aware of the agriculture situation in Kenya because he has worked on research there,” said Gachara. “I’m glad he took a chance on me. I was just so passionate about agriculture and I didn’t do it in my undergraduate and I said, ‘I hope someone can take a chance on me and believe that my passion will not fail me.’ I would also just like to thank the Borels for funding the program and I will forever be in debt to them and hopefully I can do something similar to someone in the future.”

Mariam Gharib

Gharib has worked with Leah Palm-Forster, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, studying agricultural and resource economics, which is a continuation of what she had been studying as an undergraduate.

“I come from an area where we have good environmental conditions,” Gharib said, “but most of the people there don’t practice agriculture so I wanted to study something which would make a difference and I thought if I study agricultural economics, I’d be able to go back home and educate people, motivate them and show them they have a good environment and this is what they should do. I want to encourage them to practice more agriculture so they can improve their livelihood by earning money because they have those conducive conditions for farming.”

Mariam Gharib has worked with Leah Palm-Forster, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, studying agricultural and resource economics during her time as a Borel Fellow.Gharib said that when she gets back to Kenya, she will do a six-month internship while she works on her research.

“My plan is to go back home and look for a job, gain some more knowledge and then identify a few research ideas and go ahead and do a Ph.D.,” Gharib said. “Most of the time, you can only make a big difference if you’re on a higher level involved policy making. My main goal is to be involved in conducting research which will influence policies.”

As for her favorite part of being a Borel Fellow, Gharib said that she has enjoyed all the classes she’s taken.

“I didn’t expect that I would enjoy classes that much because most of the time what I get to do is an application of what I’m learning in real life situations. It’s not just reading books and theories,” said Gharib. “Here you get to actually practice it so you’re able to get skills at the same time so it’s something that I can use when I go back to Kenya—[especially] if I work in a research lab. Also, people here are very welcoming. You don’t feel like you’re far from home. It’s like you just fit in completely.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

With help from UD professor, Hannah Jo selected as state delegate for the 2017 Global Youth Institute

Growing up, Hannah Jo loved spending time outside and working in her parent’s garden, lined with all sorts of different fruit trees, and filled with various vegetables and flowers.

Now, as a senior at Tall Oaks Classical School in Bear, Delaware, and with an eye towards a potential future as a plant scientist, Jo decided to reach out to members of the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences to see if any of them could help her get involved in plant research.

She found a perfect match in Randy Wisser, associate professor of plant genetics at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who supported a summer internship that culminated with Jo being selected as Delaware’s sole delegate for the 2017 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa where Jo presented an essay on maize lethal necrosis disease afflicting farms in Kenya.

With help from UD professor, Hannah Jo selected as state delegate for the 2017 Global Youth InstituteWisser said that every summer, his research lab runs a plant breeding internship program that hosts several high school and undergraduate students in an outdoor laboratory at UD’s Newark farm. These students meet and talk with graduate students and senior members of Wisser’s research group as they learn how the management of breeding nurseries and field experiments link to basic research in plant genetics, which in turn translates to discoveries that boost agriculture.

“It’s a competitive process to be selected into our internship program, and as we were finalizing our selections, Hannah sent an e-mail saying, ‘I’m a student at Tall Oaks. I’m really interested in plant science and agriculture, and I’m curious if there are any opportunities to gain research experience,’ ” said Wisser. “Her e-mail was quite extensive about her interest and her passion. It’s rare for a high school student to have such a focused interest on plants and agriculture.”

Jo applied for the internship and after an interview with Wisser and Teclemariam Weldekidan, a scientist in the department, she got the internship and spent six weeks in the fields out on the UD farm working with maize which she said was a great experience. As part of the program, students also tour local institutes including Fraunhofer’s Center for Molecular Biotechnology and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, providing the group with a broad perspective about plant science research.

“The first couple of weeks were grueling,” Jo said. “It was very, very hot. There were basic things like weeding but also doing cross pollinations and learning how a breeding project worked. The projects included research on maize disease resistance and environmental adaptation to temperate climates.”

As a figure skater and a member of UD’s Figure Skating Club, Jo had become familiar with the neighboring College of Agriculture and Natural Resources where she volunteered a year earlier with the UD Botanic Gardens (UDBG).

Training all day inside as a figure skater, Jo was looking for something to do outside with plants and was put in touch with Valann Budishak, UDBG volunteer coordinator and a Cooperative Extension Agent, and spent time volunteering in the summer.

“It was great because I did all of that same work at home, but I was doing it on a larger scale with other people,” Jo said. “The other volunteers were there for the same reason: their love for plants and gardening. Some were Master Gardeners while others enjoyed gardening as a hobby. Learning from them and learning from Val was great.”

After working at the UDBG, Jo realized that if she wanted to pursue a degree in plant science, she should explore plant science research more in depth.

In addition to learning research techniques and getting hands-on experience in the field, Jo was also able to get experience writing a research paper with Wisser serving as her mentor. As part of her application requirement to the Global Youth Institute, the paper needed to be focused on a topic concerning food security in a developing country.

Wisser introduced Jo to Susan Gachara, a Borel Global Fellow master’s student from Kenya, and Jo chose to focus on maize lethal necrosis disease for her paper, a disease caused by a combination of two viruses that is prevalent in many parts of Kenya and neighboring countries.

“I focused on that disease and how plant breeding can be used to solve that epidemic,” Jo said. “I wrote the paper, submitted it and was selected to attend the conference as a delegate for Delaware.”

At the conference, Jo was able to interact with about 200 students from across the United States and other countries, participate in activities and interact with world leaders in agriculture, such as Gebisa Ejeta, the 2009 World Food Prize Laureate who happened to be on the panel that critiqued Jo’s presentation.

“She presented her work with great poise and overall did an exceptional job,” said Wisser, who accompanied Jo to the conference. “The Laurette said something of the effect to her, ‘One of my questions is whether you’d be willing to skip your undergraduate program and come work for me as a graduate assistant.’ ”

Jo said she had a positive experience at the conference and working with Wisser.

“He’s been so supportive of everything and really helped me through the process of getting to Iowa for the Global Youth Institute and all throughout my internship with him this summer,” Jo said. “Right now, I’m trying to apply for an international internship for this upcoming summer and he has been helping me through that entire process as well. It’s been great.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Monica Moriak

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

Erik Ervin New Professor, PLSC Department Chair Profile

Could you give me a little background about yourself?

I grew up in Iowa and I went to Iowa State University as an undergrad in the horticulture department. My specialization was turfgrass management and I got into that because I grew up about two blocks from a golf course. My dad’s a golfer and so the golf course was my babysitter. I started working on the golf course when I was 12, first working in the pro shop and then I graduated to mowing the grass and kept that job all through high school. I’m also a competitive golfer and so it’s fun to have a career doing something I love and working outside.

I ended up at Iowa State and loved being at the University. I loved learning so much I got a minor in philosophy and decided to go to graduate school. I was able to go to Colorado State University with some assistantships and did my Master’s and PhD there.

My Master’s was funded by the Denver Water Board. They’ve always had problems with drought and water scarcity so I looked at which of the three main lawn grass species can be irrigated the smallest amount and remain functional and green throughout the year.

Erik Ervin New Professor, PLSC Department Chair ProfileWe studied buffalograss which is native to the Colorado short grass prairie and was starting to come on as a potential lawn species. It takes 70 to 80 percent less water than standard tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, which we use in the Mid-Atlantic predominantly. In Colorado, most people were still using Kentucky bluegrass and I showed that tall fescue could use 20 percent less water so a lot of people made a transition to it.

For my PhD, I loved the mountains of Colorado and the outdoors so I was able to stay and I studied a new plant growth regulator, trinexapac-ethyl, that was coming out on the market to cut the vertical growth of lawn or any turfgrass species in half so you don’t have to mow as often. I studied the physiological effects. It inhibits a certain hormone in the plant called gibberellic acid which signals cells and shoots to elongate after mowing. That’s when I started becoming a plant growth regulator/hormone physiology specialist, leading to my first job right out of getting my PhD.

What was your first job after getting your PhD?

I became the Turfgrass Extension specialist and research professor at the University of Missouri and kept working on turfgrass stress physiology and plant growth regulation. Missouri’s a big state. You’ve got some big urban areas like St. Louis and Kansas City and there’s a big need in terms of turfgrass, golf courses, lawns and sports fields.

I developed a good program there as a young scientist and got noticed and recruited to Virginia Tech. I moved there in 2001 and spent 17 years going through the ranks and establishing my program.

Could you talk about your time at Virginia Tech?

I was the main person who taught turfgrass classes and advised the turfgrass specific students and kept a strong research program going. As I moved through my career, I’ve always been interested in how the department, college and the University runs. I was always doing a lot of service and wanted to be involved in some of the decisions, not only within my lab and program, but the whole department and University. So my first step into administration was as  undergraduate student program coordinator. Then I got the opportunity to go into 50 percent administration within the college as assistant dean of academic programs in 2013. That was a way to try out leadership and ramping down my research program a little bit without having to move.

I went through LEAD21 supported by my dean, associate dean and department head at the time. They saw that I wanted to move my career into academic leadership so I went through LEAD21 with Janine Sherrier and Amy Shober. We were the class of 2015. That’s when I got my first exposure to the great people in this department and the University of Delaware.

In 2016, I got the chance to be interim department head at Virginia Tech and served 13 months in that role. My department was crop and soil environmental sciences. I enjoyed being a department head and started to look around for where I could get a job and start anew with a department of excellence that maybe wanted to take me in and help me do good things so I ended up here.

What about the University of Delaware and the Department drew you in?

The department has very strong faculty and they are doing impactful research. I also saw a real need for somebody to come in and help them grow and improve undergraduate programs and that’s something I’d been working on, and thinking about, at Virginia Tech.

I saw the new and developing bachelor of landscape architecture program and I thought that was exciting because many places around the country you’ll see landscape architecture departments that are very theory and design based and don’t have much of a plant and soils emphasis. I saw that they had a really good combination of those things here which is what I believe in. I also saw some excellent young faculty who may be ready to partner with me to think about new majors like sustainable food systems or things that would have some cache with urban and suburban students that I think are a lot of where our UD students are coming from.

I was really impressed with the CANR campus and how all the outdoor classrooms and UD Botanic Garden are all right here. You step out the door and you’ve got immediate experiential learning. You’ve got the botanic gardens and the greenhouses but you’ve also got the dairy, the corn crop right out your door so we’ve got everything in terms of plant and soil science right here whereas other universities, like at Virginia Tech, our students would have to go 15 minutes, 30 minutes to get to the research plots. The other thing I saw once I got here is world class facilities at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) and the Patrick T. Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory that are quite a bit better than many other land grant universities.

As I’ve been here the last few weeks and meeting people and touring places, my impressions of the strength of the college and the University and the department have just gotten stronger.

What do you think you’ve learned from past experiences that will help inform your time here as chair? 

I’ve learned how to have a successful individual P.I. program and how to look at the bigger picture of what your department needs across the three missions of the University and the department. As assistant dean of academic programs in the college of ag and life sciences at Virginia Tech, I looked across what it takes to build a strong college within a big University. I’ve learned to appreciate what success looks like and what collaboration looks like from the individual researcher level to the department level to the college level and so I think I have a pretty good background that allows me to figure out the right questions to ask and the right people to start forming partnerships with to move us forward.

Could you talk a little bit about your former research program and any research interests here at UD?

When I got to Virginia Tech, I was replacing a very well-known professor who had a 40-year career. In the last part of his career, he started working on what are now known as bio-stimulants. Since then it’s become a two-billion-dollar industry of organic and natural based products whether they be beneficial bacteria to seaweed extracts to humic substances. I went into that area because some of these bio-stimulants, which are all natural in origin, have effects on plant hormones and therefore plant growth and development and stress physiology. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, there wasn’t much science behind these products. They had the reputation of being snake oils that people were trying to peddle.

He had been the first one in turfgrass science to publish refereed journal articles tracking down that some of these products, and especially kelp or seaweed extracts and humic substances which are just various forms of highly decomposed organic matter, improve stress response of turfgrasses and other plants. Part of what he was able to show is that they would boost antioxidant production within the plant which would then help with drought or heat stress.

A large part of my research program at Virginia Tech was spent establishing that there were high levels of certain plant growth promoting hormones in some of these products, especially the seaweed extracts, and that they, in turn, improved the immune response of plants when they were challenged with various stresses.

At UD I am planning on changing my research program to focus more on landscape ecology. There are a lot of golf courses around the country that are into creating native or naturalized meadows in out of play areas to provide a number of ecosystem services such as attracting pollinators. For example, Bidermann golf course, just north of Wilmington at Winterthur, their superintendent reached out and to be certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary golf course nationally, he’s got native meadows and bee hives on his site so I contacted him and we might put one of our research plots out there.

As part of that, he saw on Twitter that I was coming to this job and so on January 23, he organized a meeting of all Delaware and Philadelphia area superintendents to come and meet me and talk about how as a turfgrass specialist, I can help them to do their jobs better. One of my hobbies and passions is golf, so I’ll be happy to have a big outreach part of my job working with the golf course superintendents on protecting environmental quality on their golf courses.

The other thing I’d like to do in terms of field research is similar to what we had at Virginia Tech where the athletics department funded a graduate research assistantship and that master’s student worked on the ball fields for athletics. It was on the job training and we came up with a master’s research project, sometimes on their ball fields, that tries to answer a question or solve a problem for them.

Besides golf, any other hobbies?

We have dogs and we do a lot of hiking. We’re going to live near White Clay Creek so I’m looking forward to that and my wife and I do a lot of travel. I was in Italy and Kenya and Ecuador last year.

Article by Adam Thomas

Entomology Trivia Team places third at the Entomological Society of America’s National Linnaean Games

At the 2017 National Linnaean Games held in Denver, Colorado and hosted by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) as part of their annual meeting, the Entomology Trivia Team at the University of Delaware showed strong finishing third overall—the highest finish in club history.

The team not only finished third overall but also ousted the perennial power house team from the University of California at Riverside which Ashley Kennedy, a doctoral level student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said helped put the club on the map.

“I think it really helped draw attention to how the University of Delaware has a strong entomology program,” Kennedy said.

Entomology Trivia Team places third at the Entomological Society of America’s National Linnaean Games
(Pictured left to right) Sean Boyle, Danielle Novick, Ashley Kennedy and Tyler Hagerty compete at the 2017 Linnaean Games

The team at UD this year was made up of all graduate students including Kennedy, Sean Boyle, who just finished his master’s degree at UD, Tyler Hagerty, a master’s level student in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Danielle Novick, a doctoral level student in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Kennedy noted that the team from Texas A&M that won the competition had undergraduate students on their team and that the club at UD is open to undergraduates as well.

“I hope that will get more undergrads to take part in it. I’ve tried to recruit undergraduates to our team because our practices we have on campus are extremely informal. We meet over lunch and just read trivia questions to each other,” Kennedy said.

The questions include topics such as physiology, taxonomy, and anatomy among others and the team’s coach, Charles Bartlett, associate professor of entomology, reads the questions to team members and takes the time to explain the answers fully.

“I don’t think we would’ve advanced to nationals if we hadn’t been having those practice sessions. It’s a really fun environment,” Kennedy said.

During the tournament, each team has four players and each player has a buzzer, with the player who buzzes in having to answer without conferring with their teammates.

“One thing that people commented on about our team is that we all seemed to be really well rounded where all four players were all buzzing in and answering questions. We got a lot of compliments for having all four team members really engaged,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s area of expertise was medical and veterinary entomology and questions focused on the history of the ESA, Boyle’s was parasitoids, Hagerty focused on taxonomy and identification and Novick knew a lot about the plant and insect interaction questions.

Having spent most of his life as an athlete, Boyle enjoyed being able to use his academic learning in a competitive setting.

“It was a fun time. I loved it. In all honesty, my whole life I was always playing against other schools and teams in sports but never in an academic sense so that was a fun new thing for me,” Boyle said. “I know a lot about parasitoids and those types of insects so any time a question would pop up, I would try my best to answer it.”

In addition to participating in the games, Kennedy and Boyle got to present their research and everyone got to interact with colleagues in their fields.

Boyle added that it was a good way to make sure people aren’t overlapping research on similar topics.

“My research is based on how we can control the brown marmorated stink bug using a small little wasp that flies around and lays its own eggs in the stink bug eggs so I went to all the stink bug talks to make sure I wasn’t overlapping research,” said Boyle.

Kennedy added that she received a science policy fellowship through ESA and went to a training workshop where they taught her and others how to engage with legislators and decision makers to advocate for scientifically sound policy.

“That’s going to be something really exciting I get to do over the next two years. We’re going to do a few different trips to Washington D.C. to meet with decision makers on behalf of the ESA,” said Kennedy who works with Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology, looking at bird-insect food webs trying to figure out which insects are the most important in birds’ diets.

“It’s hard to get people interested in insect conservation but a lot of people like birds so if you can make that obvious connection that birds need insects to survive then you can get people interested in insect conservation,” Kennedy said.

Boyle also noted that Kennedy was the team captain and “pretty much ran everything. Scheduled all the stuff, got all the questions together. She was really the captain who brought everyone together so we were just following along and using some of our brain power.”

Kennedy said that she’s been told, “I take it too seriously. But there’s a practical side to it which for some of us it might be the easiest way for us to find funding to go to the meeting. The meeting provides so many great networking opportunities.”

For those interested in joining the Linnaean Games team, reach out to Kennedy at

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Glenn Cook/Entomological Society of America

UD study looks at how light pollution lures birds into urban areas during fall migration

On their fall migration south in the Northern Hemisphere, scores of birds are being lured by artificial light pollution into urban areas that may be an ecological trap, according to the University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler.

Buler, associate professor in UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and his research team used 16 weather surveillance radars from the northeastern United States over a seven-year period to map the distributions of migratory birds during their fall stopovers. The research is published in the scientific journal Ecology Letters.

Since most of the birds that migrate in the U.S. are nocturnal and leave their stopover sites at night, Buler and his research group took snapshots of the birds as they departed.

“Shortly after sunset, at around civil twilight, they all take off in these well-synchronized flights that show up as a sudden bloom of reflectivity on the radar,” Buler said. “We take a snapshot of that, which allows us to map out where they were on the ground and at what densities. It basically gives us a picture of their distributions on the ground.”

The researchers were interested in seeing what factors shape the birds’ distributions and why they occur in certain areas.

UD study looks at how light pollution lures birds into urban areas during fall migration“We think artificial light might be a mechanism of attraction because we know at a very small scale, birds are attracted to light,” Buler said. “Much like insects are drawn to a streetlight at night, birds are also drawn to places like lighthouses. Especially when visibility is poor, you can get these big fall-outs at lighthouses and sports complexes. Stadiums will have birds land in the stadium if it’s foggy at night and the lights are on.”

One hazard for birds attracted to city lights is death from flying into high buildings. Buler said that some cities such as Toronto have even gone so far as to institute ‘Lights Out’ programs, turning off the lights in tall buildings to deter birds from colliding with them.

Sky Glow

The research team analyzed the distributions of the birds in proximity to the brightest areas in the northeast such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“These are super-bright, large metropolitan areas,” Buler said. “We found an increasing density of birds the closer you get to these cities. The effect goes out about 200 kilometers [about 125 miles]. We estimate that these flying birds can see a city on the horizon up to several hundred kilometers away. Essentially, there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”

Parks and Yards

The researchers also found that suburban areas, such as people’s backyards and city parks, such as Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, harbor some of the highest densities of birds in the northeast.

“Fairmount Park has higher densities of birds than at Cape May, New Jersey, which is where birders typically go to see birds concentrating during migration,” Buler said.

When they do get lured into cities, the birds seek out suitable habitat, which can cause concerns from a conservation standpoint as lots of birds pack into a small area with limited resources and higher mortality risks.

“One of the things we point out in this paper is that there might be negative consequences for birds being drawn to urban cities. We know there’s risk of collision with buildings, collision with vehicles, and getting eaten by cats, which are a major predator,” Buler said.

“Domestic cats could be the largest anthropogenic source of mortality for birds. If birds are being drawn into these heavily developed areas, it may be increasing their risk of mortality from anthropogenic sources and it may also be that the resources in those habitats are going to be depleted much faster because of competition with other birds.”

Another concern: light pollution created in these cities has been increasing in recent years with the advent of LED lights, which are much brighter than the incandescent lights they replaced.

“The transition of street lighting from incandescent to LED continues to increase the amount of light pollution,” Buler said. “If you think about it from an evolutionary sense, for all wildlife really, mammals and insects and birds, they’ve only been exposed to this light pollution for less than 200 years. They’re still adapting to the light.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Doug Tallamy

Video by Jeff Chase

This video can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Extension offers instruction to crop consultants as part of annual Mid-Atlantic Crop School

The University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension teamed with professors and extension professionals from the University of Maryland and other regional land grant universities and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to offer continuing education credits for certified crop advisers at the Mid-Atlantic Crop School held in late November in Ocean City, Maryland.

The Mid-Atlantic Crop School has been operating for over 20 years and offers continuing education credits over a two-and-a-half-day period in the five areas that certified crop advisers are required to gain knowledge: crop management, pest management, soil and water management, nutrient management and also sessions on professional development or an innovative topic.

Other Universities involved with the Mid-Atlantic Crop School include West Virginia University and Virginia Tech.

UD Extension offers instruction to crop consultants as part of annual Mid-Atlantic Crop SchoolIn addition to offering the certified crop adviser credits, the school also offers Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania nutrient management and pesticide credits for state programs.

Amy Shober, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist, said that there were around 275 participants this year and that the school is mostly geared towards technical service providers, nutrient management plan writers and crop consultants who advise farm clientele and need the credits to achieve or renew their certification.

In addition, Jarrod Miller, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and an extension specialist in agronomy, said that Extension personnel also attend the sessions in order to stay up to date.

“Sometimes you can read papers on certain topics but there’s nothing like sitting in a room with the expert. We get NRCS personnel and representatives from both the Maryland and Delaware departments of Agriculture who show up,” said Miller.

The school features local speakers from regional universities, and also national speakers who talk on topics of national interest.

“Some of the courses are similar to what an undergrad might get at the University of Delaware. It’s basic and applied but other times it’s a recent problem. We have pesticide resistance issues or maybe we’ll have a new method of applying nutrients,” said Miller. “Precision agriculture is a big one so this year we had talks on drones because that’s a newer topic. We also had an economic session which was very popular.”

Other topics covered included salt water intrusion, soil compaction, and managing different pests depending on the crop.

Shober said that the session led by Douglas Beegle, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Agronomy from Pennsylvania State University, on soil acidity and liming was very beneficial.

“He always gives great fundamental talks. Kind of going back to the basics and refreshing everybody’s memories. He gave a great talk this year. I feel like [soil acidity and liming] is a topic that I feel pretty comfortable with and I walked away from that talk with new information,” said Shober.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Jarrod Miller

UDairy Creamery offers winter sale on UD farm-raised Angus beef

The UDairy Creamery is offering a 10 percent discount on all individual cuts of University of Delaware-raised Angus beef available for sale at the Creamery stores in Newark and Wilmington.

All of the Angus beef available comes straight from the UD farm’s herd of Angus cattle raised on the Webb Farm, separate from UD’s Holstein Dairy herd.

Items available include:

  • 18-ounce T-bone steak—$17.99
  • 12-ounce New York strip—$17.99
  • 4 to 6-ounce Angus burger—$9.22
  • 24-ounce porterhouse steak–$23.39
  • 8-ounce sirloin steak—$11.69
  • 16-ounce Delmonico steak—$20.69
  • 8-ounce filet mignon—$16.19
  • 8-ounce iron steak—$11.69
  • 16-ounce skirt steak—$14.39

UDairy Creamery offers winter sale on UD farm-raised Angus beefIn addition, UD farm-raised Angus beef boxes are available as part of the winter sale, which runs through March 30 or while supplies last.

A small box costs $119.99, a reduction from the normal list price of $147.92, and includes two New York strip steaks, two sirloin steaks, two Delmonico steaks and two filet mignon Steaks.

A large box costs $189, a reduction from the normal list price of $239.88, and includes two New York Strip steaks, two sirloin steaks, two Delmonico steaks, two filet mignon steaks, two porterhouse steaks and two T-bone steaks.

For more information on the UDairy Creamery, visit its website or connect with it on Facebook.

Article by Adam Thomas

Delaware Agriculture Week 2018

The Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington will once again serve as the venue for Delaware Agriculture Week, Monday, Jan. 8 through Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Now in its 13th year, the event draws thousands of attendees — farmers, growers, producers, crop advisors, extension agents and allied agriculture industries from across the Mid-Atlantic region. They will network, listen to the latest research and best practice recommendations, earn continuing education credits, and have an opportunity to visit and meet with more than 90 leading industry exhibitors demonstrating new agricultural technologies and products.

Delaware Ag Week is sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

“Delaware Ag Week gets better every year, thanks to the important feedback we get from our community on topics they’ve indicated they would like to explore,” said Cory Whaley, University of Delaware agriculture extension agent and chair of the Delaware Agriculture Week planning committee. “Our team works hard to provide valuable information in a format that is both topical and relevant to the needs of our constituents. There is always something new each year.”

Education, networking, best practices the focus of a 13-year tradition, starting Jan. 8The four-day event provides numerous sessions that cover a wide array of topics including presentations by the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware (FVGAD) on small fruits, fresh market and processing vegetables. New this year, FVGAD is offering a special session on Pesticides, Bee Safety and Value of Forage. Additional sessions include small flock and commercial poultry, grain crops, hay and pasture, beef cattle, tile drainage, risk management, and a special session on soil health and fertility.

Additionally, on Wednesday, Jan, 10, a morning session on “Agriculture and the EPA” hopes to open the lines of communication with the agriculture community and the Environmental Protection Agency. The sessions are taught by Cooperative Extension agents and specialists from UD, as well as from neighboring institutions and leading agriculture industry experts.

In addition to the events held in Harrington, the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition (DUFFC) will host a session “The Power of Food: The Importance of Making Food and Agriculture Systems More Robust and Resilient Through Diversity and Inclusion” on Thursday, Jan. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington. Networking and refreshments will begin at 5:30 p.m. General admission fee is $5 and registration is required. For more information, visit the Delaware Center for Horticulture, or contact Carrie Murphy at (302) 831-COOP (2667).

Agriculture is Delaware’s largest economic driver, contributing an estimated $8 billion to the First State’s economy each year according to a University of Delaware study. The success and continued growth of Delaware Agriculture Week reflect both the pride and the value of agriculture in the state.

As with last year’s event, the main meeting area will be located in the Exhibit Hall, with additional meetings in the Exhibit Board Room and Commodities Building. A trade show takes place in the Dover Building. Please visit the Delaware Agriculture Week website for details on the session and to view the program book.

Article and photo by Michele Walfred

New BASF biofungicide uses UD patents

Velondis biofungicide contains beneficial microbe to help plants fight fungal disease

Janine Sherrier (left), professor of plant and soil sciences, and colleague Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, were the lead inventors on the patent, which the University has licensed exclusively to BASF. The two professors, along with co-inventor Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, led collaborative research teams studying the microorganism.

The Environmental Protection Agency has registered BASF’s new Velondis brand biofungicide seed treatment formulations, which contain a patented University of Delaware beneficial microbe to help plants fight fungal disease. With potential applications in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, the products are designed to boost the protection of seedlings and plants from key soil-borne diseases.

The bacteria in Velondis produce a beneficial biofilm and antimicrobial components that promote systemic resistance within the plant, resulting in suppression of disease organisms that attach to root systems. Two of the Velondis biofungicides have additional components that help plants produce a more vigorous root system, resulting in improved plant growth and yield potential.

beneficial microbe Bacillus subtilis
BASF’s Velondis biofungicides contain a strain of the beneficial microbe Bacillus subtilis, which naturally lives in soil and on the surface of plant roots. Scientists at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted research on the microbe with initial support from USDA HATCH funds, and additional funding from the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, the National Science Foundation and BASF. The microbe helps boost the protection of seedlings and plants from soil-borne diseases.

“Velondis biofungicides mark a major step for BASF in the use of natural biologicals to help plants fight disease,” said Justin Clark, a technical marketing manager with BASF. “We plan to use this new active ingredient in a number of different products and applications to help improve disease control and increase crop yield potential.”

A key microorganism incorporated in the new Velondis formulations is a unique strain of Bacillus subtilis, a natural, beneficial bacterium that lives on the surface of roots and the surrounding soil, or rhizosphere.

Scientists at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) conducted research on the beneficial bacterium with initial support from USDA HATCH funds, and additional funding from DBI, the National Science Foundation and BASF. The University’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships also provided funding and significant intellectual property management.

Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences, and colleague Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, were the lead inventors on the patent, which the University has licensed exclusively to BASF. The two professors, along with co-inventor Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, led collaborative research teams studying the microorganism.

“At the University of Delaware, we’re able to pursue early discovery work, with the ultimate aim of providing safe and effective tools for growers,” said Sherrier. “The translation of basic research into commercial products is an arduous path, so we are pleased that our work has resulted in the development of new products for agriculture such as Velondis biofungicides.”

Velondis biofungicides will be used in different facets of agriculture and will initially be labeled for use with soybeans in spring 2018. Growers can learn more about Velondis biofungicides by visiting BASF Ag Products or by contacting their local BASF representative.

About BASF’s Crop Protection division

With a rapidly growing population, the world is increasingly dependent on our ability to develop and maintain sustainable agriculture and healthy environments. BASF’s Crop Protection division works with farmers, agricultural professionals, pest management experts and others to help make this possible. With their cooperation, BASF is able to sustain an active R&D pipeline, an innovative portfolio of products and services, and teams of experts in the lab and in the field to support customers in making their businesses succeed. In 2016, BASF’s Crop Protection division generated sales of €5.6 billion. For more information, please visit us at or on any of our social media channels.

About BASF

BASF Corporation, headquartered in Florham Park, New Jersey, is the North American affiliate of BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany. BASF has more than 17,500 employees in North America, and had sales of $16.2 billion in 2016. For more information about BASF’s North American operations, visit BASF combines economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility. The approximately 114,000 employees in the BASF Group work on contributing to the success of our customers in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world. Our portfolio is organized into five segments: Chemicals, Performance Products, Functional Materials & Solutions, Agricultural Solutions and Oil & Gas. BASF generated sales of about €58 billion in 2016. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (BAS). Further information at

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Shannon Modla and Venkatachalam Lakshmanan

UD’s Seyfferth co-organizes national networking event

Though the world of soil science is taking strides towards gender equality, it still tends to be a male dominated field.

Because of this, the University of Delaware’s Angelia Seyfferth and Samantha Ying, assistant professor at the University of California at Riverside, decided to host a “Food (and Drink!) for Thought” facilitated networking event for female soil scientists at the Tri-Societies annual conference—a gathering of the Soil Science Society of America, the Agronomy Society of America and the Crop Society of America—held recently in Tampa, Florida.

The two organizers had 21 people RSVP to the event but nearly 100 showed up.

“The fact that we got more than four times the number of people that RSVP-ed showed that there was a need for this,” said Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “We got a lot of feedback from people that said they want to have it every year.”

Ying said that the response to the event far exceeded her expectations.

“Seeing how engaged and happy everyone was chatting with each other, and some saying they want it to happen every year and maybe even every day of the conferences in the future, made me ecstatic,” said Ying. “One thing I learned from meeting people through this event was how extensive the network of amazing women is, who are pushing forward with advancing under-represented minorities and women in science and really finding ways to build a strong pipeline. There’s already so many effective tools in place, I felt honored to contribute this tiny piece to the giant effort started by many I got to meet face to face that night.”

One of the outcomes of the event was a contact list of all attendees that colleagues can pull from to nominate for awards or invite to give talks at their respective institutions.

“It will help to promote female faculty but also foster some collaboration and mentorship as well,” said Seyfferth.

Ying added that it was great to meet other women in the field and that she enjoyed the opportunity to meet the researchers in person and not just know them through reading their research papers.

UD’s Seyfferth co-organizes national networking event“People there spoke to each other with ease and honesty and heart​. Even if some people just ended up talking to women they already knew, I was happy this gave them a dedicated time and space to enjoy some downtime to get to relax and get to know each other,” said Ying. “To top it off, coincidentally, Dr. Karen Vaughan of University of Wyoming lead a study that showed how far we are from gender parity within soil science in multiple sectors. She brought her poster and her team of students and educated us on the current numbers. It was so exciting to see all of these powerful moments come together in one place.”

The event was in a progressive party style where participants rotated to four different tables every 15 minutes and participated in facilitated discussions about specific issues facing women in the field of soil sciences.

“We wanted to be different from the idea of sitting there and listening to someone speak to us. We wanted to have the actual expertise in the room talk with each other,” said Seyfferth.

Seyfferth herself was able to meet a senior faculty member face to face for the first time.

“I was able to meet a person who I had never met before who is a full professor in my field. As a female, there are few of them so just to be able to meet them face to face even if a collaboration isn’t happening now I think that it’s important to see people who are like me in that role,” said Seyfferth.

While there aren’t currently a high number of women in the field, Seyfferth said that as the number of women who receive doctorates in the field increases, the number of female faculty members who are soil scientists should increase as well.

“The percentage of females who are getting positions as assistant professors is increasing so as long as they’re successfully promoted, hopefully that will start to reconcile itself and lead to more diversity,” said Seyfferth. “Another issue that’s related but also separate is a general lack of diversity in soil science and so while this was targeted specifically for females, we’re hoping that it can be expanded to talk about how we can be more inclusive and embrace the diversity that we have.”

The organizers are hopeful that the networking event will occur at the next international meeting which will be held in January 2019 in San Diego and that it can extend its reach.

“I’m really excited for my colleagues who are men, including my partner Michael Schaefer​, another researcher in our field, to organized similar events for men who support women in science,” said Ying. “We need to do more in acknowledging everyone who puts effort, time, care, and money into advancing women and minorities, and these are both men and women around us. I’m excited to figure this next step out and how we can contribute to retaining women through making these networking events and support systems more ubiquitous.”

Seyfferth was sponsored by the University of Delaware ADVANCE program, which is aimed at increasing opportunities for UD’s women faculty, to attend and organize the event. The University of California at Riverside’s Department of Environmental Sciences and their College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, specifically Dean Kathryn Urich, also sponsored the event.

In addition, Ying credits Marco Keiluweit, an assistant professor at UMass-Amherst, for sparking the initial idea of having an event just for female soil scientists. Ying also said that Jan Roselle, assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Pomona College, and Owen Duckworth, the chair of the Soil Chemistry committee, played key roles in making the event happen.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Matt Limmer

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD pre-veterinary students help Delaware Humane Association with One Health clinics for low-income residents

Eight undergraduate students studying pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences at the University of Delaware have teamed with the Delaware Humane Association (DHA) to offer One-Health Clinics to low income Delaware residents at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center in Wilmington.

The clinics have been held the first Saturday of the month since October and participating residents receive free vaccinations and health screenings for their pets while at the same time allowing the undergraduate students to gain a valuable hands-on, real-world learning experience.

The One-Health concept is a term applied to a transdisciplinary approach to health research and outreach that involves human, animal and environmental factors.

UD pre-veterinary students help Delaware Humane Association with One Health clinics for low-income residentsThese clinics put the concept to use by not only screening and vaccinating the pets, but also providing education to the pet owners on healthy eating and living, provided by UD Cooperative Extension representatives, and also allowing the pet owners the opportunity to learn about services provided at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center.

Kristin Jankowski, one of the head veterinarians for the clinics, said that the clinics have provided a great opportunity for the students to interact with pet owners face to face.

“Normally, for me in general practice, if we have an undergraduate student helping, they’re not interacting with the clients,” Jankowski said. “They might be drawing up vaccines or they might be helping hold the animals but they’re not part of the learning process or the didactic part between the veterinarian and the client. This is not just a vaccine clinic. It’s a whole exam. It’s talking to the owners about risk factors for diabetes, osteoarthritis, dealing with ear and skin disease. We’re also talking about disease transmission with parasites and their kids, all kinds of things like that.”

Leah Ferguson, a sophomore studying pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was one of the students involved in the program and said that her favorite part of the clinics has been the opportunity to help low-income pet owners.

“I’ve always said that once I become a vet, I want to give back and help people who can’t afford it because I know my mom struggled a lot with vet bills and getting my dogs to the vet,” said Ferguson. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I have the opportunity to do that while still being an undergrad. Since this is the first year of the program, hopefully it grows and I can give back into it once I graduate and get on my own feet.”

At the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, the UD students and DHA staff are joined by students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and they set up four stations that the clients rotate through.

The first station is where clients sign in and give their pets medical history. The second is an exam station. The third is where the pets get medication and a rabies certificate and then the final discharge station is where extra educational materials are provided, both on human and pet health, and where further appointments can be set up for both.

Jankowski said that the UD students have been getting progressively more involved with each clinic.

“At the end of their internship, they can administer the vaccines if we feel they’re up to speed for vaccines that can be administered by a non-veterinarian which is basically everything but rabies,” said Jankowski.

In the beginning, Jankowski said that drawing up a vaccine was very challenging for the students but they have been showing growth which each clinic.

“Now they draw up the de-wormers, they help record data and they help restrain,” Jankowski  said. “They have a certified veterinary technician working with them and so they’ve been helping them deal with interpreting body language of the animals and safe restraint and assisting with holding for blood draws. We taught them how to run the laboratory tests because we have some basic lab tests that we’re running such as heartworm tests and leukemia screenings.”

Lesa Griffiths, the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that the experience has been great for the students involved and that their involvement goes beyond the clinics.

“Essentially they’re taking a course,” Griffiths said. “They do bi-weekly reporting into me about their experience and what they’re learning as part of the clinic. So not only are they doing the clinics on Saturdays but they have also met during the week to organize supplies. Kristin sends them regular readings on what’s going on in veterinary medicine or things they need to be concerned about relative to the clinics. They have extra hours doing anything from writing thank you notes to all the donors of the veterinary medical supplies for these clinics or volunteering up at the shelter so they’re getting a broader experience.”

Jankowski said that it has been great partnering with the UD students and she is looking forward to continuing the clinics into the winter and spring of 2018.

“A lot of the students said in the beginning they were a little worried as to what they would see and experience but they all came away really feeling warmly towards the clients and their desire to help their animals, which we all did. It was amazing,” said Jankowski. “These are people that really want to help their pets, they just don’t have the resources.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Cooperative Extension accepts applications for Extension Scholars program

Applications are now being accepted for those interested in becoming 2018 University of Delaware Cooperative Extension scholars.

Now in its 14th year, the Extension Scholars program offers UD students a unique, hands-on 10-week summer experiential learning environment under the guidance of extension agents or specialists.

Interns will work the summer semester from June 4-Aug. 9, 40 hours per week with a $3,770 stipend. Some flexibility in dates/hours may be required.

canr extention scholars orientation townsend hall commons summer 2017During this summer internship, students will follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Any current undergraduate, in the summer following sophomore year and beyond, or graduate students at UD are eligible to participate and opportunities are available in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

Interns will be expected to provide their own transportation, and mileage to and from work is at the intern’s expense. All interns will be expected to participate in the orientation on June 4 and the Service Learning Symposium in August.

The deadline to register for the Extension Scholars program is Wednesday, Dec. 20.

To register to become an Extension Scholar, visit the Cooperative Extension website.

About Cooperative Extension

Cooperative Extension connects the public with university knowledge, research and resources to address youth, family, community and agricultural needs.

The goal of Cooperative Extension is to help individuals, families and communities make informed decisions that can enhance their lives. In so doing, the organization generates and disseminates research-based information, provides focused educational opportunities and builds relationships that create effective solutions.

UD students learn about prescribed burning for wildlife management

Students in Jeff Buler’s Wildlife Habitat Management class got to see techniques they’re learning about in class in action when they travelled to the Cedar Swamp Wildlife Management Area near Smyrna to see a prescribed burn led by former University of Delaware students who now work for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Buler, associate professor of wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that this is the sixth year he’s conducted the trip for his class and that the 42 students who went got to learn how prescribed burning is used to manage grassland habitats where technicians intentionally burn grassland fields to set back succession—the process by which a grassland becomes a forest—and keep woody plants from encroaching.

UD students learn from UD alums, current DNREC employees about prescribed burning for wildlife management“It also helps to enhance the growth of those early successional plants,” said Buler. “One of the challenges they have is that the grasses are growing at too high a density so they are also using that burn to help reduce the density of the grass. If they get too dense they aren’t providing as good a habitat for wildlife.”

Prescribed burns are a lot more prevalent in other parts of the country, such as out in the Midwest where grasslands are the dominant habitat type, so it was a great opportunity for the students to see the management technique first hand.

“On the prescribed fire trip, they get to actually see one of these management techniques in action,” said Buler. “What’s nice is that the technicians show them all the equipment, they talk about the process of getting permits to be able to burn, to get the permission to burn, and all the planning that goes into it. Then of course we go out and see the burn. For many of them, it’s the first time that they’ve witnessed a prescribed burn.”

The annual field trip is one of the most popular in Buler’s class because the students not only get to see a wildlife habitat management technique but they also get to interact with wildlife biologists and industry professionals, and in this case, they get to speak with professionals who also have experience with UD.

UD students learn from UD alums, current DNREC employees about prescribed burning for wildlife management“What’s nice is that it’s kind of two-fold. It’s part professional development but it’s also educating them about wildlife first hand in the field,” said Buler. “What I like about this trip in particular is that not only are the students meeting other professionals but many of them were students that came through this department. It reinforces that you can get a job. It might be that they take advice from these former students to heart more if they’re hearing advice from professionals they connect with.”

Buler said that two alums in particular, Eric Ludwig, New Castle County Regional Manager for DNREC, and Craig Rhoads, Environmental Program Manager for DNREC, have hired past students that took the course when they were at UD.

In addition to visiting the Cedar Swamp Wildlife Management Area, Buler’s class has travelled to areas to view other wildlife habitats as well, such as the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kathy Atkinson and Evan Krape

UDairy Creamery seeks input from UD community on cheese preferences

As construction on a new cheese plant on the University of Delaware’s South Campus in Newark gets underway, the UDairy Creamery is soliciting input from the University community to determine the preferred types of cheeses in the area.

Throughout the month of December, the UDairy Creamery will conduct a short survey regarding consumer cheese preferences. The survey will provide valuable insight on preferences of the campus community regarding types and styles of cheeses.

UDairy Creamery seeks input from UD community on cheese preferencTen random drawings for $5 gift cards will be held for completed responses.

The UDairy Creamery expects to begin cheese production in mid-2018 after renovations are completed to 124 Worrilow Hall.

Completion of the cheese plant will make the UDairy Creamery the only aged cheese producer in Delaware leaving the market wide open.

With the University community as its main supporter, UDairy would like to produce cheeses according to community preferences. Cheese production will not only increase UDairy’s product line but also increase hands-on learning for the students involved in production as well as research and product development.

To fill out the survey, visit the following link:

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Jacob L. Bowman Accepted for national Food Systems Leadership Institute

Jacob Bowman was accepted for the Fall 2017 Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) 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.

Jacob L. Bowman Accepted for national Food Systems Leadership Institute“I am honored to have the opportunity to attend the institute and I’m looking forward to implementing what I learn here at UD,” said Bowman, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The thing I look forward to most is being able to network with other people in similar positions from around the country and hearing different perspectives on issues related to our food systems in North America.”

During the FSLI program, scholars work with expert instructors, leadership development coaches, and an upper level mentor to help increase their leadership abilities. They will 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

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 APLU 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.

Landscape Architecture on Display

Students in the University of Delaware’s Landscape Architecture program displayed their breadth of work from Saturday, November 4 through Saturday, November 11 in the West Lounge of the Perkins Student Center.

The display was arranged in such a way that visitors could see the scope of the students’ work beginning with the introductory level courses all the way up through the senior capstone course in order to show the students’ progression over the four-year period of the program.

“I’m really proud of the work that was on display,” said Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape design and director of the program. “I think it’s really good work and you can see the difference between the freshman studio work and the senior studio work and everything in between. If you could find somebody’s work from the 200-level course and then find that same student’s work from the 400-level course, you would definitely see growth.”

Emma Ruggiero, a senior, did an independent study to get the display ready.

Amanda Binning, a junior, Carin Prechtl, a senior, and Austin Virdin, a senior, also did a lot of work on the display.

Landscape Architecture on DisplayInformation about the two student clubs affiliated with the Landscape Architecture program, the DeLA Club, which is focused on all aspects of landscape architecture, and the Design and Articulture Club (DART) was also available to exhibit visitors.

In addition, work from a study abroad program to Brazil which was led by Sue Barton, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, was also on display.

The week culminated with a reception on Wednesday evening where friends and family members could view the students’ work. The reception was also held to celebrate the completion of the pre-candidacy phase of the Landscape Architecture program’s bid to become an accredited program.

At the reception, Virdin received the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) Engaged Excellence award for the landscape architecture student who maximizes the success of self and others by positive contributions to the community.

Bruck said that the Landscape Architecture program will also have a miniature Philadelphia flower show display up in the Perkins Student Center over Winter Session and said that the venue is a great opportunity to show the campus community all that they have to offer.

“I think it’s nice for both the students and potential students to know that this exists on campus. It’s a really nice way for us to share all the hard work that the students do. Our major is not easy. The students are in the studio half the night some nights and they work really hard and I think it’s nice to offer an opportunity to show off the fruits of their labor,” said Bruck.

Article by Adam Thomas

Fulbright Scholar learns research techniques at UD

Visiting Fulbright Scholar Nicolas Carlotto had read many research papers by the University of Delaware’s Jung Youn-Lee during his time studying for his doctorate at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The agrobiotechnology lab in which Carlotto works and his PhD advisor Ken Kobayshi were also trying their best to perform a Drop-And-See (DANS) technique highlighted in one of her research papers but kept running into road blocks when they tried to follow the papers’ detailed instructions.

Kobayshi e-mailed Lee asking for help and her response was that the best way to learn the technique was for her to show one of his students first hand in her lab and so Carlotto applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, in collaboration with Ministry of Education and Sport of Argentina. Once he obtained the scholarship, he made his way from Argentina to Delaware.

Nicolas Carlotto visits from Argentina to learn Drop-and-See research technique from UD’s LeeHe arrived on July 26 for his three-month internship and immediately started working on perfecting the technique of performing a DANS assay.

The DANS assay is a way for researchers to analyze plasmodesmata—or plant communication through cellular channels—permeability in real time.

Lee, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that the technique is exactly as it sounds: researchers drop a membrane permeable, non-fluorescent dye onto the upper side of an intact leaf, then cut off the leaf and look through a confocal microscope to see how much the dye, now fluorescent and membrane impermeable, has spread in the lower side of the leaf. This indicates the aperture of the plasmodesmata, which can be imagined as tubes connecting two cells and indicates how the plant is communicating with itself.

“The spread of the dye indicates how the cells’ communication channel, plasmodesmata, are acting,” said Lee. “If the dye doesn’t spread in a big field, it means that plasmodesmata, the channels are mostly closed so that we can tell how plasmodesmata are active in in-tact plants. That gave us a real handle on measuring the plasmodesmata permeability in real time.”

Carlotto said that he learned from both Lee and Xu Wang, a member of Lee’s lab group and that he was also supported by the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences with funds that let him use the Delaware Biotechnology Institute’s (DBI) Bioimaging Center, an advanced microscopy facility where he has done most of his experiments.

“I learned how to be really consistent with your handling of the experiment. Because perhaps sometimes you don’t focus very well on the health of the plants or on the leaf you want to treat or the time when you set an experiment. You try to do that but sometimes you miss. And coming to a lab where they are really focused on that, it will improve my experience as a scientist,” said Carlotto.

Learning from doing has also helped Carlotto instead of simply trying to learn from reading about the experiment in a paper.

“It’s very different when you see how something is done than when you read about it,” said Carlotto who added that he is excited to show members of his lab how to perform the DANS assay back in Argentina as well as other techniques and tools he worked with at DBI.

As for his time at UD, Carlotto said that it has been a great experience.

“I really like the City of Newark. I’m using the Carpenter Sports Building a lot. I used to swim in Argentina when I was younger and it’s been many years but when I came here and found out about the Carpenter Sports building, I go in to swim and use the machines. UD is really great. The campus is nice and you can really feel and experience the university academic ambience of the United States,” said Carlotto.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Monica Moriak

UD’s Palm-Forster looks to incentivize environmental improvements for farmers

Throughout the United States, toxic algal blooms are wreaking havoc on bodies of water, causing pollution and having harmful effects on people, fish and marine mammals.

One of the main contributors to these algal blooms is excess phosphorus that runs off from agricultural fields and while there has been a lot of efforts in recent years by farmers to improve agricultural management, the problem persists and there is still a lot of work to be done.

In a paper published recently in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, the University of Delaware’s Leah Palm-Forster met with farmers in northwest Ohio to test out different incentives that would promote the use of best management practices (BMPs) to help curb the excess phosphorus runoff from their fields.

UD’s Leah Palm-Forster talks with farmers at the Paulding County Swamp Nature Center in 2013
UD’s Leah Palm-Forster talks with farmers at the Paulding County Swamp Nature Center in 2013

Palm-Forster, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, collected the data for the study in 2013 while she was a doctoral student at Michigan State University. Palm-Forster and her co-authors—Scott Swinton, professor, and Robert Shupp, associate professor both at Michigan State University—travelled to four different locations and spoke with 49 farmers, looking specifically at farms that could have an impact on Lake Erie, which was hit earlier this year with an algal bloom that stretched over 700 miles.

The researchers used four different incentives for their study—a cash payment, a cash payment with BMP insurance, a tax credit and a certification price premium—by the cost per pound of phosphorus runoff reduction to see which incentives the farmers most preferred.

“For this study, we used an artificial reverse auction, meaning that farmers didn’t have to go back to their farm and actually do any of these practices. We were trying to pilot test these incentives in a controlled environment, so although it was artificial, they actually were receiving real cash payments based on how they performed during the session,” said Palm-Forster.

The farmers had mock farms which were designed to be typical farms in the Lake Erie watershed and they were given information about baseline management practices that they used and then they were given three different practices that they could bid on.

“We learned a couple interesting things. First of all, there didn’t seem to be a lot of differences between the bids for a cash payment or a tax credit which is interesting because it means we might have some flexibility in how we design programs. If there were the ability to create a tax credit that would be comparable, then we may be able to motivate this kind of management change through that mechanism instead of giving cash payments,” said Palm-Forster.

Another surprising result was that the farmers asked for more money for the incentive where they were given a cash payment plus insurance.

“You would expect them to bid less because you’re giving them this insurance for free, so you would expect that they would request less cash in order to adopt a practice but they were very skeptical about how insurance would work in this particular setting,” said Palm-Forster. “We learned in focus groups afterward that they assumed that there were going to be more transaction costs—time, effort, money being spent trying to comply with program rules and just maintain eligibility—and they didn’t view that as being attractive at all,” said Palm-Forster.

Farmers also seemed willing to accept the certification price premium as long as it would be comparable to an equivalent amount of cash payment. Palm-Forster said that the issue there is that if it happened in real life, it wouldn’t be targeted towards only environmentally vulnerable areas.

“If you imagine there’s this certification price premium, and any farmer who is willing to do these practices could be eligible for the premium, that means a farmer that’s on a piece of land that’s not as sensitive in an environmental sense would be getting the same price premium as a farmer that was on a really environmentally vulnerable piece of land, which is not going to result in the most cost-effective use of those dollars,” said Palm-Forster.

One of the most important aspects of this research according to Palm-Forster was that the researchers went out in the world and interacted with actual farmers to hear their preferences.

“Talking to the real decision makers is key. It can be difficult to get farmers to engage with you but it’s really important and we learned so much from working with them in that setting,” said Palm-Forster. “After we did the experiments, we had focus group discussions which let us understand why they were making these decisions in the experiment. This particular paper was enriched by having that understanding of where the farmers were coming from, which was facilitated by the focus groups.”

While this study focused on Lake Erie, it can be applicable to other areas of the country such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River Basin.

These sorts of economic experiments are important as policy makers need to get as much information as possible from actual farmers to hopefully one day roll out incentive programs that the majority of farmers prefer.

“You want to do all these things before you try to roll out this type of program because you need to learn what would work and what wouldn’t. This would be one piece of all of that ground work. There are a lot of projects right now in the western basin, a lot of researchers are thinking about this problem, and a lot of farmers are engaging in regional programs to help improve the lake but it’s still just not enough,” said Palm-Forster.

The research was funded by a grant from the Great Lakes Protection Fund.

Article by Adam Thomas

Innovation the focus of Delaware Cooperative Extension’s annual conference

Innovative ideas rarely begin as an “Aha” lightbulb-over the-head-moment, but rather come to life as part of a deliberate process – a navigation with twists and turns which embrace working differently, taking risks, and carving out free time for contemplation. This was the takeaway message at Delaware Cooperative Extension’s First State Innovate event held on Oct. 19 at Delaware State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Dover.

Delaware Cooperative Extension is a partnership of the First State’s two Land-Grant universities – University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Each fall, extension faculty, specialists, agents and staff convene for a day of networking and professional development. This year, innovation was the focus, empowered by a $10,000 grant from, a national organization dedicated to providing tools, services and enhancing the impact of Land-Grant institutions across the U.S.

The road towards innovation

Approximately 100 extension professionals were introduced to several innovation concepts throughout the conference, starting with the keynote address.

Jamie Seger, director of the Ohio State University’s Extension Educational Technology Unit, and Paul Hill, associate professor at Utah State University in 4-H and Community Development program areas, served as co-keynote speakers.

As active collaborators with eXtension in piloting innovation in extension offices across the country, Hill and Seger champion working differently, most notably with their Educational Technology Learning Network or #EdTechLN, a bi-weekly national conversation on Twitter.

“Popular culture has romanticized how innovation happens,” Seger said in her keynote, adding that tools and technology aren’t always the go-to solutions to foster innovative practices.

“All we need in Extension in order to innovate is to simply work differently,” Seger said. “It’s not about the stuff – it is about a new way of thinking and a new process for working.”

Changing the culture and working differently in extension means understanding the nature of innovation as a process, Seger said. Both defined innovation as a journey.

“It’s a long winding road that goes through peaks and valleys and sometimes turns around on itself, all while existing perilously on the edge,” Seger said.

A culture of innovation must exist within an organization if widespread innovation is to be realized, Seger said.

“Fear of failure leads organizations like extension toward a culture of efficiency,” Hill added. “If failure isn’t an option, then innovation isn’t going to take place. Success cannot happen without failure.”

Hill and Seger emphasized that innovative change needs to come from all levels, from leadership and from within each extension professional.

“We all have the power to create the culture we want in our system.” Seger said.

In the presentation, Hill contrasted the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset.

“A fixed mindset avoids the new and manages risk through analysis and seeks to understand the data. A growth mindset seeks the new, manages risk through action and develops empathy,” Hill said.

“People with fixed mindsets are great at getting pre-determined projects done, but not new projects and programs. They are implementers, but not necessarily innovators,” Hill said.

Innovation ideas

“Creating a culture of innovation begins with the extension professional and with leadership,” said Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension who along with an endowment from former UD extension director Jan Seitz, offered five teams up to $15,000 in support to put winning ideas in place.

Innovation the focus of Delaware Cooperative Extension’s annual conference
Making Change-Solutions placed first among eight teams and won a $5,000 grant to launch a 4-H Maker Library. From L-R, Jan Seitz, Carol Scott, Beverly Banks, Rene Diaz, Sequoia Rent and team coach from North Dakota State University, Bob Bertsch. Seitz, former UD Director of Delaware Extension funded the first place team through an endowment to UD Cooperative Extension

Earlier this spring, Rodgers and Donna Brown, interim director of DSU Cooperative Extension, invited their staff to form teams to compete for start-up funds to launch their innovation initiatives. Teams were encouraged to form across both institutions and utilize Adobe Kickbox, a tool for creating and deliberating about ideas created by Adobe for their employees and adapted for extension use.

Eight teams accepted the challenge and delivered three-minute pitches on stage and were judged by a panel of six with input from electronic peer voting. The top three teams were:

  • 4-H Afterschool Makers. Team: Bev Banks, DSU, Rene Diaz, UD, Sequoia Rent, UD and Carol Scott, UD. $5,000 to create maker spaces and a maker library for 4-H afterschool youth and for areas where materials and space to create are at a minimum.
  • Aerial Agents. Team: Troy Darden, DSU; Dennis McIntosh, DSU; Michele Walfred, UD; and Cory Whaley, UD. $4,000 for the purchase of two drones for communication and marketing purposes and to create and stock an online library of footage for use by and promotion of extension events and programs.
  • Soil Surfers: Team: John Clendaniel, DSU; Natasha Lamadieu, DSU; and Jenn Volk, UD. $3,000 to deliver integrated extension programming to take a community through assessing a garden site for environmental risks and impacts, growing the produce, and producing safe and healthy meals. Sessions will be recorded and turned into short videos for future communities to use.
  • Other winning teams were Lights, Camera, Extension awarded $2,000 and Wealth and Wellness Warriors with an award of $1,000.

All eight teams were assisted by a creative coach, three of whom were brought to Delaware via the eXtension grant: Bradd Anderson from the University of Missouri, Bob Bertsch from North Dakota State University, and Daphne Richards from Texas A & M University. Joining as coaches from UD were Cyndi Connelly, Christy Mannering and Adam Thomas. Throughout the summer and fall, creative coaches met with teams via technology for consultation.

“Donna, Jan, and I are very excited about the ideas we have heard today,” Rodgers said. “Today’s innovate event is an important first step in working differently and making an impact that will positively affect our extension staff and our communities in Delaware.”

During the conference, several opportunities to explore innovation practices took place including a panel discussion webcasted through eXtension’s online learn platform, a “Steal My Idea Showcase” featuring a circuit of 12 innovator mini-presentations.

Friends of Extension Awards

Brown and Rodgers also presented the Friend of Extension Award recognitions for UD and DSU.

“The Friend of Extension Award is the highest recognition presented to a non-extension person, business or organization and is designed to recognize truly outstanding support and personal involvement in extension efforts,” Rodgers said.

University of Delaware

  • Hetty Francke. A volunteer with extension for 30-plus years, Francke became a Master Gardener in 1987 and a Master Composter in 1989 and she served as volunteer compost education coordinator for Delaware 4-H.
  • Lazy Boy Farm. This family farm operation in Middletown has produced fresh cabbage, potatoes, soybean, corn and wheat since 1956. Brothers Ken and Chris Wicks, and their respective children Anna Wicks, a UD Alumna, and Michael, comprise the three-generation farm.
  • Karen Sommers.  A Master Food Educator (MFE) since 2011 with the Family and Consumer Science program, Sommers is valued for her tireless wisdom and volunteer efforts, with 175 hours served in the first half of 2017 alone.
  • Pat and Alex Bohinski and their staff at Southern States provide advanced training to Delaware Master Gardeners by participating in numerous meetings covering a variety of topics to keep Master Gardeners informed with new lawn and garden products, trends and problems.

Delaware State University

  • Pastor William Grimes. Under his leadership at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Dover, Grimes opened his 4,200 square foot outreach center and collaborates with Delaware Cooperative Extension, helping to promote a healthy lifestyle through community dinners and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).
  • Kesha Braunskill works for the Delaware Forest Service and serves on the state’s Urban and Community Forest Council. Braunskill offers training on tree diseases and diagnosis, tree management, tree plantings and jobsite safety.
  • New Hope Recreation and Development Center, Inc. This organization led by Kendal and Delores Tyre bring STEM education to youth they serve during afterschool and summer camp programs. The Tyre’s center and volunteer staff provide a safe place for youth where students can learn and improve their academic and social skills.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photo by Jackie Arpie

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professors team with Brandywine Zoo to test cameras for wildlife population study

When conducting research in remote areas to get population estimates on elusive animals, it’s important to make sure that the camera traps which will capture images of those animals are set up properly. Once the camera traps are placed, they can’t be adjusted and the only time they’ll be looked at again is when they’re picked up at the end of the study.

Thanks to the Brandywine Zoo, University of Delaware researcher Jennifer McCarthy was able to test various camera heights, distances, settings and bait and scent stations to see how to best set up her cameras for an upcoming research project looking at the elusive jaguarundi cat in Panama’s Mamoni Valley.

The research is being done in partnership with the Mamoni Valley Preserve and Kaminando, a wildlife conservation organization.

McCarthy, an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that her group will use the pictures to try and identify a few individuals through specific markings—such as scars or ear notches.

Jennifer McCarthy attaches a camera to a tree. McCarthy and other researchers will return to Panama to collect 34 cameras they placed in June, hoping to catch images of the jaguarundi.Unlike jaguars, which can be identified using spot patterns, the jaguarundi are all one color and it is harder to identify individuals so having good photos is critical for the researchers.

“We’re trying to get good pictures of their faces and their bodies but we don’t get a lot of time to practice and play with different distances when we’re out in the field,” said McCarthy. “The Brandywine Zoo was incredible because I called and said ‘We’re trying to put these cameras out in Panama, is there any way we could practice on your cats?’ and they said, ‘Yes, that’d be great.’ They were wonderful.”

This study will be one of the first to measure the population density of jaguarundi which are found throughout Central and South America.

“They’re thought to be really common because people see them relatively often but there’s never been a study on them,” McCarthy said. “All the information we have comes from photos that have been obtained during other studies and people have kind of ignored them thinking that they’re pretty common. We have a hunch that we see them because they’re a diurnal species, which means they’re active during the day, so they might not be as numerous as we think.”

McCarthy, who is working on the project with Kyle McCarthy, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, and Jeffrey Conner Maxwell, a senior in CANR, said that they set up two cameras each in three different enclosures of three different animals — the bobcat enclosure, the serval enclosure and the capybara enclosure — and put baits at different distances.

“We measured different distances from the cameras and we were able to see, ‘Ok, if we set our camera this far from the trail, we’re getting really good pictures and if we set our camera at this height, we’re able to get good face photos,’” said McCarthy.

Over the three-day period, they were able to capture almost 4,000 photos which gave them an idea of how to set up their cameras when they ventured to Panama.

The researchers set up 34 cameras in Panama in June and are going to pick them up in October.

Because of the remoteness of their location, McCarthy stressed that it is of the utmost importance to make sure they’re set up properly the first time.

“We can’t go back and check them so we want to make sure we do everything right the first time and the Brandywine Zoo was great in helping us to hopefully do that,” said McCarthy.

The researchers were also able to try out different lures and scents—such as Calvin Klein’s Obsession perfume—that will hopefully get the cats in front of the cameras out in the wild.

“We have used Obsession before in the field but at the Brandywine Zoo, we tried some different scents,” said McCarthy who explained that there have been studies that looked at different perfumes at other zoos.

“Jaguars are really attracted to Obsession and Chanel No. 5,” said McCarthy. “I always think we’re out in the jungle for three or four days and it’s pretty rough but we always smell really, really good.”

McCarthy stressed that it was great to have the Brandywine Zoo as a partner on the project and that zoos often play an important, behind the scenes role in conservation projects.

“This is a way that we get to work with wild animals and we get a lot of data that would take us years to collect in the field,” said McCarthy. “This will really help us with animals in the wild. It’s a great partnership and they were great to work with.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Jennifer McCarthy

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Large Animal Emergency Rescue Workshops held on Webb Farm

Almost 80 people took part in a Large Animal Emergency Rescue Training held October 7 and 8 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at UD’s Webb Farm. Participants included University of Delaware students, members of the public, veterinary professionals, first responders, officials and volunteers from the Maryland Park Service.

The awareness workshops were led by Roger Lauze from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), Jo Ann Bashore, former Park Ranger at Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area (NRMA), and Tom Coulter, paramedic and instructor from Coulter and Associates.

Amy Biddle, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, said that the course sprung up organically from students in the equine management capstone course after Bashore visited the class and talked about her experiences handling equine emergencies at Fair Hill NRMA.

Large Animal Emergency Rescue Workshops held on Webb FarmWorkshops were geared towards instructing participants on how to move large animals safely and quickly in cases of disaster or injury while preventing potential injuries to the humans involved.

“There were techniques for handling equine emergencies, transporting horses, getting horses out of tight spots, and so there were a variety of scenarios that groups worked in teams to solve,” said Biddle. “For instance, a horse that’s stuck in a trailer if there’s been a trailer accident or if a horse is stuck in a ditch. Horses tend to get stuck in weird places. If there’s a way to hurt themselves, they will find it, so it’s important to know how to move them safely.”

The course offered classroom instruction and hands-on scenarios using specialized equipment that may be readily available to first responder departments including a rescue trailer generously made available by Fair Hill NRMA.

Biddle said that she received positive feedback from participants and the hope was to generate awareness and interest for national certification programs such as the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue class which was held by the Division of Public Health Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) in September and conducted by OAW’s Delaware Animal Response (DAR) team in conjunction with the Delaware State Fire School.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Amy Biddle

UD Cooperative Extension teams with Molina Foundation to give away free books to Delaware youth

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has received a Books Across Delaware grant from the Molina Foundation to distribute 7,000 free new children’s books ― enough to fill a library shelf a football field long ― to children throughout the First State.

The colorful children’s pleasure-reading books, activity book and workbooks, featuring fun themes and characters, were recently delivered to the UD Extension facility in Newark. Covering a range of grades and age levels, the books are being given out by UD Extension through its Delaware 4-H Program to children from low-income, at-risk communities for reading and family learning time as the new school year continues into the fall.

UD Cooperative Extension teams with Molina Foundation to give away free books to Delaware youthThe Molina Foundation, based in Long Beach, California, awarded the Books Across Delaware grant as part of its back-to-school literacy initiative taking place in select regions of the country including Virginia and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The initiative is designed to promote independent learning and help combat the “summer slide” where students may have lost academic ground. Students can drop an average of two to three months in reading and math skills over the break — a loss that can significantly impact their future academic and economic success.

The 7,000-book grant has a total estimated value of $57,000.

This book grant is a wonderful way to honor the continued good work of Cooperative Extension in Delaware,” said Martha Bernadett, Molina Foundation President and Founder.  “We believe in how they provide children and families across the state with valuable learning programs, resources and opportunities. We absolutely endorse what they do and we know that our books and learning materials can help them in their mission.”

The delivery was made in close partnership with UD Extension and 4-H program administrators in Newark. This is the second book grant in two years awarded by The Molina Foundation to UD Extension for a statewide campaign. In 2016, a total of 30,000 books were awarded.

UD Extension, which provides research-based programs and services to support local youth, families, agriculture, businesses and communities across the state, plans to continue coordinating the giveaway of books over the next several weeks and throughout the fall season at various 4-H activities and community events throughout the state.

Books Across Delaware is a worthwhile effort that closely aligns with the Extension’s work and mission, stated Doug Crouse, the State 4-H Program Leader.  “We are happy to partner with The Molina Foundation,” he said. “We believe that there is special value in making sure that books and reading are part of every child’s life. This is a heartfelt opportunity. Handing out these books will help thousands of Delaware kids get a good start to lifelong learning and success.”

The Molina Foundation is a national nonprofit organization. Since its inception in 2004, it has partnered with more than 2,000 organizations and schools around the country to promote literacy and wellness. In addition, it has donated more than 5 million new children’s books in English and Spanish, and hosted hundreds of free workshops and programs for educators, families, and children.

UD’s Michelle Rodgers named National Project Director for Culture of Health Initiative

Following the $4.6 million grant awarded to National 4-H Council by the nation’s largest health philanthropy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Michelle Rodgers has been named the new National Project Director of RWJF’s partnership with National 4-H Council and Cooperative Extension System (CES).

The grant aims to improve the health of 1,000 communities across the nation over the next 10 years. This will involve engaging all the land-grant universities that serve every county and parish in the United States. The partnership will also include and empower young people to help local Health Councils implement action plans that ensure all community members can be healthier at every stage of life.

Rodgers explained that one of the unique aspects of Cooperative Extension’s partnership with RWJF is that it “taps into everything that the Cooperative Extension System has done well since we were formed over a century ago as the national education and community development program of the nation’s land-grant universities,” said Rodgers.  “When we bring together Cooperative Extension and America’s philanthropy leader in health, it is amazing to envision the transformative impact we will have in communities throughout the country.”

UD’s Michelle Rodgers named National Project Director for Culture of Health InitiativeAs Associate Dean and Director, Rodgers provides overall leadership for programs, personnel and the organizational development of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. She is the immediate past chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and served as co-chair of the ECOP Health Task Force. Prior to joining UD, Rodgers spent five years as associate director at Michigan State University Extension. Rodgers also worked at Penn State University as an agent and regional director in Cooperative Extension.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Rodgers in this role as our college, and many others across the nation, embrace the One Health and Healthy Communities concepts,” said Mark Rieger, Dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). “She has done an outstanding job of leading the nationwide effort for Cooperative Extension to partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on these initiatives, and I know that the project is in very capable hands.”

The partnership will focus on three key elements to accomplish transformational change: (1) designing a sustainable network structure to promote health and well-being in communities across the nation; (2) creating and disseminating tools for healthier communities; and (3) launching a training curriculum for local community advocates. This approach will substantially increase the impact of the local Health Councils to drive impactful, sustainable outcomes.

Dan Rich, University Professor of Public Policy and Director, Community Engagement Initiative, the University of Delaware, noted that Rodgers’ national leadership role with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will also “greatly strengthen UD’s new Partnership for Healthy Communities, in which Dr. Rodgers also has a lead role, and will be launched officially by President Dennis Assanis at a knowledge-based conference on Strengthening Partnerships in Health and Education: Delaware and the Nation, on October 30 at Clayton Hall.”

CANR recognizes recipients of Worrilow, Distinguished Alumni awards

Seven graduates of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented with honors – the George M. Worrilow Award as well as three Distinguished Alumni Awards and three Distinguished Young Alumni Awards – during a ceremony held Friday, Oct. 20, as part of Homecoming festivities.

The awards are given based on a clear record of outstanding career accomplishments, service and leadership to the profession, and community service, including service to UD.

George M. Worrilow Award

James L. Glancey was presented with CANR’s George M. Worrilow Award, named for the dean of the college from 1954-65 whose career was dedicated to better agriculture and better agricultural education.

James Glancey receives the Worrilow AwardIt is given annually by the Ag Alumni Association to a graduate of the college who has exhibited outstanding service to agriculture.

Glancey is a professor with appointments in the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Glancey’s work includes the development of new or improved products and automated processes, the forensics of product failures, as well as a better understanding of the underlying physics of many natural and man-made phenomena.

His research utilizes a combination of analysis and simulations, prototyping, and testing. Cooperation with several centers on campus is typical including the Center for Biomechanical Engineering Research and the Center for Composite Materials. Glancey and his students have co-authored more than 120 manuscripts and papers since 1997 and several students have received national awards from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society for the Advancement of Material and Processing Engineering (SAMPE).

Distinguished Alumni

Robert Cohen receives distinguished alumni awardRobert Cohen has had a distinguishable career both as a practitioner and business entrepreneur in veterinary sciences. Cohen attended the University of Delaware and graduated with a Degree with Distinction in 1972. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and has been a practicing veterinarian for over 40 years. During his tenure there, he was awarded the American Animal Hospital Association Student Achievement award for his outstanding scholastic and clinical performance. He continued his post-graduate veterinary medical and surgical training at the world’s largest animal hospital, the Animal Medical Center (AMC) of New York. He eventually became the head of the section of cardiology and director of clinics at the world-class facility.

While at the AMC, he founded, with another veterinary cardiologist, a high-tech innovative computer based cardiac and internal medicine consulting service for veterinarians. This venture evolved into the largest provider of veterinary consulting services in the world. The company, CardioPet went public in 1984. The AMC and Cohen sold their interests in that company in 1987. Currently, Cohen owns Bay Street Animal Hospital, a six-doctor veterinary practice on Staten Island in New York.

Ronald Ferriss receives distinguished alumni awardRonald Ferriss graduated from the University of Delaware in 1975 with a B.S. degree in Plant Science, and earned his M.S. (’79) and Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics (’80), both at the University of Minnesota. He has led an exemplary career in plant breeding. In 1979, Ferriss initiated his career as a corn breeder in Minnesota with Northrup King Co., an international seed company. From 1983 to 1990, he served as area manager for corn breeding and managed Seed Production Research and Agronomic Research functions. From 1990-1996, Ferriss served as Director of Corn Breeding, North America managing corn breeding programs and off-season nurseries across 15 locations. In 1996-1997, as Sandoz merged with Ciba Geiger to form Novartis, he led the integration of the corn breeding research programs into a single functional unit and until 1999, was Global Head of Corn Breeding.

As the power and complexity of plant breeding increased, Ferriss focused his leadership efforts as Head of Global Inbred Line Development and Hybrid Identification. Ferriss continued in that role as Novartis and Astra-Zeneca agribusinesses merged to create Syngenta. In 2002, Ferriss became Director of Strategy Facilitation, Seeds Product Development. Ferriss joined Syngenta’s Legal Team as Head of Product Clearance and License Compliance from 2006 to 2012, followed by Head, Global Germplasm Contract Compliance from 2013 until retiring in December 2014.

David Morris receives distinguished alumni awardDavid Morris is currently the Business Integration Leader, leading integration activities for the agriculture division during the Dow DuPont merger. Morris holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Entomology and Plant Pathology from the University of Delaware and a Master of Science Degree in Entomology from Virginia Tech.

He joined the Dow Chemical Company in September 1982 and has held positions as field sales representative, market research analyst, product marketing manager, district sales manager, human resources manager, group marketing manager, global business leader, six sigma champion, global commercial processes leader, Urban Pest Management Commercial Leader, U.S. Government Affairs and Public Affairs Leader and most recently U.S. Seed Affiliates Leader. Morris currently represents Dow AgroSciences on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Distinguished Young Alumni

Sara-Beth Bittinger receives distinguished young alumni awardSara-Beth Bittinger has served as the vice president of the Allegany County Board of Education since 2010, when then Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley appointed her to the position. She is currently the Director of Assessment and Institutional Research at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland and previously served as the Director of Institutional Research at Allegany College of Maryland. Bittinger’s area of expertise is in analytics and managing institutional data that reports to external and internal constituents, information essential for critical decision-making.

Bittinger received her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Frostburg State University (FSU) and her Master of Science degree in Applied Economics from the University of Delaware. In 2017, she earned her Doctorate in Education from FSU.

Phung Luu receives distinguished young alumni awardPhung Luu owns and operates Behavior and Training Solutions, an animal and staff training consultancy company; and Animal Behavior and Conservation Connections, a free-flight bird show production company.

As a graduate of the University of Delaware, Luu developed a foundation for animal care and wildlife education. Working on the University farm provided practical understanding for working with chickens and corn. Fostered by a passion for working with animals from an early age, he has been training animals for over twenty-five years. Luu’s life mission is to connect people to nature and wildlife and he does this through the production of free-flight bird programs presented at schools, state parks, and zoos throughout the country. These bird programs have been featured at the Philadelphia Zoo, the Brandywine Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, and the North Carolina Zoo to name a few. Not only are the shows entertaining and educational, they raise awareness and money to support conservation projects for wild birds.

Joseph Rogerson receives distinguished young alumni awardJoseph Rogerson is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and has worked for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife for nearly 12 years. Currently, he is the program manager for Species Conservation and Research where he oversees the conservation and management of the state’s game and nongame wildlife and plant communities. Before being promoted to this position 2.5 years ago, Rogerson spent the previous nine years as Delaware’s Deer and Furbearer Biologist. Prior to working for the Division, he worked for nearly a year with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services as a Wildlife Specialist and before that he received his B.S. degree in wildlife and fisheries resources from West Virginia University in 2003 and a M.S. degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Delaware in 2005.

UD’s Desiree Narango looks at how residential yards impact food webs

University of Delaware doctoral student Desiree Narango is researching trees and shrubs planted in the lawns of homeowners throughout the Washington D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia areas to assess how those choices are impacting food webs.

Narango, a doctoral student working with Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, is also associated with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and works through a citizen-science program called “Neighborhood Nest Watch.” Narango is co-advised by Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Through her research, Narango looks at breeding birds and the food resources they need, such as insects and caterpillars.

Different trees vary in how much food they provide birds and Narango said she has a network of homeowners in the D.C. metropolitan area that allowed her to use their yards for her study. Over the course of the four-year study, Narango has looked at 203 yards.

One thing that has stood out to her is the sheer number of different trees that are planted in these yards.

UD’s Desiree Narango looks at how residential yards impact food webs“We focus on woody plants—so trees and shrubs—and we’ve documented over 375 different species in these 203 yards. Which is crazy,” said Narango who added that it became apparent quickly that some trees are better than others with regards to sustaining food webs.

“We just had a paper come out in the journal of Biological Conservation where we show that native trees are better at providing caterpillars for birds which is a really important food resource,” said Narango. “Native trees are better, hands down, but even among the native trees, there’s some that are better than others so things like oaks and cherries and elms are highly productive for caterpillars so they have lots of good food for the birds.”

Narango added that there are a lot of non-native plants—such as zelkova, ginkgo, and lilac—that don’t provide any resources for breeding birds.

“Those species are true non-natives so they’re not related to anything here and they provide almost nothing in terms of caterpillars for birds,” said Narango. “There’s also species like Japanese cherry and Japanese maple that are non-native but are related to our native maples and cherries. We found that those species have an average of 40 percent fewer caterpillars than the native versions of that tree. If you had a choice between a black cherry and a Japanese cherry and if you’re interested in food for birds, then you should choose the native version.”

Narango said that a problem home owners may face when trying to select native versions of plants is that a lot of the big box stores don’t carry them.

“There are a lot of really great small nurseries that have many native plants that are productive in terms of caterpillars and are also very beautiful,” said Narango. “You definitely don’t have to sacrifice beauty to get plants that are ecologically beneficial. There’s a lot to choose from so you can have beauty, you can have fruit and then also have food for birds too. It’s all interconnected.”

As for the most eye-opening aspect of her research, Narango said that it has to be the tremendous amount of diversity in bugs and birds in people’s back yards.

“A lot of people think you need to go to the woods to see beautiful butterflies or beautiful birds but they’re actually in people’s back yards too,” said Narango.

In the group’s bird surveys, they documented 98 different bird species.

Narango focuses on the Carolina Chickadee and said that she would follow individual birds around to see what trees they were choosing. One of the major findings in her paper is that the number of caterpillar species a plant supports predicts how strongly chickadees prefer it.

“When these birds would choose a tree, all the other birds in the neighborhood were choosing those trees too so we would see these amazing warblers that don’t breed in Delaware or in D.C. but are migrating through and they’re using all these suburban habitats on their way north. In a way, our chickadees were telling us what all of the birds want during that period,” said Narango.

As a landscaper herself, Narango added that it was surprising to see how much life happened in her own back yard when she started planting the right species.

“I planted this flower called ironweed and the first year it was there, I had the specialist bees that use that flower and then I have caterpillars in my shrubs and it’s really cool how quickly you can see life be attracted to your yard when you plant the right species,” said Narango.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Desiree Narango and Doug Tallamy

Water Symposium participants discuss land use legacy, water quality, and stream restoration

The fourth annual Water Symposium was held on Friday, September 29, at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus in Townsend Hall.

The annual event provides an excellent opportunity for faculty and students affiliated with the interdisciplinary Water Science and Policy (WSP) Graduate Program to present their research, share ideas with peers, and network with professionals from industry, government, and nonprofit organizations. Around 70 people attended the symposium and represented a mix of academia, industry, and government agencies.

The symposium was inaugurated by CANR Dean Mark Rieger, who praised the rapid progress and accomplishments of the interdisciplinary program since its recent start in 2012.

“These are the types of graduate programs that President Assanis would like to see and which meet the vision of the grand challenges of the university,” said Rieger, adding that it was great to see alumni from the program attending and giving back and supporting the program.

Shreeram Inamdar, director of the WSP program, said that “the program is doing very well and is on a strong upward trajectory. The program has graduated 13 students with a 100 percent employment rate.”

Water Symposium participants discuss land use legacy, water quality, and stream restorationStudents who graduated from the WSP program are employed in institutions such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), Maryland Environmental Service, and Skelly & Loy Inc., to name a few.

Inamdar said “the program currently has 23 students that includes the largest incoming class of 13 new students in the fall of 2017.”

It was also particularly noteworthy that all students in the program were fully funded through assistantships, he said.

The plenary talks for the symposium were given by two highly distinguished, world recognized, and widely respected scientists – Dorothy Merritts and Robert Walter, who are professors at Franklin and Marshall University in Lancaster, PA.

Their groundbreaking work on colonial era mill dams and legacy sediments, which was published in the prestigious journal Science in 2008, dramatically changed how scientists see and interpret the geomorphology of fluvial systems in the Mid-Atlantic and eastern U.S.

Their work has been cited widely and they have received numerous awards and recognition for their cutting-edge research.  For example, in 2008 both of them were cited by the Pennsylvania State Senate Resolution 283 for outstanding contributions to stream restoration and water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Water Symposium participants discuss land use legacy, water quality, and stream restorationIn her talk, Merritts highlighted numerous examples of mill dams in Chester and Lancaster counties and how they shaped stream terraces and floodplains in the region.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of mill dams on creeks in this region, in some cases, every 1 to 2 miles along the creek,” she said. They recalled their discovery and how the light bulb went on as they saw the high stream banks immediately upstream of a breached mill dam—Denlinger’s mill—with pronounced horizontal layering of fine streambank sediments.

Walter added “the regular, horizontal layering of fine sediments was not what one would expect in stream floodplains but rather under the quiescent settling conditions in ponded waters.”

Merritts and Walters were able to make this connection and explain the presence of the vertical, eroding, streambanks, a puzzle that had previously eluded many distinguished and well-recognized geomorphologists.

Merritts also pointed to the pre-colonial sediment layers, many feet below the light brown colonial-era legacy sediments that were still apparent along the streambanks. These soil layers included the Pleistocene gravel overlain by a by a dark, organic rich layer, filled with decaying, and in some cases, still intact leaves and organic matter from a bygone era.

Walter discussed the significance of the legacy sediments for contemporary water quality, mitigation and restoration strategies, and management implications for the Chesapeake Bay.

Interestingly, in recent years, Pennsylvania is leading the nation in removal of low head dams.  How erosion of streambank legacy sediments and the removal of mill dams impacts stream sediment loads is a question that still needs to be addressed and is a top priority for the region’s natural resource agencies. Walter presented results from the restoration of legacy sediments that was implemented at Big Spring Run in Lancaster, PA. The restoration involved complete removal of streambank legacy sediments for a selected reach with conversion to a tussock-sedge wet meadow. “This restoration yielded immediate benefits – reduction in stream flow velocities and sediment loads, decreased nutrient concentrations and water temperatures, and enhanced habitat conditions,” he said adding that the Big Spring Run restoration could be one of the models to follow for restoration of landscapes with legacy sediments.

Following the plenary talks, 20 WSP students presented their research through short, 2 to 5 minute talks.  The talks ranged from science topics such as gas fluxes from coastal wetlands and biochar use for water quality, to policy and behavioral science issues such as transboundary water conflicts, and consumer attitudes to drinking water quality. The full program and detailed description of the presentations is available here.

Water Symposium participants discuss land use legacy, water quality, and stream restorationThe last part of the symposium included a panel discussion by WSP alumni in which they presented their personal experiences from the work place and tips and advice to current students.  WSP alums who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the symposium included – Jennifer Egan (PhD, 2015), Kate Hutelmyer (MS, 2014), Alex Soroka, Kelsey Moxey and Richard Rowland (all MS, 2016).

The alums emphasized the need to develop professional connections with industry early and to follow up on job applications but to not panic about the job search.

They also suggested that students make sure they learn valuable tools such as GIS, programming, and statistical techniques. The alums also shared with the current students the new job openings in their companies.

Research explores the positives and negatives of food labels

When customers walk down aisles of grocery stores, they are inundated with labels such as organic, fair-trade and cage free, just to name a few. Labels such as these may be eye-catching but are often free of any scientific basis and stigmatize many healthy foods, a new University of Delaware-led study found.

The paper published recently in the journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy examined the good, the bad and the ugly of food labeling to see how labels identifying the process in which food was produced positively and negatively influenced consumer behavior.

Research explores the positives and negatives of food labelsBy reviewing over 90 academic studies on consumer response to process labels, the researchers found that while these labels satisfy consumer demand for quality assurances and can create value for both consumers and producers, misinterpretation is common and can stigmatize food produced by conventional processes even when there is no scientific evidence those foods cause harm.

For the poor, in particular, there is danger in misunderstanding which food items are safe, said Kent Messer, the study’s lead author and the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Career Development Chair for the Environment.

“That has me worried about the poor and those who are food insecure,” said Messer, who is also director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Because now you’re trying to make everything a high-end food choice and frankly, we just want to have healthy food choices, we don’t need to have extra labels that scare away people.”

Process labels, by definition, focus on the production of a food, but largely ignore important outcomes of the process such as taste or healthiness. According to Messer and his study co-authors, policy changes could help consumers better understand their choices. They argue governments should not impose bans on process labels but rather encourage labels that help document how the processes affect important quality traits, such as calorie count.

“Relying on process labels alone, on the other hand, is a laissez faire approach that inevitably surrenders the educational component of labeling to mass media, the colorful array of opinion providers, and even food retailers, who may not always be honest brokers of information,” the researchers wrote.

The Good

With regards to the positive impact process labels have on consumers, Messer said that consumers are able to more freely align their purchasing decisions with their values and preferences.

If, for example, a consumer wants to buy fair trade coffee, they are able to do so with greater ease.

“The good part is that process labels can help bridge the trust between the producer and the consumer because it gives the consumer more insight into the market,” said Messer. “New products can be introduced this way, niche markets can be created, and consumers, in many cases, are willing to pay more for these products. It’s good for industry, consumers are getting what they want, and new players get to find ways of getting a higher price.”

The Bad

The bad part is that consumers are already in the midst of a marketplace filled with information that can be overwhelming because of the sheer amount of product choices and information available.

In addition, when most consumers go to buy food, they are often crunched for time.

“Human choice tends to be worse when you put time constraints on it,” said Messer. “Maybe you’ve got a child in the aisle with you and now you’re adding this new label and there’s lots of misinterpretation of what it means. The natural label is a classic one which means very little, yet consumers assume it means more than it does. They think it means ‘No GMO’ but it doesn’t. They think it means it is ‘organic’ but it isn’t. This label is not helping them align their values to their food, and they’re paying a price premium but not getting what they wanted to buy.”

Messer said that another problem are “halo effects,” overly optimistic misinterpretation of what a label means.

“If you show consumers a chocolate bar that is labeled as ‘fair trade’, some will tell you that it has lower calories,” Messer said. “But the label is not about calories. Consumers do this frequently with the ‘organic’ label as they think it is healthy for the consumer. Organic practices may be healthier for the farm workers or the environment, but for the actual consumer, there’s very little evidence behind that. You’re getting lots of mixed, wrong messages out there.”

The Ugly

Like halo effects, the ugly side of food processing labels comes into play when labels sound like they have a positive impact but really have a negative one.

A label such as “low food miles” might sound nice but could actually be causing more harm than good.

“Sometimes, where food is grown doesn’t mean that it’s actually the best for climate change,” said Messer.

Hot house tomatoes grown in Canada, for example, might have low food miles for Canadian consumers but it’s probably far better environmentally — because of all the energy expended in creating tomatoes in an energy intensive hot house in Canada — to grow the tomatoes in Florida and then ship them to Canada.

“If you just count miles and not true energy use, you can get people paying more money for something that’s actually going the opposite of what they wanted, which is to get a lower carbon footprint,” said Messer.

He added that the ugly side of food labeling is that a lot of fear is being introduced into the marketplace that isn’t based on science.

“When you start labeling everything as ‘free of this’ such as ‘gluten free water,’ you can end up listing stuff that could never have been present in the food in the first place,” Messer said. “These ‘free of’ labels can cause unnecessary fear and cast the conventionally produced food in a harsh, negative light.”

Since the vast majority of the food market is still conventionally produced and is the lower cost product, there is a danger in taking that safe food and calling it unsafe because of a few new entrants into the food market.

Messer also said that there is evidence that food companies are getting worried about investing in science and technology because they don’t know how the consumer is going to respond or how marketers are going to attack their food product because it’s new and different and, therefore, can be labeled as bad or dangerous.

“We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed in our country and around the world,” Messer said. “We are currently able to feed so many because of advances in agricultural science and technology. If we’re afraid of that now, we have a long-term impact on the poor that could be quite negative in our country and around the world. That’s when I start thinking these process labels could really be ugly.”

Co-authors on the paper include Marco Costanigro, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, and Harry M. Kaiser, the Gellert Family Professor of Applied Economics in the Department of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University.

Article by Adam Thomas
Illustration by Jeff Chase
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

JMP Statistical Workshop Scheduled for November 1

A two-part JMP Statistical Software Workshop co-sponsored by the Biostatistics Core Facility in the College of Health Sciences and the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics will be offered on Wednesday, Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The morning session will take place in the Atrium of the STAR Health Sciences Complex; the afternoon session will be directly across South College Avenue in 132 Townsend Hall. Faculty and graduate students with general interest in JMP capabilities or specific interest in enhancing their statistical skills are invited to register.

Topics covered will range from very basic descriptive summaries to advanced analyses. JMP is a SAS product characterized as a family of statistical discovery tools tailored to meet specific analysis needs. It is visually based, interactive, comprehensive and extensible.

It can be used as a front or back end with R and Matlab, and JMP can create and run SAS code if a SAS connection is set up. JMP is available for free, courtesy of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, to members of the University Community through UD Deploy and runs on both Macs and PCs.

Since its introduction on UD Deploy in 2012-2013, campus downloads have increased each year, with well over 4,000 in 2017-2018. Ease of use and powerful analytics make it a good choice for teaching and research.

Attend either one or both sessions as you like. Pizza provided for lunch. The sessions will continue in the afternoon in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We encourage you to download JMP PRO before the workshop if you wish to follow along with the presentation, but this is optional. If you have no prior familiarity with JMP, we encourage you to view the Beginners Tutorial linked from the JMP PRO help menu. Registrants will be sent a link to access data featured during the workshop.


10:00     Exploratory Data Analysis and Data Visualization

Featuring Graph Builder and Distribution platforms

Dynamically linked interactive graphics

Root cause analysis

Reporting and Sharing Results – exporting HTML5, Flash

Creating Web Reports and Dashboards

11:00     Decision Trees

Decision Tree – classification for categorical or regression for continuous responses

Bootstrap Forest – averaging many trees (JMP PRO)

Boosted Trees – combining a sequence of small tree (JMP PRO)

11:30     Text Exploration

Visualizing Text Data

Working with the Document Term Matrix

Creating and Modeling with Document and Topic Vectors (JMP PRO)

12:00     LUNCH – free pizza


1:00       JMP as Your Data Hub

Easily get data into JMP – from Excel, Text, Internet & Data Bases without coding

Cleanup messy and missing data – recode, outlier detection, data imputation

Connect JMP with SAS, R, MATLAB

Publish models in Python, C, Java Script, SQL or SAS (JMP PRO)

1:30       Building Better Models Using Robust Data Mining Methods to Prevent Overfitting

Honest Assessment Method – Train, Validation (Tune), and Test Data subsets

For smaller data sets use K-fold cross-validation or Penalization criteria

2:00       Regression Methods

Ordinary Least Squares, Stepwise Regression, Logistic Regression, General Linear Models

Generalized (Penalized) Regression (JMP PRO)

2:30       Neural Networks

Single layer of nodes with sigmoidal HTanh activation function

More flexible dual-layer of nodes plus Linear and Gaussian activation functions (JMP PRO)

Boosted neural network

3:00       Adjourn

For more information, visit the UD events website.

UD’s Rodrigo Vargas receives National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award

The world’s coastal ecosystems — areas such as tidal marshes and mangrove forests — have the potential to store and sequester large amounts of carbon, collectively known as blue carbon.

Because of their importance to the global carbon cycle, former President Barack Obama in 2014 made research on understanding carbon dynamics in these coastal ecosystems a priority.

Despite their role as potential sinks – or storehouses – of carbon, it is still unclear how different biophysical processes influence carbon dynamics in these ecosystems.

Using funds from his recently awarded National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, the University of Delaware’s Rodrigo Vargas will establish an outdoor laboratory at the St. Jones Reserve, which is a component of the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) and part of the National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR). His research efforts will contribute to a better understanding of vertical and lateral carbon fluxes — the amount of carbon exchanged between the land and the atmosphere, and the amount of carbon exchanged between the land and the coastal ocean — in tidal coastal wetlands.

Through the prestigious NSF Career Award, Vargas, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), also will work to empower minority students by integrating them into research, educational and outreach activities, and will enhance social capital by strengthening the network of students, science professionals and researchers in salt marshes across Delaware and beyond.

Vertical and lateral fluxes

UD’s Rodrigo Vargas receives National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development AwardVertical carbon fluxes involve the amount of carbon going up and into the atmosphere or from the atmosphere into the ecosystem and will be estimated by measuring fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4); two important greenhouse gases.

“The net exchange of CO2 between the atmosphere and the land-surface is called the net ecosystem exchange,” Vargas said. “If the net ecosystem exchange is negative, it means that CO2 is being absorbed by the ecosystem. If it’s positive, it means that CO2 is being released into the atmosphere, and the way we quantify that is with the eddy covariance technique that measures the exchange of mass and energy between the atmosphere and the land-surface.”

In this specific site, the researchers are measuring the exchange of CO2 and CH4 between the ecosystem and the atmosphere using the first eddy covariance tower established in the state of Delaware since 2015. The establishment of this tower was partially supported from grants Vargas received from Delaware’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NASA-EPSCOR), the Delaware Coastal Programs (DCP), and a CANR seed grant.

The tower is part of the AmeriFlux network, a consortium of scientists using a network to work with the eddy covariance technique, measuring fluxes of CO2 and CH4 at multiple sites across the Americas.

In addition to the vertical fluxes, Vargas explained that is also important to account for lateral fluxes in salt marshes, as well.

Because they’re located in the transition between land and ocean—the terrestrial-aquatic interface—the challenge for salt marshes is that their biogeochemistry is also influenced by tides, which bring matter and energy in as they rise. When tides retreat, they pull out matter and energy, which makes it very challenging to understand the carbon cycle on these ecosystems.

“Recent studies have shown that there’s substantial lateral carbon exports from these ecosystems toward the coastal ocean and that is something that we also would like to understand,” said Vargas. “It’s a very large challenge and we are starting studies with the overarching goal to understand how different biophysical factors regulate vertical and lateral carbon fluxes in tidal salt marshes.”

Remote cameras

The site is also equipped with digital cameras that are able to take automatic pictures of the ecosystem to study plant phenology. Plant phenology informs about the periodic life cycles of plants such as flowering or the timing of leaf-out. The images are taken in color and also in infrared, which allows the researchers to see the greening of the ecosystem. That information is used to understand the carbon dynamics of ecosystems based on repeated photography, referred to as near-surface remote sensing.

“You can see the greenness index to quantify how green the ecosystem is and it peaked by mid-August this year, and then you start losing that greening as part of the annual vegetation cycle. It is also a fantastic opportunity for citizen science and outreach,” said Vargas.

The digital camera not only tells the researchers about the greening of the site but also about events they might not have otherwise been able to research, such as when major flood events occurred in 2015 and 2016.

“One flood event was caused by the surge of Hurricane Joaquin. With the cameras, we were able to monitor how high and extensive the water level was. In 2016, we had another flood, but this flood was not because of ocean storms, it was because of an inland storm that brought water through the St. Jones River and flooded our site,” said Vargas.

All images are available online in real-time as part of the PhenoCam network to help improve transparency and data sharing among the broader scientific community.

Educational component

Vargas will also use the award to provide eighth grade students — who are usually learning about the carbon cycle through their class curriculum — a chance to get a hands-on learning experience related to carbon.

Vargas plans to work with professionals at DNREC and the St. Jones Reserve, as well as with Amy Trauth-Nare, senior associate director of UD’s Professional and Continuing Studies, to develop a module using phenomena driven instruction — or place-based instruction, such as learning at the St. Jones Reserve — to specifically address topics on carbon and energy exchange in ecosystems.

In addition, Vargas is looking to create opportunities for undergraduate minority students participating in UD’s Associate in Arts Program (AAP) to promote academic success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“One of the things that I have been working on since I started at UD is to empower underrepresented students. By providing scholastic opportunities and enhancing social capital, we strengthen the network of students, science professionals and researchers in Delaware and beyond,” said Vargas. “I am Hispanic and Hispanic professors are a minority at UD, and Hispanic students are also a minority at UD. Thus, I have a strong commitment to supporting underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields. That’s a big push on this proposal.”

Vargas will work with David Satran, director of the Associate in Arts Program, to customize opportunities for the AAP students, and will incorporate his current graduate students as mentors for the AAP students.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to host start of speaker series

The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) will host a panel discussion entitled “Building a Sustainable Agriculture” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Roselle Center for the Arts. The discussion is the first in a series initiated by CANR Dean Mark Rieger, who asked Ed Kee, an executive in residence with the college and former Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, to organize the speaker series.

The event is free and open to the public.

Doors open at 3 p.m. and a question-and-answer period will follow the speakers’ presentations.

UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to host start of speaker seriesThe first panel discussion in the series will feature:

  • Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, who has been nominated to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation
  • Bill Couser, an Iowa farmer who tills more than 5,000 acres, raises beef cattle, has been an early advocate of the ethanol industry in Iowa and the nation, and is a leader in adopting conservation practices that mitigate nutrient loading to Iowa’s streams and waterways

The focus of the series will be farms, food, energy and the environment.

The speakers will address include their background and story, the scope of Iowa agriculture, food versus fuel concepts with regards to ethanol, water quality issues in Iowa that connect similarly with the Chesapeake Bay, challenges to the profitability in agriculture and the importance of Land Grant Universities and colleges of agriculture.

A reception featuring UDairy Creamery ice cream will follow.

Co-sponsors include the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) and the University of Delaware Energy Institute (UDEI).

The speaker series will return in the spring of 2018.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Debbie Delaney helps West Virginia coal miners shift to beekeeping

Former coal miners or citizens whose lives have been shaped by the coal mining industry in southern West Virginia will soon learn how to establish and operate bee colonies thanks to help from the University of Delaware’s Debbie Delaney.

Delaney, associate professor of entomology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, spent her summer in Summers County working as a consultant through Appalachian Headwaters which is a non-profit organization that formed the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. Delaney said that the goal was to help get the socioeconomic growth program up and running for displaced miners in 14 counties in southern West Virginia.

“We got about 500 nucleus colonies or nucs, which are small colonies of bees, and a queen and all summer we’ve been erecting bear fences and creating bee yards so we can grow the colonies over the season and get them through the winter,” said Delaney.

Beginning next year, local partners will come on board and get hives which will be a way for them to generate income.

UD’s Debbie Delaney helps West Virginia miners begin anewDelaney said that how much income will vary depending on what kind of forage is available during that time of year—and that since the initial installation began after foraging season, they have had to feed the bees a lot to get them up to weight to make it through winter.

“Typically, I’d say in that area of West Virginia, if they do things right, they should be able to get close to 200 pounds [of honey] off of each hive,” said Delaney.

The way the program operates, the local partners will get the colonies, pull their honey off and bring it to the experts at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective to extract.

“I’ve been helping them design a big honey processing building that will be able to process 100,000 pounds of honey and then we will bottle it, we’ll market it and we’ll sell it to a higher end community,” said Delaney. “We’re not just selling the honey but also a story which is really cool.”

Kate Asquith, program director at Appalachian Headwaters, said that starting a beekeeping operation can be a risky and expensive endeavor and they wanted to help the first-time beekeepers get over those hurdles.

“This is a way to make sure that they’re getting as much profit from their beekeeping as they can,” said Asquith. “Our hope is that we can help people get a lot more money for the work that they’re doing and Debbie is a really big part of all of it. She’s been a wonderful piece of helping us plan out the program.”

Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is headquartered at an old camp that was once owned and operated by coal mining companies that saw thousands of kids of coal miners go through the camp from different mining states.

“These people are so tied to this place. When I was there over the summer, at least twice a week somebody would drive by and say, ‘I went to camp here 50 years ago. This place means so much to me’ so it’s a really special spot,” said Delaney. “There’s so much rich history there.”

Because the people are tied to the land and invested in the history of the area, Delaney said that it made sense to get them involved in beekeeping.

“They’re native and they’ve been there for generations and they know every mountain, every hill has a name even though it might not be on a map. Because they’re so tied to the land, this operation had to be something that was sustainable and that was also very connected to the environment and beekeeping is definitely both of those things,” said Delaney.

The area also has a rich history of beekeeping as Delaney said she would find antique beekeeping equipment at area flea markets.

“Everybody’s grandfather had bees. It’s because it’s all hardwood forests there, which all produce nectar and pollen and so it’s a really good area for beekeeping, really high quality forage. I think both of those things make it ideal,” said Delaney.

The plan is for those beekeepers to keep their own apiaries but get bees raised by the Appalachian Bee Keeping Collective.

“We’re trying to raise a strain of Appalachian honey bee that is mite resistant and that’s a big piece of what Debbie is doing,” said Asquith. “She’s really skilled with natural beekeeping methods and has been a really big help for us.”

Asquith said that the first class of beekeepers, who will be trained over fall and winter, will number around 35 but next year the program will ramp up to include 85 beekeepers.

For the first-time beekeepers, Delaney said that the biggest challenge is going to be overcoming the fear of being stung.

“They’re going to be working with an insect that stings and learning the social behavioral cues of a colony, to read them, to know when they need to apply smoke or how much protective clothing they should wear; just learning to feel comfortable around them so that they are safe and that the participants can work them safely,” said Delaney.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

University of Delaware Botanic Gardens presents Fall Wreath Workshop

Get in the autumn spirit by making a beautiful fall wreath at the  University of Delaware Botanic Gardens Tuesday, October 10 at 6:00 PM in 102 Fischer Greenhouse, behind Townsend Hall on UD’s south campus.

Craft your own vine wreath—round, oval or freestyle—then decorate with preserved greens, fruits, seeds and flowers, and finish with a colorful ribbon or natural adornment of raffia or burlap. The workshop is $45 for UDBG Friends and $55 for nonmembers. Pre-payment required. Call (302) 831-2531 or email to register. Minimum of 12 and maximum of 20 participants.

To enjoy exclusive member benefits, join the Friends online at or contact Melinda Zoehrer at

The Gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

UD’s Sherrier receives $5.9 million NSF grant to conduct research on beneficial plant-microbe interactions

The University of Delaware’s Janine Sherrier is a co-leader of a multi-institutional team that recently received a four-year, $5,972,497 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct research on the functional genomics of beneficial legume microbe interactions.

These funds were awarded to the team after their recent completion of a highly-successful research program supported by a previous $6,733,426 award from the National Science Foundation.

Sherrier, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, professor of biological sciences and research team leader at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, is a co-principal Investigator on the project.  Other team leaders include lead scientist Michael Udvardi, Chief Scientific Officer at the Noble Research Institute; Maria Harrison, the William H. Crocker Professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University; Rebecca Dickstein, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas; and Catalina Pislariu, a new professor at Texas Woman’s University.

UD’s Sherrier receives $5.9 million NSF grant to conduct research on beneficial plant-microbe interactionsSherrier said that in this study, the researchers are “focusing on genetic components of the plant which regulate interactions between a legume forage crop and beneficial bacterial and fungal soil microbes. Just as humans require microbes to help us absorb nutrients from our food and maintain a robust immune system, plants also perform best when they interact with beneficial microbes. These microbes can provide plants with protection against pathogens and pests, increase plant reliance during stressful environmental conditions, and aide the absorption of essential nutrients from soil,” said Sherrier.

In recent decades, plant breeders have made advances in the production of crop plants with important traits such as increased yield or enhanced disease protection, but Sherrier said, “The practical application of beneficial microbes has not been well studied and this research area offers the promise of the development of new tools to increase crop yields and to lower economic and environmental costs associated with crop production.”

The research project focused on a legume crop because of its current use as a forage crop and its similarity to other important legume crops such as alfalfa, soybean, lima beans, and peanut. Legumes are also known to interact with a beneficial microbe which reduces the requirement to augment fields with nitrogen fertilizers, one area of Sherrier’s research expertise. In this unique interaction, when the bacteria and plant associate successfully, the bacteria are able to convert gaseous nitrogen from the Earth’s atmosphere into a form that is bioavailable for the plant.

“Nitrogen is often the most limiting macronutrient in crop production, and the industrial production of nitrogen fertilizer requires high pressures and high temperatures, conditions which consume large levels of fossil fuels. As demands for fossil fuels continue to increase, the cost of industrially-produced nitrogen fertilizer is passed on to crop producers and food consumers. If growers have an option to use the microbially-supplied nitrogen to support successful crop growth, they could save money and help reduce the carbon footprint of food production,” said Sherrier.

This beneficial interaction to acquire nitrogen is especially relevant to crop production on the coastal soils of Delaware, the rest of the Eastern shore of the U.S., and in California. Agricultural fields in coastal soils like those found in Delaware contain a high percentage of sand, relatively low levels organic content and are susceptible to droughts and floods. Unfortunately, these conditions are not optimal for the long-term survival of beneficial microbes in the soil, and these regional soils do not contain enough of the beneficial bacteria to help crops reach their full yield potentials.

“Growers are facing increasing pressures to increase crop yields, while reducing impacts of crop production on the environment. This research is important because it will provide additional tools to growers to support healthy crop growth. Individuals may not choose to use microbes in every application, but growers will have a greater selection of resources to respond to the challenging conditions they encounter during each growing season,” said Sherrier.

Therefore, in addition to the laboratory research in this project, Sherrier is working with UD’s Cooperative Extension specialists to demonstrate how growers can add beneficial microbes to the soil at the time of planting. In addition, the group researchers are enthusiastic about the training they will provide for students, post-docs and the general public about the importance of microbes and soil health for crop production.“Since our team has been entrusted with federal funds to support our research, we are committed to sharing the results of the research to benefit the public,” said Sherrier.

Importantly, Debra Coffey, an educational researcher with the Center for Research in Education and Social Policy, will lead assessments of the program’s entire outreach and training efforts to measure the impact of their work and help the team continue to improve the impact of their diverse outreach program.

At UD, specifically, Sherrier’s team will collaborate with UD’s 4-H program to lead an educational 4-H camp called Marvelous Microbes camp which teams microbiology and encourages students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in sciences. The group will conduct training sessions for adults at farmer’s markets and farm stands, and they also developed programming for students of all ages in Alabama, Texas, and New York.

Postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students participating in the program from all of the research institutions will take part in a rigorous training program. The senior team leaders will also provide training for members of the global scientific research community during annual workshops to demonstrate how the U.S.-generated resources can be used to benefit additional scientific research programs.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

The UD Botanic Gardens receives David A., Martha T., and Robert A. Parvis Fund Endowment

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) rely on the work of student interns year-round, and especially throughout the summer, to keep the garden’s plant collections looking pristine.

Now, thanks to a generous endowment established by the Parvis family in honor of David A., Martha T., and Robert A. Parvis, the UDBG will be guaranteed to have a student intern working every summer.

Martha T. Parvis worked as a secretary for the Longwood Graduate Program for many years and the endowment is the first of its kind for the UDBG, and Robert Lyons, interim chair for the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said that it is uncommon for a garden to receive such an endowment.

“It is a holy grail for gardens to get an endowment for student programs and we’ve been very fortunate through their generosity to make it happen,” said Lyons.

The UD Botanic Gardens receives David A., Martha T., and Robert A. Parvis Fund EndowmentJohn Frett, professor of landscape horticulture in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the UDBG, echoed these sentiments saying that from the UDBG’s standpoint, the endowment is truly unique and will impact students for years to come.

“Endowments for this type of work are extraordinarily difficult to come by and it’s great to have that security, to know there will always be at least that one student that comes in and has that experience,” said Frett. “The impact of this endowment on the garden and on the student population is huge and it’s through their generosity that this is going to be possible.”

The UDBG had five student interns working in the gardens over the summer. Through the program, the students worked with UDBG staff members to learn garden maintenance skills and gain experience in public horticulture while earning an hourly wage.

The students work outside performing a wide variety of maintenance tasks, such as mowing, weed control, planting, and hardscape installation. Additionally, they develop specialized skills such as curatorial work, detailed pruning, propagation, and plant identification.

Interns also assist with the annual benefit plant sales, which may include plant propagation and maintenance, labeling, set-up and plant staging and sales. Other potential activities include educational programming, marketing, web site administration, plant curation, and special event planning.

Students work individually and in groups to accomplish goals set forth for the summer. They learn by example the importance of teamwork and collaboration required to manage UDBG’s collections.

Students familiar with horticulture can use the internships to expand their horizons, discover new aspects in the diverse industry, and help build their resumes. Financial support for student interns is provided by Patrons of the Spring Plant Sale and other generous benefactors.

This endowment will now help UDBG direct their budgeted resources to other programmatic areas that support students and their research.

“It gets the UDBG a person to work there in the summer in that capacity,” Lyons said, “but it also relieves the budget of the garden and allows funds to be directed to support additional programs, so that makes it even more significant.”

Frett added that the endowment “increases the depth in the internship program.”

The first intern from the David A., Martha T., and Robert A. Parvis Fund will start in the summer of 2018.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

NAMA Club at UD sets students on the path to career success

Since 1993, the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) team at the University of Delaware has been preparing students for careers after college by giving them real world opportunities and immersing them in the experience of creating and pitching a food product to marketing executives.

The team is sponsored by the NAMA Marketing Club, which was established by Ulrich Toensmeyer, professor of Food Marketing and Management in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics. The team went to their first NAMA competition in April 1994 and 2017 marked the team’s 24th competition.

The team spends a portion of the year brainstorming and coming up with food products to present to a panel of industry professionals at the NAMA competition which is held every year in various cities across the United States.

To develop the products, the team looks at market dynamics, market characteristics and demographics and tries to understand what the industry is looking for in a product. Once the product is developed, the team goes through all the marketing channels, looking at design, packaging, how the product should be priced and what kind of customers they should target.

The product is then presented at the national competition and the judges decide if they would want to go forward with the product or not.

Two notable alums from UD that participated in the NAMA team during their time at the University include Eric Ziegenfuss and Jacqueline Cascio. They both said that they also enjoyed their interactions with Toensmeyer, or “Dr. T.”

Eric Ziegenfuss

Ziegenfuss, who spent four years on the NAMA team, said that getting ready for the competition is a very real world experience because “you have to understand your product completely. The panel of judges [at the national competition] would ask us questions about the product so it was like what a boss would do if you were going to present a new idea to a company.”

NAMA Club at UD sets students on the path to career successZiegenfuss works in the sales department for The Oppenheimer Group in Newark, a company that imports produce from 26 countries around the world and sells it to nationwide retailers such as Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and Costco and local retailers such as Acme and Shop Rite.

“I sell all 10 of our produce categories and I manage our tropical department which includes mangoes and pineapples,” said Ziegenfuss. “I work with growers from around the world gathering info about the timing and size of the crop, setting market prices based on supply and demand, and then I work with our sales team to get this product to retail stores.  Every produce item is different and no season is ever the same. It is very fast and dynamic”

At UD, Ziegenfuss studied food agribusiness marketing and management and knew that he wanted to do something food and produce related once he graduated. He said that his favorite part of the job is “the speed of the business. It’s almost like we’re stock brokers in a way because every day we wake up, we look at the weather, and we look at all the different market factors such as supply, demand, and exchange rates as we try to bring the best value to our customers while also keeping our growers happy.”

Ziegenfuss said that being a part of the NAMA team was a great experience and that he loved his time at UD.

“I love the University of Delaware and I feel very fortunate that I got to be a part of the NAMA team for 4 years and work with Dr. T.  Being a part of NAMA was probably one of my most valued experiences because of the real-world environment that the team created. Dr. T encouraged us to think outside the box but his teaching style and guidance helped us prepare for the real world and was unlike any classroom setting I experienced at UD. The most rewarding part was creating a product from scratch and then knowing every detail about what it would take to launch the product in real life. It was a great talking point on many job interviews and it was a perfect stepping stone to a career after I graduated,” said Ziegenfuss.

Jacqueline Cascio

Cascio graduated in 2001 with a degree in Food and Agribusiness Management. Now a trade marketing senior manager at Perdue, Cascio said that she works closely with the sales team and vets opportunities through logistics, operations, and marketing.

“We let the sales team focus on selling and then we work through all their opportunities whether it’s new items and their distribution, promotion, all that kind of stuff and I have responsibility for our organic chicken. That’s my little piece of the business,” said Cascio.

NAMA Club at UD sets students on the path to career successCascio, who grew up in Connecticut and had a dad and grandfather that worked in the chicken business, worked as an intern twice with Perdue in food service and retail during her senior year at UD. Right before she graduated, she was offered a full-time job in Salisbury, Maryland working in customer service.

“That’s kind of the starting point of having someone right out of college is to work inside in customer service so I spent two years there and then went on the outside and spent most of my career in outside sales,” said Cascio.

As for her experience with the NAMA team, which she joined her sophomore year, Cascio said that it provided her with “real world experience. It prepares students for their career and life post UD. From learning how to work as a team, writing a business plan, presenting in a public atmosphere to selling yourself and your product to a group of individuals. My experience on the marketing team was invaluable and helped prepare me for what I do today.”

Cascio also said that Toensmeyer was a great professor and continues to be a great mentor.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that takes such an interest in his students’ life and their success and I just find that absolutely remarkable being out of school for as long as I have, I still have that close connection to UD and that’s because of Dr. T,” said Cascio. “I still talk to him on a regular basis as relates to UD and my career and it’s a very special relationship that he forms with his students because he wants them all to succeed.”

Article by Adam Thomas

UD’s Jaisi Receives NSF EPSCoR Research Fellowship

Deb Jaisi, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, has received a research fellowship through a new National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative that focuses on developing the next generation of U.S. researchers.

The award from NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) allows awardees to make extended collaborative visits to laboratories and scientific centers, establish partnerships with researchers with complementary expertise, learn new techniques, have access to sophisticated equipment and shift their research focus in new directions.

The two-year, $261,000 award will enable Jaisi and his graduate student to spend six months each year working with scientists at the California Institute of Technology to use a suite of sophisticated instrumentation to determine the specific forms and concentrations of phosphorus in soil and water.

Delaware is one of 24 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam that are eligible to compete for EPSCoR funding.

Unlike other types of NSF EPSCoR grants, which focus on supporting research centers and partnerships among institutions, the Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-4 fellowships focus on giving early-career researchers the foundation for collaborations that span their entire careers. NSF announced the 30 RII Track-4 grant recipients on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

New NSF EPSCoR funding program helps early-career faculty develop expertise, collaborations“These awards provide early-career researchers with tremendous opportunities and result in EPSCoR institutions gaining faculty members and investigators with cutting-edge research experience, who can help build the vibrant science and engineering laboratories and programs of the future,” said NSF acting EPSCoR head Uma Venkateswaran.

The Delaware EPSCoR program helped recruit Jaisi to UD in 2012, providing start-up funding for his laboratory.

“Deb is one of the really outstanding hires we’ve made through the Delaware EPSCoR program,” said Don Sparks, the S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and project director for Delaware’s current statewide EPSCoR project. “He’s set up a world-class laboratory and developed innovative techniques for tracing the movement of phosphorus through the environment, establishing quite a reputation for himself in a relatively short period of time.”

Phosphorus and the environment

In January this year Jaisi received an NSF CAREER Award for outstanding early-career scientists that will address the environmental fate of phytate, the most common yet elusive form of organic phosphorus.

Phosphorus, the focus of Jaisi’s research, is a key nutrient for all living organisms but also typically scarce in natural environments. As a component of fertilizers, phosphorus may promote crop growth, but excess phosphorus may build up in soil and be washed into waterways where it stimulates overgrowth of algae and degrades water quality.

“The problem of phosphorus pollution has been very persistent in waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay, despite all of our efforts so far to limit the sources and clean it up,” Jaisi said. “My research team is devoted to gaining a deeper understanding of phosphorus sources and biogeochemical processes to make more progress in improving water quality in the Chesapeake and elsewhere.”

The movement of phosphorus through soil, water and sediment is not straightforward, however, and Jaisi has dedicated his research to understanding the various sources and forms phosphorus may take and their interactions with living and nonliving components of the environment. He has developed new techniques for tracing the sources, transport and transformation of phosphorus using phosphate oxygen isotopes. (Phosphate is a molecule made up of one atom of phosphorus and four atoms of oxygen.)

Isotopes — forms of the same chemical element with different atomic masses — occur in different proportions depending on their source. Phosphate derived from synthetic or manure-based fertilizers, for example, will carry different oxygen isotopic signatures than phosphate derived from decaying autumn leaves that have fallen into a stream.

Determining the source, timing, and relative quantities of various phosphorus inputs into waterways, particularly regarding whether they pose immediate risks to water quality, will potentially have a major impact on watershed management decisions.

Jaisi says that working with the expert colleagues and sophisticated tools available at Caltech will enable him to advance his research to a new level. His host at Caltech will be John Eiler, a leading expert on the isotope geochemistry of light elements. The fellowship offered the perfect opportunity to work together for an extended period of time.

Jaisi is looking forward to using the advanced analytical tools at Caltech, especially the nano secondary ion mass spectrometer (nanoSIMS) and laser ablation isotope mass spectrometer (LA-IRMS), one of only a handful of such facilities in the U.S., to develop new methods of analyzing stable isotopes of phosphate in complex soil matrices. Developing methods and expertise on this equipment will be a key step toward future funding proposals to bring SIMS and LA-IRMS capability to Delaware.

“This fellowship has really been an exciting development and will support my dream of developing advanced and innovative analytical methods in my research,” he said. “In fact, methodological limitations are essentially the roadblocks of phosphorus research. This high-risk, high-return type of research aims to develop two independent isotope systematics that together will significantly improve the resolution of sources and processes involving phosphorus in the environment, and thus may provoke the need for reinterpreting published literature.”

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Landscape Architecture program takes students on tour of Delaware

Professors from the University of Delaware’s Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA) program took six of the students newer to the major on a two-day tour of Delaware, Friday, August 25 and Saturday, August 26, looking at different landscapes throughout the first state.

The program was funded by UD’s Sustainable Coastal Communities (SCC) Initiative headed by Ed Lewandowski, the acting director for Delaware Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Service.

Joining the students on the trip were Sue Barton, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), Jules Bruck, associate professor and director of landscape architecture, Anna Wik, assistant professor in PLSC and a registered landscape architect, and Tara Trammell, the John Bartram Assistant Professor of Urban Forestry.

The BLA students exploring Cape Henlopen State ParkThe professors had Margaret Heffernan, a senior landscape architecture major and an art minor, and Olivia Kirkpatrick, a senior majoring in landscape architecture with minors in horticulture and art, on board for the program as well to provide leadership for the newer students.

The program started out in Newark then moved south with the students visiting Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, the UD Virden Center and then Cape Henlopen where they took a transect across the dunes to see how to measure and look at the topography of the dunes.

“We rented bikes so we could bike into Cape Henlopen park and that gave us a different appreciation for the landscape than just driving would have,” said Barton.

The students also went to Sea Colony and studied one of Barton’s projects that involved a collaboration with the Center for Inland Bays and the Delaware Department of Transportation.

“About five years ago, the ditches were widened and we added plants to slow water down, to give water a chance to be taken up by plants or sink into the soil, versus just run right off into the inland bays carrying all the nutrients and pollutants with it,” said Barton.

Moving north, the group took a pontoon boat out into Trap Pond’s cypress swamp and Bruck informed them about her project in Laurel, Delaware.

The two-day journey ended in New Castle where Trammell led an exercise looking at urban trees.

“Students did sketching and participated in exercises and it was a jam packed two days. Some of the sophomores who went didn’t know other people in the program and they definitely knew each other well by the end,” said Barton. “In the future, we plan to run this for students between their freshman and sophomore years and it will be a great experience for them.”

Barton added that having some of the more experienced landscape architecture students on the trip was a beneficial component as well.

“The newer students got to know their upper classman, some of the leaders of the program. It was a great combination of comradery and environmental learning and we really hope to be able to do it again,” said Barton.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Olivia Kirkpatrick

Fall Fest 2017 Wrap Up

Over 400 members of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources community gathered on the Newark farm from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, September 7 to take part in the college’s second annual Fall Fest activities.

The event, open to faculty, staff and students in the college, serves as both a celebration of the bounty of the garden and farm, as well as a welcome event for freshman in the college.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said of the event, “the Fall Fest is our way of welcoming new students to the college and welcoming back our upperclassmen. It builds community and a sense of belonging, and it helps new students to find friends and possibilities for extracurricular activities. I was thrilled with the turnout and student response this year.”

In addition, the event serves as the annual fundraiser for the Sigma Alpha Professional Sorority and CANR student groups are on hand to recruit new members and inform the CANR community about all that they have to offer.

The produced served at the event was provided by the UD Fresh to You Garden and the meat options were from UD raised angus cows. The UDairy Creamery was also on hand to serve their tasty ice cream. The ice cream base comes from the milk the dairy cows produce on UD’s Newark Farm.

View the event photo gallery below.

CANR Fall Fest 2017

Photo Credit: Wenbo Fan

UD Cooperative Extension teams with University of Maryland Extension to assess disease resistance in small grains

With over 105,000 acres of small grain crops planted in Delaware in 2016, at a value of $24 million, it is vital to keep the industry up to date on the latest developments in disease resistance.

One disease of particular interest is Fusarium head blight (FHB), considered the most damaging pathogen of small grains worldwide that reduces yields of wheat and barley and also contaminates grain with the carcinogenic mycotoxin known as deoxynivelenol (DON).

To help area growers, the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension Field Crop Pathology team has joined with a group from the University of Maryland to look at varieties of small grains with moderate resistance to FHB and DON.

Using a misted nursery, a nursery with plants that get mist irrigated every night by a sprinkler system, located at the University of Maryland’s Beltsville facility, the group assessed 57 wheat varieties for FHB and DON in 2017, collecting data and sharing that data on-line, as handouts at meetings and as mailers to growers in Delaware and Maryland.

 UD Cooperative Extension teams with University of Maryland Extension to assess disease resistance in small grainsFrom UD’s prospective, the study was led by Nathan Kleczewski, extension field crops plant pathologist, who said that mist irrigating the different varieties every night allows the disease to develop more consistently, enabling the researchers to provide more consistent and reliable measures of FHB and DON resistance.

“You might have two varieties,” said Kleczewski.  “Variety one might flower on Monday and variety two might flower on Friday. Now, if you get heavy rains on Monday and it is dry for the next several days or weeks, you may come back later and think, ‘Variety two is resistant to FHB.’ In reality, the environment was not conducive for disease, that’s why symptoms were not present on variety two.”

The researchers are evaluating commercial varieties and some varieties that haven’t been released yet to see which ones have the best resistance to head blight and DON.

“What we’re able to do is provide the growers with a nice, unbiased evaluation of the different varieties for head blight,” said Kleczewski, who noted that different companies sometimes use different standards when they rate their varieties for diseases.

“We compare everything across the board and we line up the varieties where they are relative to one another, not just within the company,” said Kleczewski.

The idea of the misted nursery research is to try and promote the utilization of newer varieties of wheat that have more resistance to FHB with the end result being that growers in the region will suffer fewer losses to head blight and DON.

“In the end, grain prices might go up because there will be less mycotoxin contamination, maybe we can minimize the amount of pesticides that are going on the plants and improve the profitability of the growers, the millers and everybody in the whole chain,” said Kleczewski.

Head Blight

Kleczewski said that FHB is a fungal disease that grows mostly on corn residue. Around Delaware and in the Chesapeake Bay area, there is a lot of no-till agriculture, which means that crops are planted onto residue and not tilled or buried material.

Wheat is usually planted after corn resulting in left over corn residue on fields which can be used as a food source for FHB. The pathogen overwinters on corn and in the spring, when the wheat starts to flower, spores are produced on the corn and can infect the heads of wheat during wet rainy periods.

“When the pathogen infects the head, it can cause yield loss because it chokes off the water and nutrient movement to the grain so that the grains aren’t as big, they don’t fill up with sugars as nicely, and they lose quality,” said Kleczewski.

The fungus can also produce a toxin, such as DON, and that toxin can deceive growers into thinking that their crop is good because it doesn’t appear to have head blight but it could be susceptible to accumulation of the toxins.

“We screen not just for visual symptoms but also for the mycotoxin. If our grain buyers here in Delaware buy a lot of wheat with a lot of mycotoxin, they can’t sell it to the people in Pennsylvania where they need to sell it so what they end up doing is bringing in grain from areas like Brazil or Canada and that costs them money,” said Kleczewski. “When they have to do that, it also lowers the price of wheat for our growers and so we want to try and minimize the amount of mycotoxin in our grain to really help everybody out in the long run.”

UD worked with Jason Wight, assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, and the Variety Trials team at the University of Maryland on the project.

The Maryland team plants, maintains and harvests the plots. Kleczewski’s group inoculates the site with corn infested with the FHB pathogen, rates the varieties, and evaluates FHB and DON data.

For information on the researcher’s findings, visit Kleczewski’s website and Scabsmart. The data can also be found on the small grain variety trials website run out of the University of Maryland.

Article by Adam Thomas

Landscape Architecture program hosts Breaking Urban Landscape Architecture symposium

The University of Delaware’s Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA) program will host a Landscape Architecture Symposium titled “Breaking Urban” from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday, September 29 at the Delaware Center for Horticulture with a tour and reception to follow at the DuPont Environmental Education Center.

The program was organized by students in the Landscape Architecture Symposium course who attended the Longwood Graduate Program symposium and the Pennsylvania-Delaware chapter meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects to get ideas about how they wanted to organize a symposium of their own.

UD’s Landscape Architecture program hosts Breaking Urban Landscape Architecture symposiumSue Barton, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said that attending the two different symposiums “gave students, especially attending the Longwood symposium first and relatively early in the process, an idea of what we were striving for.”

Olivia Kirkpatrick, a senior majoring in landscape architecture with minors in horticulture and art, said that once the students settled on the Breaking Urban theme, focused on community engagement in urban design and landscape architecture, it was easier to pull together ideas for speakers.

This year’s speakers include:

  • Jeff Flynn, director of development for the City of Wilmington, who will give a talk entitled “Wilmington as a Sustainable City”
  • Bryan Hanes, founding principal of Studio Bryan Hanes who is also a is a Registered Landscape Architect in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Indiana and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED Accredited) professional whose talk is titled “Who is this guy?”
  • Karen Washington, a community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens who has lived in New York City all her life, and has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to gain access to fresh, locally grown food, will give a talk entitled “An Empty Chair at the Table of Food Justice”
  • Mark Lakeman, a national leader in the development of sustainable public places who has directed, facilitated, or inspired designs for more than three hundred new community-generated public places in Portland, Oregon alone over the last ten years, will give a talk on “Demos and Design = The Best Destiny Ever.”

There will also be a panel discussion moderated by Anna Wik, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a registered landscape architect, focused on how and why some landscape architecture projects are successful and others are not.

Kirkpatrick said that she is most looking forward to how the students respond to the symposium.

“We’ve been planning it out and we kind of have an idea of what we want to hear from the speakers or what we’re anticipating but we don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen and exactly how the discussions are going to go so I’m interested to see how our anticipations compare to the actual day itself,” said Kirkpatrick.

Barton added that she is proud of the students for organizing the symposium which is never an easy feat.

The event is open to the public. Tickets cost $125 for individuals and $50 for students. There are also scholarship opportunities for students that attend.

The event is sponsored by the Pennsylvania-Delaware chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Delaware section; UD Career Services Faculty/Staff Career Innovation Grant; Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association; Chanticleer Garden and Larry Weaner Landscape Associates.

For more information, contact Barton at ( or (302) 831-1375 or visit the symposium website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Networking, and tailored experiences a focus of CANR strategic internships

Spencer Murray collecting Palmer Amaranth seed samples with Barbara Scott, associate researcher with Weed Science Program

Four students from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources began their fall semester enriched from their strategic summer internship experiences.

Mark Isaacs, Director of the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, coordinated the internships. Isaacs hopes the offerings for internships expand and more students learn about the opportunities available.

The Carvel Center is the college’s southern agriculture experimental station and serves as the staging ground for unique summer work experiences. The 347-acre campus, which includes Sussex Cooperative Extension and Lasher Laboratory, provides an ideal venue for CANR students studying across academic disciplines.

This summer, three of the four internships were sponsored, Isaacs said, a trend he hopes will continue and grow. The Sussex County Council provided funding for two positions. In addition, Helena Chemical Company, which is headquartered in Columbia South Carolina, partnered with UD — an important bridge to new opportunities, Isaacs noted.

The internships are all unique, customized to a workplace experience that suits each student’s goals, or help to identify them.

“We try to tailor the experience,” Isaacs said. “We meet with the student, identify their interest and career path and plan accordingly. If they are uncertain, we set up a rotating schedule to assure broader exposure. All are crafted to build the student’s professional network, showcase career opportunities, and build their professional development. You can’t get that in a classroom.”

Matching the student with the opportunity is a college-wide effort, including ongoing conversations with faculty and staff who assess and recruit the students and help coordinate the summer’s agenda. In some cases, students take the initiative; in others students are recommended by faculty and staff to pursue the internship.

While academic performance is a consideration, it is not the only characteristic that makes students a good fit.  A passion for learning, good communications skills, attention to detail, and a demonstrated work ethic are sought after, Isaacs said.

“We place our students in situations where they have to interact with people on a professional level in fields of study they are interested in,” Isaacs said. “They get to see firsthand the challenges and opportunities these professions deal with on a daily basis.”

Often, the internship experiences hones a student’s academic trajectory. “They discover a new aspect they hadn’t considered before,” Isaacs said. “And in some cases, what they do not want to do becomes clarified.”

Statistically, two jobs are available for every graduate with an agriculture related degree. “It is one of the most tremendously opportunistic career paths a student can have,” Isaacs said. “The chance to build contacts with professionals in these allied industries is a win-win for everyone.”

Intern Profiles

Parker O’Day Working with iMovie and Final Cut Pro, O’Day’s spent the half the summer creating video content for Cooperative Extension.

Parker O’Day, a Food and Agribusiness Marketing and Management sophomore, spent the summer as a communication intern at the Carvel Center. O’Day learned about the opportunity from Tracy Wootten, a Sussex County Extension agent working out of Carvel. Although O’Day had a retail job lined up for the summer, he jumped at the chance to work with agriculture marketing. O’Day received hands-on training in videography and editing, and produced and edited several videos for Extension’s farm succession planning, Delaware Master Gardeners, Extension videos at the Delaware State Fair, and UD’s Weed Science program.

Another comprehensive project took O’Day away from the computer and outside to visually map the Carvel Center’s research plots for a future online virtual tour. O’Day canvased and photographed these plots with a 360 degree camera. Later, he recorded interviews with Extension faculty and specialists about their specific research, overlaying the panoramas with YouTube videos, still photographs, and links to other resources.  When completed, visitors to the web-based tour will have a better understanding of the important research undertaken at the Carvel campus.

“The one thing I was never exposed to and always wondered how it worked was video editing,” O’Day said. “For ag business – on the marketing side of things, this skill will be useful to future employers.”

In addition, Isaacs arranged for O’Day and another intern, Spencer Murray, to meet with Kenny Bounds, Deputy Secretary at the Delaware Department of Agriculture, who provided the interns with an overview of his department and a visit with Mid Atlantic Farm Credit.

Laura Donahue, at the bench with Lasher Lab’s Dan Bautista and Billie Jean Wright

For Laura Donahue, professional networking is a critical component in accomplishing her goal to be a large animal veterinarian. Well before high school, the pre-vet senior mapped out a plan and strategized her experiential portfolio toward that singular goal. Donahue sought diverse experiences, including traveling to Denmark to work with swine, and last summer working with sheep in Iceland. As she approached her senior year at UD, Donahue recognized the need to obtain laboratory and research experience. She reached out to Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, who encouraged Donahue to contact Mark Isaacs about openings at the Lasher Laboratory.  While lab work was not a long-term goal, Donahue wanted to gain experience in a lab. As a summer resident in Delmarva, she realized that the chance to work with poultry in the heart of the industry made sense to round out her experiences.

Monday through Thursdays mornings, Donahue did “bench work” working in Lasher’s bacterial, serology and PCR labs with lab manager Kim Allen and her staff. In the afternoons, she assisted necropsy cases with Dan Bautista, Lasher’s veterinarian. On Fridays, Donahue typically worked alongside large animal veterinarians. She took full advantage working alongside the visiting veterinarians to learn their stories and make valuable contacts.  Donahue places a high value on networking, acknowledging that each person she meets opens a door to a new opportunity. “I got to hear other people’s perspectives, they talk about their careers and what they’ve done – and their advice and input were invaluable,” Donahue said.

Donahue’s internship helped shape her goals to specialize as a food animal veterinarian and address issues of global food insecurity.

Colby Rash, poses with Mark Isaacs who encouraged Rash to apply for the competitive internship with Helena Chemical

Colby Rash, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources, was recommended by Isaacs to apply for a competitive internship with Helena Chemical Company, which focuses on crop protection and management. Rash was one of 15 students whittled down from a pool of more than 1,500 applicants. Rash spent the first week at Helena’s headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina  receiving an overview of Helena’s portfolio and career opportunities from upper management, before continuing in their Mifflinville, Pa. location for the remainder of the summer. Rash worked closely with growers and industry representatives, troubleshooting crop production issues – everything from variety evaluation, pest management, and nutrient and fertility issues. His internship often required travel and networking with his fellow interns in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York. Isaacs stated, “Wes Page, who came to UD campus to recruit our students, did an excellent job coordinating Colby’s summer experience.” Upon graduation, Rash has been invited to return for a second internship.

Spencer Murray, a senior majoring in Agriculture and Natural Resources and minoring in Animal Science was approached by Mark Isaacs to consider a rotating internship. “It was a perfect opportunity to get my ducks in a row and figure out what I would like to focus on,” said Murray.

Murray and Isaacs mapped out a schedule that included a broad spectrum of agriculture’s allied industries. Murray interacted with agriculture chemical companies such as Monsanto, Helena, Growmark FS, and Crop Protection Services (CPS) and observed that relationship building between the company and the farmer is essential.

Murray worked directly with Carvel’s research and extension staff learning about the poultry industry alongside Georgie Cartanza, state poultry extension agent, and observed precision irrigation technology with James Adkins, associate scientist. Murray also spent time with Barbara Scott and Carvel’s Weed Science team, and experienced the connection between extension and research.

Murray’s advice to students, “No matter what your mind is set on, if you try something new, you may figure out something different you would like to do.”

Isaacs agrees that a good internship serves many purposes, most importantly, students get snapshots into the many careers possible.  “Working toward a career means strategic relationship building. It means learning to be fluid and open with career possibilities and establishing contacts with those that can advise and steer your career options. It means learning how to market yourself by exhibiting skill sets employers look for in their future employees,” Isaacs said.

“Our faculty and staff – we are in constant dialogue about our students and we want them to be successful. My colleagues recognize that a key component is work-based experience,” Isaacs said. “That’s the great thing about our college. We care about the student and placing the student in the right situation to be successful.”

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos by Michele Walfred and Spencer Murray

UD’s Arsenault uses lab to improve gut health of livestock animals

Casey Johnson, Dr. Ryan Arsenault, Bridget Aylward skating on Lake Louise, in Alberta, Canada during a break at the Keystone Symposium "Pattern Recognition Signaling: From Innate Immunity to Inflammatory Disease" in Banff, Canada in March.
Casey Johnson, Ryan Arsenault, and Bridget Aylward skating on Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada during a break at the Keystone Symposium “Pattern Recognition Signaling: From Innate Immunity to Inflammatory Disease” in Banff, Canada in March.

Researchers at the University of Delaware are looking into what causes that gut feeling in livestock animals such as cows and chickens.

Ryan Arsenault, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), arrived at UD in 2015 and since that time, he has worked to set up a lab looking specifically at the gut health of production livestock animals.

Members of Arsenault’s lab—specifically Bridget Aylward, a doctoral level student in CANR, and Casey Johnson, a Master’s level student in CANR—have presented their findings at international conferences such as the European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition in Spain as well as Keystone conferences in Banff, Canada and Dublin, Ireland.

Nexus of Everything

Arsenault said that gut health is a big topic in agriculture as many researchers are looking for alternatives to antibiotics which are almost all focused on the gut.

“We can’t use antibiotics like we used to in food animals. Antibiotics have been used in animal agriculture to keep animals disease free and grow larger. In Europe it’s totally gone, has been for years and years, and it’s getting pulled more and more from the American market so things like probiotics, pre-biotics, post-biotics, feed additives and feed enzymes, everyone’s looking at those as this silver bullet to solve the antibiotic alternative issue,” said Arsenault.

Many of his research projects are funded by industry and look at mode of action and mechanisms for antibiotic alternatives such as yeast cell wall extracts, feed enzymes and feed modifiers.

The trend towards no-antibiotics basically boils down to two main points: the concerns regarding antibiotic resistance that bacteria develop and the negative perception consumers have with regards to the use of antibiotics in animals.

Arsenault said that the gut is important to understand because it’s the center of animal production.

“You need an efficient gut because that’s where all the nutrients are absorbed. You’re not going to have a growing animal without a functioning healthy gut and it’s also the site of entry for a lot of disease causing pathogens,” said Arsenault. “It’s linked to pretty much every other system. For example, the second most innervated organ in the body besides the brain is the gut.”

There is also a huge immune component as more than 50 percent of the immune system is found in the gut.

“The gut is sort of this nexus of everything,” said Arsenault. “It’s basically your gut microbiota—the resident commensal bacteria in your gut—are a big part of being healthy. If you have the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, you’re more likely to be resistant to infections, your gut’s functioning more efficiently, you can maintain a healthier weight. Diseases like Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative colitis are, people think, predominantly microbiota related.”

The acquisition of a microbiome as a young chick, baby calf or a baby human has consequences for an entire life span because of how it helps develop an appropriate immune system and an appropriate immune response.

For instance, a lot of allergies and auto immune diseases are linked to how one acquires a microbiome in infancy.

Arsenault said that his lab is interested in looking into how chickens or cows acquire a healthy or unhealthy microbiome and what signals this is providing to the host animal, which feeds into the probiotics question of what the animals should be fed in order to give them a healthy microbiota so their immune system is optimum and they’re absorbing the optimum nutrients.

Focusing on the gut is a trend in human health as well, as probiotics have taken off in popularity and the work being done in Arsenault’s lab ties into the One Health concept, the idea that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment. The most common type of zoonotic disease—diseases that can be passed from animals to humans—are classified as zoonotic gastrointestinal diseases, this includes Salmonella, E.coli and Campylobacter.

International presentations

For their presentations, Johnson and Aylward both focused on issues related to the gut.

Johnson looked at feed additives as alternatives to antibiotics and how they respond with necrotic enteritis, or inflammatory dead gut disease, in chickens which is a huge problem facing the Delmarva poultry industry due to antibiotic feed restrictions.

“We were looking at their products which is crude yeast cell wall extracts which trigger immune receptors and we were looking at the purified forms of these yeasts cell wall extracts and at the differences and the efficacies of these as antibiotic alternatives. The more purified products seemed to have a better response,” said Johnson.

Because yeast is a fungus and not a bacteria, they initiate and bind to different receptors in the gut and do different things to the immune system than bacteria.

Arsenault explained that there’s been a lot of work in poultry on yeast feed additives as immune modulators because “They’re not really stimulating the immune system, they’re not dampening the immune system, they’re kind of priming or modulating it.”

Aylward’s poster presentation in Banff looked at pattern recognition receptors, which are receptors in the immune system that recognize a specific universal microbe motif such as a set of nucleic acids in a form only found in bacteria, with regards to chicken macrophage cell lines.

A macrophage is a large cell found in stationary form in the tissues or as a mobile white blood cell, especially at sites of infection.

The macrophages were treated with butyrate—considered a post-biotic—and forskolin—a plant extract that people use as a weight loss supplement.

Aylward worked on the kinome array analysis of how signaling in the cells changed after administration of these different feed additives.

Her presentation in Dublin looked at eight random dairy cows that were free of pathogens to establish the baseline normal immune cell signaling in the gut of those cows.

Departmental focus

In addition to his research on gut health, Arsenault is also on the organizing board of the annual Symposium on Gut Health in Production of Food Animals, an international conference on all aspects of gut health for all food animal species. He has been invited to speak on the topic of gut health in Brazil, Spain, Canada and the U.S. and co-edited an e-book on gut health research.

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences also has Amy Biddle, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, who co-teaches a gut microbiome microbial and host perspectives class with Arsenault.

Biddle’s work includes the Equine Gut Microbiome project in which her lab is tackling many of the fundamental questions behind the role of bacteria in the horse gut in health and disease.

Robert Dyer, associate professor in ANFS, and Tanya Gressley, associate professor and dairy nutritionist in ANFS, are also looking carefully at the gut health of animals.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD to feature live Blue Hens at home football games this fall

UD to feature live Blue Hens at home football games this fallUniversity of Delaware football fans who have never seen an actual Blue Hen in person will get their chance this fall as the University will have Blue Hens on display during home games as part of their pre-game tailgate festivities.

The birds will be on site in the Anchor Buick GM Blue Hen Fan Zone two hours before the games begin. The football season kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. when UD hosts Delaware State University.

Having the Blue Hens at the games is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between UD Athletics and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Chrissi Rawak, director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Services, and CANR Dean Mark Rieger initially talked about the possibility of having a live mascot in December 2016, and the two teams have been working together ever since to bring the concept to fruition. Athletics and CANR have worked together on everything from game day logistics to coop design to blue hen color selection.

A trailer, designed by Dan Hougentogler, research associate in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), has been constructed to house the Hens for the pre-game activities and is equipped with a mock up football field and goal posts, as well as fans to keep the birds cool.

The Blue Hen flock at UD features descendants of birds that were originally donated by S. Hallock du Pont in the 1960s for teaching and research, as well as three newer birds that were donated in 2016 by Wesley Towers, a 1964 UD graduate who majored in animal and poultry health during his time at UD and went on to serve as the Delaware state veterinarian for over 37 years. He is also a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees.

Bob Alphin, senior instructor in ANFS and manager of the Allen Laboratory, explained that this is a great opportunity to provide educational outreach to the Delaware community on the importance of the poultry industry to the state, as well as educate them on the history and biology of the Blue Hens.

Alphin stressed that the safety and health of the birds is of the upmost importance.

“The trailer has a nice design with good air flow, with fans, we’ll provide water and feed, along with plenty of space for the birds. I don’t expect that we’ll have any issues but we are prepared just in case,” said Alphin.

Blue Hen Interns

Three student interns—Anna Desmond, Melanie Lopez and Meaghan Young—from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources have been working with the birds since June and will be on site at the games to help educate the public and to keep an eye on the birds.

Desmond, a junior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences, said that she is thinking about a career in the poultry industry after she graduates and has enjoyed working with the birds this summer and learning new things about them such as how they ‘pant’ when they get hot.

“I didn’t realize that chickens pant. That’s something that I never would have even thought that they did. They don’t have sweat glands, like dogs don’t have sweat glands, and so they pant and chickens do the same thing,” said Desmond.

Young, a senior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences and agriculture and natural resources who is also doing research on campus in the Allen laboratory, said that she is looking forward to people’s reactions to the Blue Hens.

“I’m excited to see how they react when they see an actual Blue Hen because a lot of people just think of UD when they think of a Blue Hen but it is an actual bird,” said Young.

Lopez, a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major who is also minoring in wildlife conservation, said that the primary goal of the internship is animal care and taking care of the birds.

“We go in there every day and make sure they have feed and water, that the coup isn’t wet and the fans are working, that there are no signs of distress and then we collect the eggs and we count them and put them in the egg room cooler,” said Lopez.

Lopez also said that the interns work on their communication skills with the general public to relay information in a way that children can understand.

“We have a couple of trainings with children that are coming up and that’s kind of our test run to see how the Blue Hens are going to react, how we’re going to handle a whole bunch of children and that should be a good indicator of what it’s going to be like in the fall,” said Lopez.

Naming Contest

Those who attend the first two home games will have the opportunity to suggest names for the Blue Hens, as the interns on hand will collect naming submissions before the game.

While there will most likely be five birds total at the games, there have been two male birds that have been chosen to represent the Blue Hens as they are the biggest birds in the flock and look the most like iconic Blue Hens.

Lopez said that it is easy to distinguish the two Blue Hens from one another and that they both have their own unique personalities.

“One is more energetic and vocal and then the other is quieter but has his bursts where he moves quick all around,” said Lopez.

Young added that “One is a little bit more curious. As soon as you walk in, he’ll kind of go up and check you out and then the other one just chills in the back a little bit.”

For more history on the Blue Hens at the University of Delaware, check out a previous UDaily story.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Extension educates Delaware youth on food safety

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension nutrition assistants have been travelling to summer camps to educate Delaware youths ages 8-12 on the importance of food safety as part of their Are you Up for the Challenge: Don’t Bug Me curriculum.

The curriculum is divided into five hour-long sessions that focus on microbes, or ‘bugs’ such as bacteria and viruses, and the important role they play in food safety.

The courses are part of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’ s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and is geared towards low-income families with children.

Last year, the programming reached about 1,200 youths and the programs are expected to reach a similar number this summer.

Sue Snider, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and a food safety and nutrition specialist with Cooperative Extension, explained that the children learn how there are good bugs and bad bugs.

“In the first lesson, called Bugs: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, we introduce the concept that microbes, particularly bacteria and mold, are used to produce food products like cheese and yogurt. There is also the fact that we have about a trillion microbes in our body and they help keep us healthy,” said Snider. “Then the bad are the bugs or the microbes that spoil your food, that make it smell bad and make it a poor color. Then there are the ugly, which are the pathogens, those are the ones that cause you to get sick.”

There is some food preparation involved with the first lesson featuring a salad with orange dressing, something from all of the food groups and blue cheese which is made from a ‘good bug.’

The second lesson is called The Bug Express and focuses on how microbes get from one place to another. The food prep with the second lesson involved chicken nachos where the nutrition assistants explained to the children that they want to use different cutting boards when preparing their chicken and their vegetables. They are also taught about how to properly wash their vegetables before adding them to the salad.

The third lesson focused on the importance of hand washing, the fourth dealt with temperature control and how to keep foods hot or cold so bacteria won’t grow on it and the fifth lesson was a wrap up highlighting how viruses and parasites get into the body and how they latch onto the cells or the stomach lining.

“It’s also a wrap up where they do a quiz kind of game,” said Snider. “They work in teams and it’s called Bugs Be Gone. One of the nutrition assistants shared with me that she was very impressed because the kids got so many of the answers right.”

The courses were either spread out over the course of a week or delivered once a week for five weeks.

The program is run in conjunction with 4-H Up for the Challenge, which is overseen by Karen Johnston, statewide extension educator and the 4-H grants manager, and teen health ambassadors who go to most of the locations and work with the nutrition assistants.

“We’ve been doing that particular combination since around 2013 and it’s great. The kids relate to the young people and the teens get a lot out of it,” said Snider.

The staff involved with the classes include Carmella Johnson, Kim Silva and Michelle Ernst Voegele in New Castle County; Jennifer Seabrook and Anita Cooper in Kent County; and Wanda Taylor and Mary Edwards in Sussex County.

There were also two Extension Scholars—Amanda Venuto and Emma Newell—working on the project.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD study looks to clean up subsurface phosphorus risk assessment

UD study looks to clean up subsurface phosphorus risk assessment
Soil cores collected from Queen Anne’s County, Maryland.

When it comes to advancing nutrient management planning for croplands across the United States, it is important to evaluate phosphorus indices to ensure accurate phosphorus loss risk assessment.

Until recently, however, most of these phosphorus index assessments have focused on the risks of phosphorus losses in surface runoff while inadequately taking into account the critical role of subsurface phosphorus losses.

This is particularly important in areas such as the Atlantic Coastal Plain, where subsurface flow is the predominant pathway of phosphorus transport from artificially drained agroecosystems — cropland that uses artificial drainage to lower water tables.

A new paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality by researchers from the University of Delaware and other contributing institutions explores methods to evaluate the subsurface phosphorus risk routines of five phosphorus indices from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina using available water quality and soil datasets.

The research was funded in part by a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant.

Amy Shober, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist, is the lead author on the paper, which represents some of the work done by Kathryn Turner, who worked in Shober’s lab and graduated from UD in 2016.

Co-authors include Scott Andres, hydrogeologist and senior scientist with the Delaware Geological Survey, Anthony Buda, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Thomas Sims, a retired UD faculty member and former deputy dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Nicole Fiorellino, Chesapeake College, and Joshua McGrath, University of Kentucky.

Atlantic Coastal Plain

Shober said that some cropland on the Atlantic Coastal Plain must be artificially drained to lower the water table in order to avoid having water within the root zone of plants or standing water in their fields, which would disrupt farmers’ ability to use equipment and plant successful crops.

Shober said that today’s farmers are dealing with what is known as “legacy phosphorus,” phosphorus that is left over from past manure applications and that continues to contribute to water quality issues.

Using phosphorus indices, farmers and land managers can identify areas in the landscape where phosphorus sources overlap with the ways in which water moves phosphorus through the soils.

There have been a lot of studies evaluating the risk of phosphorus transport, such as erosion and surface runoff, because these losses are easily seen. Fewer studies have been conducted on the contributions of subsurface phosphorus to drainage waters, which are harder to track because they occur below ground and there are fewer tools to study these losses.

“You can collect runoff at the end of the field and know what came over that land surface,” said Shober. “It’s harder to identify where water moving through the ditch network originated. Water draining from the fields occurs underground, and the discharges from multiple fields mix as water moves through the ditch network. Not to mention that rainfall that is directly deposited to the ditch — and even overland flow — can also contribute to ditch flow.”

Soil data

To better study the subsurface phosphorus sources and transport, the researchers started looking at soil data to determine if the previously existing phosphorus index models were able to accurately predict subsurface phosphorus sources and transport. They found that the pre-existing hydrologic models to evaluate subsurface phosphorus were inadequate when it came to evaluating flat, artificially drained areas like those found in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain.

For flat landscapes, the hydrologic models didn’t work because they need slope and are based on topography. Because the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain doesn’t have a lot of surface runoff but instead has a lot of subsurface runoff, the models were calculating for problems for which the model was not designed.

“There aren’t a lot of studies, especially in our region where it’s flat and there is a lot of ditch drainage, so we can’t calibrate and verify our phosphorus indices for subsurface phosphorus losses,” said Shober. “We started looking to see if we could use soil data to determine if we were going in the right direction. If we were really seeing high phosphorus risk in places where this index is identifying high subsurface losses.”

Shober said that the researchers were able to conduct this study using previously collected soils, which can be stored for long periods of time and still contain measurable phosphorus.

Subsurface phosphorus index

Using a library of soil cores that the authors had collected at different depths from all over the Delmarva Peninsula and using data collected by Sims and Andres, the researchers calculated the risk for subsurface phosphorus loss using five phosphorus indices. They looked at the phosphorus index scores without taking into account any manure application, only concerning themselves with contributions of the legacy phosphorus.

“For our index, we eliminated the things that we weren’t interested in looking at so we ultimately got a score that we consider was just for this subsurface risk,” said Shober. “We wanted to say, ‘OK, what is the inherent risk of subsurface losses of phosphorus that was in the soil?’”

Once they got those numbers, they looked at the water-extractable phosphorus at the depth of the seasonal high water table and correlated the data to see the relationship.

To find the water-extractable phosphorus, the researchers took a small amount soil and a little bit of de-ionized water and shook them for an hour and measured how much phosphorus came out of the soil.

“If the phosphorus index subsurface score was low and the water-extractable phosphorus in the soil at the depth of the water table was low, we would expect a low risk of subsurface phosphorus losses. So, ultimately, we wanted to see scores increasing either linearly or exponentially as soil water extractable phosphorus increased – the higher the risk score, the higher the water-extractable phosphorus level should be,” said Shober.

The calculation using water extractable phosphorus concentrations at depths corresponding with the seasonal high water table could serve as a realistic proxy for subsurface losses in ditch drainage and as a valuable metric that offers interim insight into the directionality of subsurface phosphorus risk scores when water quality data are inaccessible.

This will all help to improve monitoring and modeling of subsurface phosphorus losses and enhance the rigor of phosphorus index appraisals, Shober said, adding, “We’re hoping that this is something that people can do to move forward with our understanding of subsurface phosphorus loss. In the end, we ended up making some small tweaks to both the Maryland phosphorus management tool (PMT) and the North Carolina phosphorus loss assessment tool (PLAT) that made them score more appropriately against our soils dataset.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Amy Shober

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD garden offers local, student-picked produce to the community on Fridays

UD garden offers local, student-picked produce to the community on FridaysMembers of the University of Delaware community searching for local, sustainable, student-grown and handpicked produce need look no further than UD Fresh to You, a garden managed using organic practices and located on UD’s South Campus in Newark.

Located off Route 896 near the University’s Townsend Hall — next to the former Girl Scouts building and across from the historic farmhouse, UD Fresh to You is open every Friday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. with an assortment of locally grown seasonal produce.

UD Fresh to You supports various food security projects within the local community and sells produce to local restaurants, such as House of William and Merry, the student-run Vita Nova restaurant on campus, Grain on Main, Platinum Dining Group (with restaurants such as Taverna and Red Fire Grill steakhouse), Goat Kitchen and Bar, Ulysses gastropub and Newark Natural Foods.

Student interns work at the garden every summer and play a vital role in every aspect of managing and maintaining the garden.

Produce available this week from UD Fresh to You includes:

• Slicers, Saladette and cherry tomatoes (limited quantities of cherry tomatoes)

• Poblano peppers

• Tomatillos

• Jalapeño peppers

• Cayenne peppers

• Hungarian hot wax peppers

• Okra

• Sweet peppers

• Sweet corn

• Green string beans

• Cantaloupe

• Black Beauty and Ping Tung eggplant

For more information on UD Fresh to You, check out their Facebook page.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Hiltpold looks at adding silicon to soil to strengthen plant defenses

UD’s Hiltpold looks at adding silicon to soil to strengthen plant defensesTo help plants better fend off insect pests, researchers are considering arming them with stones.

The University of Delaware’s Ivan Hiltpold and researchers from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia are examining the addition of silicon to the soil in which plants are grown to help strengthen plants against potential predators.

The research was published recently in the journal Soil Biology and Biochemistry and was funded by Sugar Research Australia. Adam Frew, currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Charles Sturt University in Australia, is the lead author on the paper.

Hiltpold, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the basis of the project was to assess the impact of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on a plant’s nutritional quality and also on root pests, using sugar cane and root-feeding insects, primarily cane grubs—the voracious larvae of the cane beetle.

“This research demonstrated a cascading effect,” said Hiltpold. “We have silicon and other plant nutrients in the soil, we have the fungi that is interacting with the plant and metabolites, and all that plant chemistry has an impact on insect development.”

Silicon is the world’s second most abundant element after oxygen in the Earth’s crust, but because it is in a stone or mineral form, it is not readily available for use by plants.

By amending the soil with silica, a form of silicon that plants can easily take up, the researchers helped the plants build up tiny particles called phytoliths, or “plant stones,” to defend against herbivorous insects and possibly rodents.

“The plant builds up these sorts of stones in its tissues, which will reduce the digestibility of the plant material because digesting stones is not very easy,” said Hiltpold. “Also, these stones wear the mouth parts of insects and possibly rodents. If your teeth are not really cutting any more, then you cannot eat as much as you could. All of that added together will reduce the impact of herbivory on the plant.”

In experiments with two sugarcane varieties grown in a greenhouse, root-feeding insects, primarily the cane grub, fed on the plants. The immune function of the insects was assessed by measuring their immune response to entomopathogenic nematodes—small organisms that kill insects in the soil—while insect growth and root consumption were assessed in a feeding trial.

The researchers found that high levels of silicon concentrations decreased insect growth and root consumption, the latter by 71 percent.

Because the silicon doesn’t affect grazing livestock, Hiltpold said that it also will not affect humans when, for example, a person consumes boiled carrots or sweet corn.

Hiltpold said they chose the cane grub for their study because it is a major pest in Australia.

“Sugar cane is a big industry in Australia, and these larvae are really causing a lot of damage to it. These grubs can be pretty big—their diameter can be as big as my thumb,” Hiltpold said. “As soil pests, they are really hard to control because they are hard to reach with insecticides and they are hard to monitor. We don’t really know where they are before we see the damage on the plant, and then usually it’s too late. Having options to control them is always good.”

The option of using silicon to naturally strengthen the plant’s defenses against the cane grub would be both environmentally friendly and economically attractive to growers, as they would not have to spray as much to protect their crops.

“The idea of amending crops with silicon in general is that, OK, we have this element that is naturally present. The only thing is that it’s not bio-available so it cannot be taken up by the plant as is, but if we add a little bit of bioavailable silicon to the field, then it boosts the plant’s biomass,” said Hiltpold. “The plant productivity is increased and also the plant defenses are increased because the silicon accumulates in the tissue above and below ground and helps the plants to cope with insect as well as mammal herbivory.”

Hiltpold said this research could be applicable to other types of plants besides sugarcane.

He also said that in addition to the plants’ interaction with the silicon, the fungi had a surprising impact on the insects.

“We don’t exactly know if it’s via the plant or directly from the exposure to the fungi, but the insect immune system was triggered when the plants were treated with the fungi,” said Hiltpold. “That could be useful in an integrated management view because triggering an immune system if there is no invader, no pathogen exposure, might have a cost on the growth or performance of the insect, so that will eventually have a beneficial impact on the plant because the insect is doing less well and doing less damage. I think that was an interesting finding that was never demonstrated before.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Illustration by Jeff Chase

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

K. Eric Wommack’s group gets $6 million to study viruses

K. Eric Wommack’s group gets $6 million to study virusesThe University of Delaware’s K. Eric Wommack, deputy dean in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will lead a research team from four universities that has received a $6 million grant to probe how viruses impact microbes critical to our lives, from producing oxygen to growing food.

Also, UD’s Kelvin Lee, Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is a co-investigator on a $6.1 million research project, led by Clemson University, aimed at lowering drug manufacturing costs.

The two four-year projects were announced by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) on Wednesday, Aug. 2. They are among eight projects across the United State, totaling $41.7 million, that aim to build U.S. research capacity in understanding the relationship in organisms between their genes and their physical characteristics. Uncovering this genotype-to-phenotype relationship holds potential for improved crop yields, better prediction of human disease risk and new drug therapies.

“Over the past several decades, scientists and engineers have made massive strides in decoding, amassing and storing genomic data,” said Denise Barnes, NSF EPSCoR head. “But understanding how genomics influence phenotype remains one of the more profound challenges in science. These awards lay the groundwork for closing some of the biggest gaps in biological knowledge and developing interdisciplinary teams needed to address the challenges.”

“The University of Delaware’s deep involvement in two EPSCoR grants underscores the world-class leadership and bold ideas of our faculty, as well as the powerful role of interdisciplinary collaboration for society’s behalf,” said Charlie Riordan, vice president of research, scholarship and innovation. “We congratulate Eric and Kelvin and look forward to the new technologies their teams will advance.”

A nano-lab for observing viruses and cells

In water and soil to the human gut, you’ll find single-celled microbes — and viruses right alongside them. A virus will infect a microbe, hijack its machinery and begin replicating, eventually killing the host. But how these processes work within complex microbial communities is still largely a mystery.

The multi-university collaboration that UD’s Wommack is leading will develop new technology to enable scientists to examine — in a droplet of water smaller than mist — how a single virus and a single microbial cell interact.

“Imagine doing a classic microbiology experiment with test tubes and culture plates. Our research would take all of those test tubes and cultures and reduce them down to a tiny droplet 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair,” says Wommack, who is an expert in environmental microbiology.

Operating under the principle that oil and water don’t mix, the interdisciplinary team will create devices the size of a microscope slide, equipped with tiny incubation chambers filled with oil, to isolate individual droplets of water injected with a syringe. Molds for these microfluidic devices will be fabricated in UD’s state-of-the-art Nanofabrication Facility for collaborators David Dunigan and Jim Van Etten at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Grieg Steward and Kyle Edwards at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Marcia Marston and Koty Sharp at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

“A big aim of our project is to democratize the microfluidics technology we develop so that the average lab can run these experiments,” Jason Gleghorn, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UD, says. “It’s about making new tools and resources available to the broader scientific community.”

The research team also will create the Viral Informatics Resource for Genome Organization (VIRGO).

“We have troves of genomic data on viruses,” Wommack says. “What’s limiting our work is that we don’t know the connections between the genes and what the viruses do biologically. How quickly do viruses infect a host? How long do they take to reproduce? What happens to the infected cell? Once we have that information in VIRGO, we can look at a viral community and make inferences about how unknown viral populations will behave.”

A focus on environmental microbes

Collaborators in Nebraska, Hawaii and Rhode Island will focus on viruses that infect phytoplankton — microscopic organisms that live in the salty ocean to freshwater lakes and conduct photosynthesis.

Phytoplankton serve as big links in food chains and produce more than half the oxygen on Earth. They, along with other microbes, process as much as 70 percent of the carbon going through ecosystems, according to Wommack.

Meanwhile, researchers at UD will focus on viruses that attack microbes important to the nitrogen cycle.

They have a collection of symbiotic bacteria, called Bradyrhizobia, that provide nitrogen to soybean — fueling plant growth without extra fertilizers. Soybean feeds some 2 billion people globally, and more of it will be needed to feed a world population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050.

“We can’t simply fertilize our way to greater agricultural productivity,” Wommack says. “But if we can find a way to improve the plant’s innate nutrition system through research we’re doing now, we may be able to get a plant to do what it already does, a lot better.”

Wommack also has teamed up with Rob Ferrell, science teacher in the Appoquinimink School District, to translate the research into life science and earth science curriculum activities for middle school students.

Other UD members of the project include Barbra Ferrell, research associate; Jeffry Fuhrmann, professor of plant and soil sciences; Jason Gleghorn, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Shawn Polson, associate professor of computer and information sciences; and Jaysheel Bhavsar, bioinformatics programmer.

Clemson collaboration to boost biopharmaceutical manufacturing

The EPSCoR project at Clemson University seeks better ways to engineer Chinese hamster ovary cells, which are used to manufacture more than half of biopharmaceuticals. Joining co-investigator Kelvin Lee on the project will be Cathy Wu, Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at UD.

Products from these cells are used in drugs to treat Crohn’s disease, severe anemia, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, and represent more than $70 billion in sales each year, according to a Clemson news release.

Lee, who directs the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), said the EPSCoR project would help address challenges in making these medicines more widely available.

NIIMBL, announced in December 2016 at UD and launched in March 2017, was established with a $70 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce and with support from more than 150 collaborators.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Kathy Atkinson and Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students spend summer focusing on needs of the First State

UD students spend summer focusing on needs of the First StateUniversity of Delaware students are spread throughout the state this summer as Extension Scholars, Service Learning Scholars and Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows, working on projects that help communities and give the students experiential learning opportunities in their future career fields.

Dan Rich, director of the Community Engagement Initiative, said this is the first time the programs shared an orientation.

Organized by Cooperative Extension, members had the opportunity to share the similar roles they play in applying research to needs in the community.

“Through these summer programs, UD students serve as engaged scholars. They contribute to improving the quality of life in communities throughout Delaware while they gain knowledge through experiential learning,” said Rich.

The 10-week programs wrap up in August when the students will present their work at the University’s Undergraduate Research and Service Symposium.

Extension Scholars

The Extension Scholars program, now in its 13th year, is run through UD’s Cooperative Extension Program and offers students a unique, hands-on 10-week summer experiential learning environment under the guidance of extension agents or specialists.

During this summer internship, students follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, said the program provides an opportunity for students to interview and have real job experience while being mentored by someone on the job.

“Mentors often become references for employment. Numerous Extension Scholars have commented that this experience has been beneficial to obtaining employment as it provides them meaningful work experiences that assists them in sharing experiences in employment interviews,” said Rodgers. “There are numerous scholars who have come back and shared that their experience was key to their employment.”

The eight Extension Scholars are working on a wide array of projects ranging from integrated pest management and  4-H to climate change and environmental quality work.

Service Learning Scholars

The 19 Service Learning Scholars have spent their 10-week summer program working with community partners on projects and also doing academic reading and reflection with a faculty mentor.

Susan Serra, associate director of service learning for UD’s Community Engagement Initiative, said that the projects vary from students working in landscape architecture through community revitalization projects in Laurel and Leipsic, to students working at the Bear-Glasgow YMCA with adults with intellectual disabilities, to others working at Winterthur’s Terrific Tuesdays program, where they bring experiences found at the museum to the Salvation Army summer camp in Wilmington.

“The goal is to provide community partners with a resource they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Serra. “With the YMCA, for example, the students are working with a UD faculty member who studies the physical health of people with intellectual disabilities — the students are partnering with the YMCA to meet the needs of that community. We are also looking to, if possible, work on sustainable projects so that it might be something that different students would come back to in the future.”

Serra said that the experience helps students understand what it takes to make things happen out in communities.

“They begin to understand not just the challenges communities face but also their assets. Being partners means recognizing that the community brings as much to the table as you do,” said Serra.

Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows

Run through the School of Public Policy and Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows is composed of 16 students working with three centers: the Institute for Public Administration, the Center for Community Research and Service, and the Disaster Research Center.

The program includes three field visits so that while the students work on a project in one of the three centers, they get exposed to work in all three of the centers and across different sectors.

“They’re getting to see what their peers are working on, which can spark some ideas of what they might want to explore in the future,” said Lisa Moreland, program manager and IPA policy scientist. “It brings them together, gives them a sense of camaraderie, and may spark opportunities for collaboration. It’s beneficial to the students, but also mutually beneficial to the center staff and organizations with which they are working.”

Joseph Trainor, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and program director for disaster science and management, said the project undertaken by his students combines sociological, engineering and economics approaches to explore the question of what makes a hurricane evacuation a success or a failure.

“This question is explored from two perspectives: that of the transportation agencies charged with managing an evacuation, and that of the individual households who participate in the evacuation,” said Trainor.

Using focus groups, a survey and simulations, the project will attempt to quantify these criteria into measurable variables, which can be used to form models to evaluate how much of a success or failure an evacuation is, according to these two perspectives.

“These models could be used to evaluate the impact of different evacuation strategies, in order to enable authorities to conduct evacuations that are more successful, both for the agencies that manage them and the households that participate in them,” said Trainor.

Other topics students are exploring include economics development in Delaware, best practices to engage minority communities in cycling and urban bikeshare networks, and small business trends and conditions in Delaware.

Signe Bell, director of nonprofit and community programs in the Center for Community Research and Service, said that getting students an opportunity to work in their field of study with faculty members and professionals allows them to explore and see what kinds of projects are actually happening in the field of public policy and organizational leadership.

“They learn about these projects and then they learn about themselves in the process,” said Bell. “I tell students all the time that it is just as valuable to learn what you don’t like to do as it is to find out what you love. Because you don’t want to learn that you don’t like something once you have your first full-time job doing it. This is a good, low stakes opportunity for learning.”

Moreland added that these experiences also give the students a leg up when it comes time to take the next step after graduation.

“It puts them ahead of the game for students coming from other universities when they’re trying to compete for jobs,” said Moreland. “These experiences on their resumes reflect on their work ethic and speak volumes. The bottom line that Signe, Joe and I have for our students is getting them that experience and having them put their best foot forward when they go out into their careers — whether it’s further graduate study or employment.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaware Cooperative Extension works to bring healthy food to urban areas

Delaware Cooperative Extension works to bring healthy food to urban areasWith the help of Delaware Cooperative Extension, urban farms and gardens are popping up all over the First State, providing a much-needed healthy food source and beautifying areas that otherwise wouldn’t have access to fresh vegetables or flowers.

Many of these gardens rely on the expertise of Cooperative Extension agents and the services extension provides, such as soil testing, plant pest identification and disease diagnostics.

One that has been particularly well served by extension is the Planting Hope Urban Farm located on North DuPont Highway in New Castle and is a partnership between the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Health and Social Services.

Gail Hermenau, the urban farm manager for Planting Hope, said the farm supports a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that recently expanded to include families and children from the Terry Psychiatric Center, a campus market as well as a community garden space where they work with clients from the Delaware Psychiatric Center and the Division for the Visually Impaired.

The farm is in part funded by a three-year specialty crop block grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Hermenau said the children from the psychiatric center do different types of activities and plantings at the farm.

“They have two raised beds they use to plant a variety of vegetables, and they use that space to learn about plant life cycle and all the sustainable farming practices that happen on the farm. Then we harvest that material, and I usually cook something up for them and have a tasting,” said Hermenau.

Cooperative Extension is partnering with the farm to provide nutritional education in the class room for the students from December to April. Over the summer, they meet with Hermenau on the farm where she delivers a CSA share, one per household, to the Terry Psychiatric Center that’s distributed among resident children and children who are part of the day program.

Extending knowledge

Hermenau said she was always fascinated by gardening, but her interest and knowledge base took off when in 2004 she trained to become a volunteer educator in Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, and later trained to become Master Composter and Master Food Educators.

Hermenau said getting involved with Cooperative Extension was the “best thing I ever did. Cooperative Extension is a wonderful organization. It’s made a tremendous difference in my life personally and professionally.”

Having been trained as a Master Gardener with a specialty in composting and vegetable gardening, Hermenau installed the original four raised beds, borders and compost site at the demonstration garden located in the back of the New Castle County Cooperative Extension building located on Wyoming Road.

Her role as a Master Gardener now includes working in the areas of community gardening and urban agriculture. It was in this role that she attended the Joint Council of Extension Professionals conference with Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, Maria Pippidis, New Castle County director and extension educator for family and consumer sciences, Nancy Bell, a Master Gardener, and Karen Sommers, a Master Food Educator.

The last day of the conference included a trip to Capitol Hill. At that time, Hermenau and the other Delaware extension professionals were able to talk about the low cost and free services extension provides to the Delaware community and invite Delaware Sen. Tom Carper to visit the urban farms and gardens in Wilmington.

Senatorial tour

Carper toured urban gardens and farms in Wilmington on May 30, including the E.D. Robinson 12th and Brandywine Farm and the South Bridge Community Garden, which Hermenau said was started by Randi Novakoff and a variety of partners including extension which was instrumental in helping get off the ground.

“One of the first things that the Southbridge community did was contact extension, and that’s what a lot of people do. They contact extension staff, in this case Carrie Murphy, [extension agent and the lawn and garden program leader], and explain ‘this is what I need to do, how do I go about doing this and can you help me?’ Carrie then provides assistance and makes connections to the appropriate experts including master gardeners and master food educators,” said Hermenau.

Carper was also able to tour Planting Hope where he had the opportunity to speak with community garden members, learn about how the garden helps a variety of people including those in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and clients from the division of the visually impaired, and how the garden members use various extension services throughout the year in a variety of ways.

While each urban community garden and farm is unique, Hermenau said the goal is always the same: for community gardens to be led by members of the community.

“Extension is always there as a resource, but we found that community ownership of the garden is really necessary to make it successful,” said Hermenau. “They need to make it their own. They come to us for resources, but we don’t go to them and tell them ‘this is what you should be doing and this is how you should be doing it.’ We tell them, ‘We’re here and these are the resources we have, how can we help you?’ That’s our approach.”

Ultimately, these urban farms and community gardens serve many purposes for the communities in which they are installed, not the least of which is providing fresh vegetables to communities in need.

“Urban gardening and farming is really important. When you think about the different communities with limited access to fresh vegetables, many of the members of that community also have limited access to transportation so any of these resources they can take advantage of make a big difference,” said Hermenau. “The areas that they work in, they were abandoned lots and so it improves and beautifies their neighborhood. It makes a difference in changing the neighborhood, and it makes the community come alive.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Cooperative Extension at the Delaware State Fair

UD Cooperative Extension at the Delaware State FairThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension once again has a strong footprint at the Delaware State Fair, which runs July 20 through Saturday, July 29, at the fairgrounds in Harrington.

“Each year I grow more impressed with our staff, Extension scholars and volunteers who represent Extension’s role and greet the public at the fair,” said Michelle Rodgers, director of Cooperative Extension and associate dean at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The fair venue is a great opportunity to converse with the public, answer questions, and highlight how Extension extends knowledge and changes lives across our state.”

Delaware Cooperative Extension, jointly represented by Delaware’s two land grant institutions, the University of Delaware and Delaware State University, return to their  newly designed exhibit in the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) Commodities Building. Four large screen monitors highlight video of Extension’s four areas of outreach education: 4-H, agriculture, lawn & garden, and family and consumer sciences. Also featured is a 360-degree virtual reality display of UD’s irrigation research at Warrington Farm and DSU’s high tunnel research from its Smyrna Outreach & Research Center.  Extension experts will also be on hand to answer questions. Two gift baskets courtesy of UD and DSU will be given away on the fair’s final day, Saturday, July 29 at 4 p.m.

Directly across from the Extension exhibit, DDA’s demonstration kitchen will serve as a stage for a variety of interesting and delicious “how to” presentations, many taught by UD Extension staff members.

A ‘Super Bowl’ event for 4-H

For 4-H youth exhibitors, the Delaware State Fair is the 4-H version of the Super Bowl — the grand finale showcasing their project work throughout the year, which begins every September.

As they progress through the year, 4-H youth select the best of their work to display at the fair, with exhibits that span several project areas including canning, entomology, beekeeping, clothing and textiles, horticulture, crops, food products, woodworking, computer graphics and photography, and others.

Extension staff, Master Food Educators, Master Gardeners and 4-H alumni and leaders serve as exhibit judges. This year more than 10,000 exhibits were checked in.

The Delaware State Fair is the capstone event for 4-H contest winners at the county level, who will vie for overall state honors in Harrington, with competitions in livestock, poultry, horticulture, vegetable, clothing and textiles, and photography. Other featured contests include tractor driving, photography, archery, Avian Bowl, Consumer Bowl, the 4-H Horse Show and a talent show. The awards celebration for these contests are scheduled for  Saturday, July 29, at 5 p.m.

During the fair, temperatures in Delaware typically reach well into the 90s, with heat indexes into the 100s. Nevertheless, 4-H’ers keep their cool as added responsibility toward their livestock increases.

The heat index is of particular concern to the pigs, said Susan Garey, animal science extension agent. “The 4-H’ers and their families are very diligent,” Garey said. “They are up at the barn quite a bit.”

Pigs have a hard time cooling themselves, Garey said. 4-H’ers take their pigs to the wash rack to wet them down multiple times during the day. Wet bedding helps keep them cool.

Fair visitors may notice colored water by the livestock pens. Electrolytes added to the water help animals cope with the heat, much like human athletes when performing in hot weather.

With increased water intake and intentional damp bedding, 4-H families spend a great deal of time with shovels, brooms and rakes. “They go through a lot of shavings, that’s for sure,” said Garey. “But this is what they work for all year, what they plan for. It not just about the shows, it’s about their fair friends and the traditions and so they are enthusiastic no matter what the temperature.”

Follow 4-H and Extension at the fair on social media via @UDExtension and @Delaware4H.

Article by Adam Thomas and Michele Walfred

Photo by Michele Walfred

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UD’s Go Baby Go Café offers catering to campus community

Members of the University of Delaware community looking for fresh breakfast or lunch deliveries now have a new alternative as the Go Baby Go Café has begun offering catering services in addition to the food served in the atrium of the STAR Health Sciences Complex on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

The catering menu is available to parties from 10-30 people on campus – as well as off campus locations for an additional $10 fee – and includes items such as a quick start continental breakfast, parfait bar or lox bar for breakfast and sandwich platters, salads and soups for lunch.

Bagels and pastry packs, yogurt options, coffee and juices, as well as dessert options such as cookie trays or UDairy Creamery ice cream cups are also available.

The Go Baby Go Café is a collaboration between the UDairy Creamery and the College of Health Sciences and started in November 2014.

The concept began with Cole Galloway, a professor and researcher in the Department of Physical Therapy, who created Go Baby Go!, which uses re-purposed toy cars that allow children who have trouble walking and crawling to move and play.

Galloway then adapted this concept into a harness system allowing adults with limited mobility as a result of brain injury to rehabilitate in a real-life work setting.

Galloway approached the UDairy Creamery to help develop the café not only give patients real life work therapy but also to provide meals and snacks to the STAR Campus and surrounding areas.

Jason Morris, manager of the Go Baby Go Café who graduated from UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2016 with a degree in food and agribusiness marketing and management, said that the menu has evolved a great deal since its inception in 2014.

“We just updated the catering menu in March and we pretty much doubled it in size adding different types of sandwich platters and a lot to the breakfast menu,” said Morris.

The regular menu at the café has evolved too, with additional equipment allowing for the inclusion of hot sandwiches.

Morris said that his favorite part of being manager of the café is coming up with new products to offer.

“I like experimenting. I’ve always liked cooking and now, I’m always trying to come up with new sandwiches and when I hear good feedback from the employees or the students that try them, it gets me really excited and I try to offer it more,” said Morris.

For more information on the Go Baby Go Café and for those interested in catering, visit the websiteor email

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Peruvian embassy hosts exhibit featuring indigenous culture

Peruvian embassy hosts exhibit featuring indigenous cultureAn exhibition highlighting one of the last indigenous cultures of the Peruvian Amazon and featuring field research, photography, art conservation and curatorial work by University of Delaware faculty, students and alumni will open this week in Washington, D.C.

The Ese’Eja People of the Amazon: Connected by a Thread will be on view at the Embassy of Peru until Sept. 15, and will then travel to numerous museums throughout the U.S. An opening reception and book signing will be held at the embassy on Thursday, July 13.

A parallel exhibit created by the same team will be on display July 27-30 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, where it will be part of the Kaypi Perú (“This Is Peru”) festival celebrating the nation’s cultural heritage. More than 30,000 visitors usually attend the free, annual festival.

Also connected to the exhibit, a new documentary book, Ancestral Lands of the Ese’Eja: The True People, has been published by the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research(ACEER). All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to ACEER’s Community Development Fund in support of Ese’Eja and other indigenous development projects and conservation education in the Peruvian Amazon.

The team that created the exhibition was led by Jon Cox, assistant professor of art and design and a graduate of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR); Vicki Cassman, associate professor of art conservation; Monica Dominguez Torres, associate professor of art history, all at UD; and Andrew Bale, lecturer in art and art history at Dickinson College. Bale, who earned his master of fine arts degree at UD in 2005, and Cox are photographers whose work is showcased in the exhibit and the book.

Objects displayed in the exhibit include baskets, bark cloth, carved wooden bows, arrows with elaborate feather arrangements on their shafts, a necklace of wild-pig teeth and various items dyed with berries and other natural materials.

The Ese’Eja, who now live in three villages in Peru, are an indigenous hunting, gathering and fishing people. Their numbers have plummeted in recent years, and their traditional culture is threatened by development, industry and restricted access to their ancestral lands.

“One of the goals of having the exhibition and the book was for the Ese’Eja to have a voice in the policies that directly affect them,” Cox said. “My goal was to facilitate them telling their story with the hope that projects like this one will start a conversation.”

Exhibit inspired by 2014 expedition

The exhibit of artifacts and photographs, many previously on view in UD’s Old College Gallery, grew out of a 2014 “cultural mapping” project in Peru led by Cox and Rainforest Expeditions.

In that project, UD faculty members, four undergraduate students and two alumni, including Bale, spent three weeks in Ese’Eja communities. The interdisciplinary group documented the everyday lives of the people through photos, video, oral histories and maps created from GPS coordinates and the recollections of older Ese’Eja who remember the good hunting and fishing locations and sacred places.

The mapping project resulted in a video titled “The Ese’Eja: From a Cotton Thread in the Sky to Protectors of the Amazon.” The title refers to the traditional belief that the Ese’Eja traveled down to Earth on a cotton thread.

The video, hosted on the National Geographic website, can be viewed via a link on the overall project website, “The Ancestral Lands of the Ese’Eja — The True People,” at The cultural mapping project was supported in part by National Geographic’s Genographic Legacy Fund, and in 2015 Cox was named a “National Geographic Explorer.”

For the students who took part, the expedition was a unique learning experience that encompassed research in anthropology, ethnobotany and education, as well as hands-on photography, videography and mapping skills.

For Brian Griffiths, who graduated in 2016 with degrees in environmental engineering and plant science, the project led him to a new passion and altered career plans.

“That trip was really my first research experience in the field, which was huge for me because now that’s what I do,” said Griffiths, a doctoral student in environmental science and policy at George Mason University who continues a particular interest in Peru.

“I’m studying environmental science in terms of people—their impact on the environment and how environmental change affects them. My focus is always on indigenous people.”

Another student from the cultural mapping expedition, Chelsea Rozanski, is completing her Peace Corps service in Panama. A 2014 graduate in anthropology and women and gender studies, Rozanski said the experience ”profoundly influenced” her plans to study and teach cultural anthropology.

“The opportunity of being a part of this interdisciplinary collaborative effort was the richest personal and educational experience during my time at UD,” she said in an email from Panama. “I grew as an aspiring anthropologist, world traveler and advocate for environmental and indigenous rights.”

Photographs hold deeper meaning

When Cox and Bale were deciding how to select and display photographs for the exhibition and book, they wanted to do more than show what the Ese’Eja people and communities look like.

They came up with the idea of using photographic processes that would symbolize some of the challenges the Ese’Eja face from outside influences.

Portraits of community members were created using mercury-developed gold-gilded daguerreotypes, a labor- and time-intensive technique that was first developed in 1839 to make the earliest photographic images.

The use of mercury and gold was important, Cox said, because illegal mining of gold in the Peruvian Amazon releases some 38 tons of mercury a year, threatening the Ese’Eja’s health and ecosystem, as well as their way of life.

In addition, because daguerreotypes have a kind of mirrored surface, the viewer sees his or her own reflection as well as the image of the person who was photographed.

“You see living people in the image, but you also see yourself, because we’re all [as consumers] part of the problem,” Cox said.

Other photographs show sacred sites and ceremonies in platinum-palladium prints, a process developed in 1873. The prints are made on Japanese Kozo paper, symbolizing the influence of Japanese refugees who settled on Ese’Eja ancestral lands after World War II.

Program support

Support for the project has come from the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research, Dickinson College, the Greater Philadelphia Latin American Studies Consortium, National Geographic’s Geographic Legacy Fund, Hahnemuhle, Notchcode Creative and Rainforest Expeditions in Peru.

University of Delaware units supporting the work include the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Art and Design, a General University Research Grant, the Institute for Global Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences’ Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, and the School of Education.

Article by Ann Manser

Photos by Jon Cox and Andrew Bale

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students, professors spruce up Leipsic Town Hall

UD students, professors spruce up Leipsic Town HallContinuing on ideas that began in her Ecological Planting Design class, University of Delaware faculty member Jules Bruck, along with Ed Lewandowski and four UD students, headed to Leipsic on a Saturday in June to plant 900 native and beneficial plants around the town hall.

The project marked the first phase of the implementation of ideas gathered by the class and organized by Bruck, associate professor and director of landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Austin Virdin, a UD alumnus who graduated in 2017, and Olivia Kirkpatrick, a junior majoring in landscape horticulture and design.

The class presented three of their ideas to the town and incorporated community feedback along the way.

“This is the phase one implementation of the overall planting,” Bruck said, explaining that the team “basically completed the foundation planting for the front of the building.”

The plants that were installed were predominantly native but there were some non-invasive ornamentals that are low maintenance to provide ground cover.

“The majority of the landscape is ground cover,” Bruck said, noting that when the sod is stripped and the dirt exposed, the planting of small shrubs can open the site to massive weed infestation. “The quicker you can establish a solid ground cover, the better it will be in terms of maintenance. That’s probably one of our best low-maintenance strategies.”

The Leipsic landscaping project grew out of the Working Waterfronts Initiative in the community for which Lewandowski, acting Marine Advisory Service director for Delaware Sea Grant and coordinator for the University’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative (SCCI), which is housed in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), was the principal investigator.

SCCI launched the Working Waterfronts Initiative in 2012 to develop sustainability strategies for preserving and maintaining the state’s traditional maritime communities. When members of Leipsic’s museum committee approached Lewandowski about assisting with development of their maritime and agricultural museum, which will reside in the same facility as the town hall, he connected them with Bruck. He also provided project funding from SCCI to pay for the development of the landscaping plans as well as the plants and necessary supplies.

The town is going to take ownership of the next phases, which include building a community plaza, fixing the flagpole and the town sign and installing benches.

Bruck said that if there was going to be a third phase of the project, it would be to paint a mural on the back of the building – one of the student recommendations that came from her class – and then to install several trees in the back lot.

The three Summer Service Learning Scholars who helped on the project included Rob Kuntz, Tali Gasko and Haley Stanko. Leipsic’s Deputy Mayor, Martha Wilkinson, and council member Debbie McKeever, also assisted with the landscaping installation.

Elaine Elston, the MOT Charter High School principal, also helped with the project, along with one of her high school students. Elston was also joined by her husband, her son and daughter and one other community member.

As far as what the actual planting looked like compared to the plan that the class had drawn up on paper, Bruck said that she has been doing this for a long time and is used to how the paper ideas come to life in the real world.

“The translation of a plan from paper is easy for experienced landscape professionals,” she said. “It’s a skill set that develops over a long time so it takes a while for students to start to understand how circles on a piece of paper actually translate to a physical landscape including what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to feel. But they will get there in time. It’s a matter of designing a plan, installing it, and seeing how it looks in real space. Once you do that over and over you develop an ability to go back and forth between the two.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD researchers work to predict disease resistance in lima beans

When downy mildew epidemics strike, they are a plague to lima bean growers in Delaware, which produces over 60 percent of the nation’s crop for canning and freezing.

Downy mildew is caused by the fungus like microorganism Phytophthora phaseoli, which has six documented races, A to F.

Race F is currently predominant in the Mid-Atlantic region, which creates a need for resistant lima bean cultivars that still retain those desirable agronomic characteristics that the market demands.

At the University of Delaware, researchers have developed genetic markers to detect Race F resistance in lima beans, which were validated and used to predict resistance to the disease using a diversity panel consisting of 256 different genotypes of lima bean, the first time these methods have been used in lima bean breeding.

The research was funded by a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant (SCRI), and the results were published in a focus edition of the journal Phytopathology in 2016. The follow up field work using a diversity panel was funded by a $13,000 USDA Germplasm Evaluation Cooperative Agreement.

Terence Mhora, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), works in the labs of Nicole Donofrio, associate professor, and Tom Evans, professor, in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), and was the lead author on the paper. Mhora also worked closely with Randy Wisser, associate professor in PLSC, on the project.

One of the problems with downy mildew is that when breeders find single dominant gene forms of resistance, the pathogen evolves and is able to overcome that resistance and cause infection which in turn causes economic losses.

The researchers at UD wanted to find a way to more efficiently breed plants that are resistant to Race F.

Using a technique called genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS), the researchers were able to find molecular markers that identified possible disease resistance.

This technique, as well as the utilization of a bioinformatics pipeline known as Reduced Representation (REDREP) was used to analyze the data.

This pipeline was developed at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) by Sean Polson, assistant professor in the departments of Computer and Information Sciences and Biological Sciences, Wisser and Keith Hopper, an affiliated associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.


This was no easy feat, as while other crops have had substantial research conducted on them, resulting in valuable resources such as sequenced genomes, linkage maps and characterized genes, none of this research has been conducted for the lima bean.

“That makes it difficult because, when it comes to the GBS, we have sequencing errors and so we actually have to be able to filter through the data we get to find out what’s bona fide and what isn’t,” said Mhora. “That complicates things when you don’t have a reference genome which will tell you, ‘Yes, the sequences that you have are bona fide’ and you have to go through a lot of methods to do that.”

Making assumptions based off of a closely related common bean reference genome, the researchers were able to identify resistance gene candidates using these markers that indicated disease resistance.

Tests for expression of these candidate genes in lima bean are showing the effectiveness of these markers, and with a reference genome for lima bean in the pipeline, more accurate descriptions of the mechanisms of resistance to downy mildew will be uncovered.

“The markers were useful for predicting resistance so we could predict and say, ‘OK, so when this marker is present in a certain plant, that plant is resistant to Race F,’” said Mhora.

After identifying the marker genes, the researchers passed the information on to Emmalea Ernest, associate scientist in the Cooperative Extension vegetable and fruit program and also in PLSC, who guides UD’s lima bean breeding program. Ernest will be able to use the marker set to tell her if the beans she’s breeding are resistant or not.

“It’s a tool for Emmalea and that tool comes from us to Emmalea and then straight to the farmer. It’s like a pipeline,” said Mhora.

To validate the marker genes, the researchers set up a diversity panel consisting of 256 different lima bean genotypes that were sourced from around the world, mostly from the lima bean’s center of origin which is in the Mesoamerican and the Andean regions of Central and South America.

“We tested these markers on this diverse panel of beans and were able to identify four out of the 256 that were carrying the resistance that these markers were able to detect,” said Mhora. While there were four lima bean accessions that carried the form of resistance that the markers were able to detect, there were 16 more individuals in the field that were resistant to Race F.

After conducting work in the field, the researchers then went into the greenhouse with the diversity panel to validate their results and see if there were any additional forms of resistance that the markers might not be associated with.

“The reasons that the markers would probably not be able to find the resistance that we’re looking for is because there’s different resistance out there,” said Mhora. “Especially because the diversity panel is from a widespread area but also because the markers might not be as tightly linked to the resistance as we think they are.”

Twelve candidates passed through both field and greenhouse phenotyping or screening, including the four that the markers had detected.

The next step for the research is to take all the candidates that were resistant in the field and do a more comprehensive experiment with them in fields on UD’s Newark Campus and in Georgetown, Delaware, at the University’s Carvel Research and Education Center. Both locations will be used to look at Races E and F.

Mhora said that this work has shown the researchers that they are able to develop markers that can detect Race F and that they are able to find alternative sources of resistance to Race F, which is also important.

“When we have multiple forms of resistance, that helps to make that resistance more durable. We call that gene stacking. Basically, when you have multiple forms of resistance within one individual, that individual has stronger and longer lasting resistance, they’re more able to resist a disease than if you just had one form of resistance. If you had one form of resistance, it’s easier for the pathogen to evolve so finding multiple forms of resistance is going to help,” said Mhora. “That will be a bigger part for the farmers and they’ll know they don’t have to spray as many pesticides, they don’t have to suffer from all these losses. The lima bean’s will have got the built-in resistance.”

Story originally posted on UDaily

Illustration by Jeffrey Chase

Emergency Poultry Disease Response workshop emphasizes biosecurity, rapid response

Emergency Poultry Disease Response workshop emphasizes biosecurity, rapid responseKeeping the international poultry community up to date and informed on the latest research and technological advances in dealing with avian diseases such as avian influenza, as well as learning from the international community about how they handle poultry in their corner of the world, is of the utmost importance to the University of Delaware.

To help with that mission, UD welcomed 18 poultry professionals representing 18 countries as it hosted its ninth annual Emergency Poultry Disease Response (EPDR) certificate program June 12-16.

The workshop was held on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus in Newark, aimed at teaching both local and international participants about preparedness planning, biosecurity and assessment, and rapid response techniques and technology with regard to avian disease outbreaks.

The program was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in conjunction with UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS). It was led by Eric Benson, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences(ANFS); Robert Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Allen Laboratory; Shaun Sutherell, assistant director of UD’s PCS; Pat Allen, program manager for PCS; and Dan Hougentogler, senior research associate in ANFS.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware welcomed participants to the workshop, stressing the importance of using the program to learn from one another.

“You’re going to see what we call the Delaware model, which pulls together all the different sectors that produce poultry – growers, integrators, University researchers, agricultural extension – and we hope that this is a good and instructive opportunity for you. We also have important things to learn from you,” said Coons.

“Poultry is grown in different ways in different parts of the world,” he said. “There’s different technology and approaches that are appropriate in different settings, and my hope is that this week is an opportunity for you not just to get a great certificate, not just to meet people from other parts of the world, not just to learn from us, but for us to also learn from you. Because frankly, whether positive or negative, whether it’s the threat of avian influenza or it’s the very real promise that poultry brings to feeding a hungry world, there’s a lot of reasons for us to participate together.”

Coons, who leads the Senate Chicken Caucus along with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, spoke about the importance of early detection of poultry diseases in feeding a hungry world.

“When I meet with ministers of agriculture or trade or development, I emphasize that we are committed to global food safety and public health and that we want to invest collaboratively in building these systems with early warnings, with best-in-practice trainings and with mutual sharing of information. That’s why we do this. At the end of the day, the potential for poultry production globally is huge,” said Coons.

Glenn Reyes, who participated in the program and works with the Bureau of Animal Industry in the Philippines, said that he works with poultry producers in his country doing surveillance and monitoring birds prior to those producers transporting their birds to other locations.

“We test for avian influenza, Newcastle disease and salmonella. Once the flock is proven to be negative from those tests, that’s the time that they get to have the certificate and will be allowed then to travel. The certification itself is valid for six months only and then they have to get retested,” he said.

The most beneficial aspect of the program, Reyes said, was learning the different methods to deal with disease outbreaks in poultry flocks, as well as the threats posed by live bird markets.

“We have live bird markets in the Philippines and it’s interesting to know that it poses a big threat in the industry. I will probably be collaborating with the USDA on how to manage, especially when it comes to those live bird markets and when it comes to biosecurity and surveillance testing,” said Reyes. “Learning these things has been amazing, and I can apply this to my daily routine at work. I can disseminate this information to my colleagues and I believe this is very beneficial, timely and relevant.”

Charmaine Wenya Chng, a participant from Singapore who works for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, said that her home is a huge importer when it comes to poultry.

Because it is a small city-state and poultry is found in close proximity to residential areas, thus increasing the risk for potential human contact with poultry diseases, it is important to keep avian influenza out of Singapore.

She said she found the discussions on how to deal with disease outbreaks as well as incident command structures (ICS) to be beneficial.

“I think many countries in the world follow the ICS system, where you clearly separate your different roles and responsibilities and it’s very neatly organized so you don’t overly tax the bandwidth of people on top,” said Chng. “That’s very important and I’m hoping to implement something like that. It depends on your organization and the setup in your country, but that’s something I’m hoping to bring back.”

As for her experience at UD and the EPDR program in general, Chng said, “I think the people are very friendly and very focused. The first day I came here, I was impressed by how scientifically driven the University is and how people are committed to science – really doing very logical risk based assessments of situations, trying to figure out how to improve especially in the wake of the 2014, 2015 outbreaks. I think that was one thing that struck me, and the speakers who were invited from UD to speak, they’re all very knowledgeable about the subject and it’s good that they’re willing to share their research and their experiences in the field.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kathy Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

National Agri-Marketing Association team unveils ‘Earth Based Superfood Spreads’ at national competition

National Agri-Marketing Association team unveils ‘Earth Based Superfood Spreads’ at national competitionStudents on the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Marketing team at the University of Delaware presented their “Earth Based Superfood Spreads” idea at the 2017 NAMA Student Competition held recently in Dallas, Texas, with a total of 30 universities competing.

The NAMA Marketing Team is sponsored by the NAMA Marketing Club, which was established by Ulrich Toensmeyer, professor of agricultural marketing in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, in the fall of 1993. The team went to their first competition in April 1994 and 2017 was the team’s 24th competition.

Toensmeyer was unable to travel this year and he recruited Patrick Correale, a UD alumnus who graduated in 2016, to take the team to Dallas and also to participate to get the team ready for the competition. Correale, who majored in food and agribusiness marketing and management (FABM), participated on the team for three years and was team leader in 2015-16. This year’s team was led by Aubrey Aranowicz, who recently graduated from UD with a major in FABM and minors in resource economics and statistical data analytics and the three of them prepared the team for the competition.

The team’s expenses have been fully funded by generous donors since the creation of the team and this year was no exception.

Correale said that from the moment the team got back from last year’s competition, they began brainstorming product ideas for this year’s competition.

“Usually by September, the idea starts to come to fruition and you start to build a plan around it and then the trip is in April every year so toward the second semester, you start working on the speeches and you start working on the actual presentation,” said Correale.

The team developed an executive plan for their product and presented that plan to a team of professional judges at the Dallas competition, where they not only got to present their product but also to network with industry professionals.

Aranowicz said that being able to participate in the NAMA competition was a huge bonus in her college experience.

“Not many students have the opportunity to create and determine the logistics of a product, and pitch the idea to a panel of respected judges,” said Aranowicz.

According to the executive plan, Earth Based is a fresh superfood spread that would be found in the refrigerated section of supermarkets, near the produce section.

Earth Based would target consumers who enjoy hummus spreads, like those produced by Sabra, and other popular shelf spreads such as mayonnaise and pesto.

Flavors would include:

• Zesta, aimed to add flavors of lime zest, chili powder and cilantro;

• Cocoa turmeric, a savory spread with spices that have a long history in improving a person’s health and well-being;

• Beet, a slightly sweet yet earthly and crunchy flavor that is full of antioxidants and fiber; and

• Herba, a hearty and peppery spread that provides Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.

“Each of our unique, flavorful spreads, was created with a common goal in mind – utilize nature’s goodness by providing consumers with a delicious food that will enable them to feel better, perform better, and live better,” said Aranowicz.

The team brainstormed numerous ideas and finally decided on the spreads after teammate Erin Mullen, who recently graduated as an FABM major, prepared a taste test of six different varieties.

The product would be marketed at $3.50, putting the spreads into the high quality, low price category that consumers desire.

While the team didn’t make it out of the preliminary round this year — no easy feat with roughly 30 university teams represented at the competition — Correale said that overall it was a great experience.

“We never let stuff like that get us down. Just being there in general and being surrounded by all these industry professionals, it’s a great experience to jump start a career because it’s a lot of real world stuff,” said Correale. “The judges that you present your product to with your team are all industry professionals and they’re supposed to be your company’s board of directors. We’ve had professionals come in the past and talk to us before the competition and basically, they were all saying that this is what you would do for a sales presentation if you’re on a team like this. So, it’s all really good experience.”

Toensmeyer added, “There was a lot of final preparation work to be done once the team reached Dallas in order to be ready for the competition. Patrick and Aubrey did an excellent job in guiding the team in Dallas.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Buler takes class up in hot air balloon to study landscape ecology

UD’s Buler takes class up in hot air balloon to study landscape ecologyTo best understand landscapes and how different ecosystems interact with one another, sometimes it’s necessary to take a bird’s-eye view.

It was with that in mind that the University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler took students from his landscape ecology class up in a hot air balloon, so they could appreciate the inner workings of a landscape from the slow-moving confines of a hot air balloon basket.

“The purpose of the balloon trip was to give these students who are in the landscape ecology class a real-life landscape perspective. I thought the best way to provide that is to go up in a hot air balloon,” said Buler, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

While there are other ways for the students to see a landscape from an aerial view — such as from a plane or via an aerial photograph or satellite imagery — Buler said that the finer details can be lost.

“When we were a mile up, you would look down and you could distinguish forest patches from agricultural fields. We could even see the Delaware Bay and the Susquehanna River and the skyline of Philadelphia from that height, so we got a really broad perspective,” said Buler. “As we came down to just maybe 100 feet above the ground, you get this sort of zooming in on the landscape as you descend, which reveals more and more detail as you come down.”

Among the interesting features the class was able to see were fields that had been plowed by tractors and those had been plowed by horses.

UD’s Buler takes class up in hot air balloon to study landscape ecology“Most of the farms were Amish farms that we’d fly over. We flew so low that we could actually tell they had been plowed by horses because you’d see the hoof marks in the fields, which of course you couldn’t see if you were higher up,” said Buler.

One of the things Buler wanted the students to get out of the trip was to be able to identify different landscape features, such as patches and edges and corridors, terms they talk about in class to characterize the landscape.

This being Buler’s second time taking a class up in a hot air balloon (a previous trip was made in the spring of 2014) he said that it was interesting to see how the landscape the class viewed this time differed from the landscape seen on the previous trip.

“It was a much more agricultural landscape than the other, which was more mixed and showed more of a gradient from rural to urban,” said Buler.

In the highly developed agricultural landscape, the students were able to see the connectivity of the environment, getting a nice view of natural features such as streams and riparian corridors along those streams that play an integral role in water quality within a watershed.

“Something that we talked a lot about in the course was how the water quality at one location is affected by inputs of pollution and other processes that are happening further upstream,” said Buler. “In this landscape, we were able to see streams that had nice intact riparian forest buffers but also other places where the farmers had cleared right up to the edge of the stream. It was a nice contrast to the last trip in that the students could better see how the stream networks were connected and where there were breaks in the riparian buffers that could be places where pollution could infiltrate.”

Buler said that going up in the hot air balloon reinforces lessons that the undergraduate and graduate students learn in his class, specifically about how diverse landscapes throughout space and time are of the upmost importance.

The class is also focused on managing habitat for wildlife, which has traditionally been done on a parcel by parcel basis, such as a piece of public land that is managed to create habitat for the species without consideration of how the larger landscape might affect what’s going on in that area.

“The class is designed to get students to think more broadly and recognize that the broader landscape is important. It’s important to think about how energy flows through the landscape, and to realize, especially from a wildlife perspective, that it is important to maintain connectivity among habitat patches,” said Buler. “You might be able to produce a very nice suitable habitat but you simply might not have the wildlife species there that you’re interested in because they can’t get there. There might be some barrier that prevents them from physically moving to that location. As we fragment landscapes more and more, it’s becoming a lot harder for wildlife to disperse through the landscape to be able to find suitable habitat.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research receives USDA grants

Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research receives USDA grantsThe Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) national Center of Excellence that is housed in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has recently received multiple new grants to support innovative behavioral economics research at the nexus of agriculture and the environment.

These projects have all received funding from the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Foundational Program and the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS):

• Understanding Agricultural Water Use Behavior Through Randomized Controlled Trials. Mark Masters, director of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center at Albany State University, will be leading an initiative to use a randomized controlled trial to study participation in a voluntary information reporting program. The project will be conducted in Georgia and Colorado, where producers will be asked to report their monthly irrigation water usage to the program.

• Behavioral Economics of Time Preferences, Risk Preferences and Agri-Environmental Program Participation among U.S. Producers. Paul J. Ferraro, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Business and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, will lead a team that will use both theoretical and experimental methods to understand how producers view the benefits and costs of USDA programs. The results of these studies are expected to inform researchers how to elicit time and risk preferences from agricultural producer populations.

• Conference on Advancing Behavioral and Experimental Economics Methods and Applications to Sustainable Environmental and Agricultural Management. Leah H. Palm-Forster, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, will be organizing the Conference on Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research: Methodological Advancements and Applications to Policy. This conference will showcase experimental and behavioral economics research that addresses agri-environmental management and policy challenges. Additional information is available on the webpage.


CBEAR is a collaborative group of researchers that incorporates behavioral insights into program designs, primarily within USDA, to achieve greater levels of participation and satisfaction, improved environmental outcomes and reduced program costs.

Directed jointly by research leaders at the University of Delaware and Johns Hopkins University and founded through funding from the USDA Economic Research Service, CBEAR efforts are supported by a diverse group of research professionals within academia and government from across the United States. For more information, visit the website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Equine Science Symposium Presentations

Justin Berg presented results from the Equine Microbiome ProjectAt the end of May, three undergraduate pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences students from the laboratory of Amy Biddle, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, presented research posters at the biannual Equine Science Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Justin Berg presented results from the Equine Microbiome Project, a nationwide initiative to understand factors leading to gut health in horses, and his study focused on diet. Brian Chambers detailed experiments from his senior thesis to characterize equine intestinal parasites (small strongyles) using molecular tools, and Haley Nelson shared her study of the geographic distribution of small strongyles across U.S. regions and climate zones.

Berg and Chambers were Summer Scholars in 2016, and received travel grants from the UD Undergraduate Research Program to attend this meeting. Additional support for their research was given by the Thoroughbred Education and Research Foundation. The meeting was organized by the Equine Science Society, and attracted equine researchers from across the country.

This story was included in last week’s For the Record which can be found on UDaily.

UD equine sciences students spend spring semester at Fair Hill International

UD equine sciences students spend spring semester at Fair Hill InternationalFour University of Delaware students with an interest in equine sciences spent their spring semester as interns at Fair Hill International (FHI) in nearby Maryland, learning the ins and outs of the equine industry and getting hands-on experience as they helped to put together an international equestrian event.

This internship opportunity was supported by a College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Teaching Mini-Grant awarded for equine science outreach to Amy Biddle, assistant professor of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Leveraging the proximity of FHI, an organization that hosts horse trials at all levels, the goal of the internship was to offer students hands-on experience in the world of competitive equine events from local starter shows to Olympic qualifying events.

Those students included Kassandra Moyer, a senior majoring in animal and food sciences and agriculture and natural resources with a minor in food and agribusiness marketing and management; Jenna Deal, a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major with an equine science minor; Jacklyn Rind, a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major with a minor in biological sciences; and Charlotte Cilio, a junior majoring in animal and food sciences and agriculture and natural resources.

The students said the internship program leaders at FHI did a great job of designing the first half of the internship to focus on a specific area of the equine industry for which they had an interest.

Moyer, for instance, grew up on a dairy farm and wants to get into the dairy nutrition industry after school, with a specific interest in sales.

Because of this interest, Carla Geiersbach, executive director of FHI who oversaw the students for the internship, put her in charge of selling advertising space in FHI’s horse trial program.

“I thought the sales part of it was really beneficial for me personally because now I can actually put some numbers on my resume – I’m graduating, so that’s really important,” said Moyer.

Deal is going down the veterinary road and said that she was able to get good veterinary experience through the internship.

“There was a Foxcatcher endurance race and I got to help with the vet officials and check heart rates before the horses went on to actually be inspected by the vets,” said Deal. “Later on in the day, I got to hang out with the vets and talk to them, ask them about their experiences and what they suggest for vet school in the future.

“Then throughout the competition, we got to help set up and see the mechanics that the horses have to go through and during the competition itself seeing them compete opened my eyes to what they actually go through and what I’ll be getting into.”

Deal said that she would recommend the internship to students interested in equine sciences specifically because of how the staff at FHI worked to accommodate their areas of interest.

“Just knowing that they want to work with you because that way you get the most out of it. They cycled us through to make sure that we all got to see the aspects of it but they definitely wanted it to pertain to our interests,” said Deal.

The students also helped with an eventing competition at FHI that took place over a two-week span, and which they said took up a good chunk of the internship period.

“We helped with set up, we helped walking the courses to find distances and optimum times for riders, and we helped with in-barn inspections because some of these horses are international horses that have passports and are microchipped. As such, they have to come in and be inspected by veterinarians to make sure their microchip matches their passport, make sure they have all their vaccinations and that they’re generally healthy so they can compete,” said Moyer.

As for how they all found their love for horses, each said that it was instilled at a young age.

“I was four and my mom wouldn’t let me ride until I turned five and I haven’t stopped since,” said Cilio.

Deal said that she grew up around horses in her hometown where there were horse farms everywhere and Moyer started when she was five and got involved with the United States Pony Club.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

NSF grant to support development of cyberinfrastructure tools for precision agriculture

Modern precision agriculture requires an understanding of how climate-related factors such as soil moisture, precipitation, and temperature impact agricultural productivity.

“As we enter an era of growing environmentally relevant data that can, for example, drive water management practices, new cyberinfrastructure tools and big data analytics are needed to extract knowledge and value-added products from the data,” says Michela Taufer, professor of computer science at the University of Delaware.

Taufer, who has already brought her knowledge of data science to the field of medicine through collaborations with clinicians, is now teaming with ecosystem ecologist Rodrigo Vargas, associate professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. The two recently received a three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop cyberinfrastructure tools for precision agriculture in the 21st century.

The work involves combining analytical geospatial approaches, machine learning methods, and high-performance computing techniques to build cyberinfrastructure tools that can transform how ecoinformatics data — that is information on landscapes, soils, climate, organisms, and ecosystems — is analyzed.

“Available environmental data is exponentially increasing by including products derived from remote sensing, models, and ground observations,” Vargas says. “We have entered an era of environmental big data sets.”

The developed tools will be made accessible for field practitioners through lightweight virtualization, mobile devices, and web applications, and the educational components will help train the public and students in using the tools supported by online tutorials — for example, through YouTube videos.

Vargas explains that quantitative accessible information at relevant spatial scale is needed to better understand temporal variability, parameterize models, and accurately represent spatial soil moisture to improve agricultural practices.

Feedback on the tools’ interoperability, usability, manageability, and sustainability will be “crowd-sourced” through input provided by users and collaborators at the United States Department of Agriculture and the International Soil Reference and Information Center in the Netherlands.

The researchers expect the project to help answer a number of important questions, including how ecoinformatics data can be used to develop predictive capabilities for precision agriculture; what algorithms are required to analyze and synthesize ecoinformatics datasets; and what types of training and tools are needed for students, scientists, and field practitioners to use the data in a meaningful way.

“Our project aims to combine knowledge, techniques, and expertise from plant and soil sciences and computer science to build tools for advancing agriculture production,” Vargas says.

The research supports the “Growing Convergence Research at the National Science Foundation,” one of 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. The agency seeks to highlight the value of convergence as a process for catalyzing new research directions and advancing scientific discovery and innovation.

Funding for the project was awarded by the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure and jointly supported by the Division of Earth Sciences within the NSF Directorate for Geosciences.

Vargas and Taufer also received a University of Delaware Research Foundation seed grant that is complementing the integration across these two disciplines driven by a compelling problem such as precise agriculture.

Article by Diane Kukich
Photo by Wenbo Fan
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD landscape architecture students, Master Gardeners conduct planting at Delaware’s newest state park

UD landscape architecture students, Master Gardeners conduct planting at Delaware’s newest state parkThe Delaware Landscape Architecture (DELA) student club at the University of Delaware and members of Cooperative Extension’s Delaware Master Gardeners in New Castle County spent time on Friday, May 12, conducting a planting at Auburn Heights Preserve in order to enhance the curb appeal of Delaware’s newest state park and also give the students a hands-on learning opportunity.

Maggie Heffernan, a junior landscape architecture major who started DELA in the fall of 2016, said that members of the club worked with the Master Gardeners a few weeks prior to the event to map out where they wanted to plant and to get a sense of what officials at Auburn Heights wanted out of the planting.

“We just did a big spread of annual plantings in the front area for this coming season,” said Heffernan. “We’re not doing any perennial plantings because they don’t want anything that’s going to stay in the ground because we’re hoping to work with Auburn Heights next year in our senior design class to actually make a master plan for them.”

Heffernan said that it was a great experience to work at Auburn Heights as well as with the Master Gardeners.

“It was really beneficial for both our students and the Master Gardeners because we got to see different perspectives. A lot of them know a lot more about horticulture than most of our students do so it was nice to see that balance because we know more of the design part. It was nice to work with them that way,” said Heffernan.

Carrie Murphy, extension agent and the lawn and garden program leader, said that it’s a good fit for the students to work with the Master Gardeners.

“The Master Gardeners have been delighted to partner and work with the bachelor of landscape architecture (BLA) faculty, students, and our community partners. We look forward to continuing to work together at Auburn Heights, and to additional opportunities to provide community assistance together in the future,” said Murphy.

Laura Lee, park superintendent for the Auburn Heights Preserve, said that the planting was designed to help “immediately beautify the front of the mansion and give it some curb appeal because it is becoming increasingly more popular as a rental venue. We want to book weddings out here and we really wanted people to pull in the drive way and have that wow effect as they came in.”

Lee said that the annuals the students planted look great and that they give an immediate boost to the appeal of the property.

“The annuals will look brighter more quickly so it looks great. It really makes a difference,” said Lee, who added that these types of partnerships make a world of difference to a park like Auburn Heights.

“As a state agency, we’re always under a budget crunch. A project like this might fall by the wayside in favor of just keeping the doors open, so we rely on partnerships to make all of our parks affordable, safe and beautiful for all of Delaware residents,” said Lee. “This partnership enabled us to do something that we might not normally have been able to do on our own and I think it gives the students a real-world experience. It really helped them understand how a real landscape architect might operate in the context of an actual living site.”

Sue Barton, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that in addition to the senior capstone course, BLA program is hoping to collaborate more with Auburn Heights in the future.

“It’s a really neat facility and there’s a lot of opportunity to do something nice there. It’s a beautiful old home, there are a lot of grounds, and there were some really interesting gardens,” said Barton.

Anna Wik, assistant professor of landscape architecture, said that this is the exact type of community partnership that the professors had in mind when the BLA program began.

“It has been great working with Laura Lee over the past few years to inventory existing plant material along with David Nemeth, an agriculture and natural resources major, and I look forward to working with landscape architecture students and Linda Walczak of Tend Landscape Architecture, this fall to create a master plan for the site,” said Wik.

Wik added that “As plans to adapt buildings associated with industry in the Yorklyn area develop, sites like Auburn Heights have the opportunity to educate people about these industries and a fascinating time period in Delaware’s history. In addition, the master gardeners are a great resource for the students and a joy to work with. We are in discussions about piloting a student/master gardener partnership that expands on the existing ‘Expert Eye’ program to provide non-profit and municipal partners planting, hardscape and design advice.”

About Auburn Heights

Auburn Heights is a partnership between Delaware State Parks and the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve. On the property is the Marshall Steam Museum, which has the largest operating collection of Stanley Steamer cars in the world, a growing trails system and a miniature railroad that runs around the property.

For more information on Auburn Heights, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

June 9: Poultry Respiratory Health Seminar

June 9: Poultry Respiratory Health SeminarThe University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will hold a Poultry Respiratory Health Seminar on Friday, June 9 from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory in Newark.

The Poultry Respiratory Health Seminar is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Poultry Respiratory Disease Combined Agriculture Project (PRDCAP).

Respiratory diseases continue to be a major concern to poultry producers because losses induced by respiratory diseases have a significant local and national economic impact to the industry.

Protection of poultry by effective prevention and control of diseases is critical to maintain wholesome poultry products, which is the most consumed animal protein in the United States. Such efforts make a significant contribution towards national food security. The PRDCAP is designed to rapidly transfer new science to the field.

Eric Benson, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), said that the workshop is “part of a multi-institution combined agriculture project. One of UD’s roles is to link the scientific information being developed in laboratories to the end users, many who would not use refereed publications as an information source.

Speakers from UD will include Benson, Robert Alphin, senior instructor in ANFS and Allen Laboratory manager, Daniel Bautista, senior scientist, Calvin Keeler, professor of molecular virology, and Brian Ladman, scientist and quality manager for the University of Delaware Poultry Health System (UDPHS), part of ANFS.

Other speakers include Jon Moyle and Nathan Tablante from the University of Maryland, Timothy Johnson from the University of Minnesota, and Emily Aston from the University of Georgia.

The program is being run in advance of the Emergency Poultry Disease Response (EPDR) Certificate Course.

To register visit:

For additional information on the seminar, contact Eric Benson at 302-275-2131 or (

UD’s Webb Farm offers independent study students hands-on learning opportunities

UD’s Webb Farm offers independent study students hands-on learning opportunitiesFour University of Delaware undergraduates have spent their spring semesters on Webb Farm as independent study students, gaining valuable hands-on experience about what it’s like to work with lambs, sheep, beef cattle and horses in a real-world environment.

Under the guidance of Larry Armstrong, farm manager, students Jeff Chubbs, Hunter Harrow, Alexis Omar and Charles Scarff work different times and days of the week, learning the ins and outs of farming and discovering what aspects they like best about the job.

“This year’s independent study group is very diverse and everyone brings something new to the table. Everyone’s found their own little niche whether it’s working with the sheep and monitoring the lamb weights and health, focusing on cattle work, and we’re doing some overall pasture management,” said Armstrong. “That’s what we like about the independent study students. We want to teach them things but we want them to find their passion and we want them to say, ‘I want to learn more about this.’ A lot of times that leads the way.”

Armstrong said he is hoping the students gain executive function from their time out on the farm, learning to solve problems in a real-world environment.

“I’m available but I try to keep it independent because they’re going to get more out of it that way,” said Armstrong. “It’s very much problem-based learning. It can be as simple as how to develop a routine for feeding and there’s things that we need to do but how we get them done is open for them to figure out. That’s my favorite part about this year’s group. We’re diverse and everyone is finding their own passion and area of study.”

Hunter Harrow

Harrow, a senior studying animal and food science with a minor in forensics, said her independent study focuses on sheep and calf management and added that Armstrong is great about teaching the students.

“Larry basically wants to help us learn so he’ll say ‘give this medicine, administer this shot,’ so it’s more experience for us but we’re also taking it for class credit so it kills two birds with one stone,” said Harrow.

Her favorite part is working with the lambs and the newborn calves on the farm.

“Who doesn’t love a baby animal? The fact that we get to actually raise farm animals, that they’re ours and it’s our responsibility is an incredible experience,” said Harrow, who added that it was beneficial to work directly with the animals and with record keeping to track how the animals progressed throughout the semester.

Charles Scarff

Scarff, a junior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources whose father is a cattle dealer and grew up around farm animals, said he is focused on beef cattle but has also worked with sheep when they were lambing early in the semester. He has also found a passion for the horses on the farm.

“I’m taking a couple of equine classes. My older sister rode show horses, and I think that’s why I have an interest in them. I would like to do something with them,” said Scarff.

As for the most beneficial aspect of the independent study, Scarff said that it definitely had to be the hands-on learning.

“Before the cows started to calve, we were weighing the heifers and the steers. Now, since the cows are calving, we’re weighing the calves, tagging them and everything like that – just keeping an eye on them,” said Scarff.

Jeff Chubbs

Chubbs, a junior studying natural resource management, said that during his time on the farm, he worked closely with the livestock, sheep and cows. He also worked with a colleague in developing an exercise routine for some of the horses.

“We typically perform ground work in the arena, ride on pasture and have recently had the experience of introducing a new thoroughbred into the herd,” said Chubbs.

His favorite part has been learning how to ride, train and manage the horses.

“They’re wonderful and well-mannered creatures, which has ultimately inspired me to write the research paper I’m currently working on for the independent study with the help of Lesa Griffiths [the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources],” said Chubbs.

As for the most beneficial aspect, Chubbs said that it’s “getting exposure to how agriculture management strategies affect the pasture, livestock and practically all elements of the entire system. Farming can be extremely brutal and intensive on the land and environment, but it can also be practiced in a way that leads to sustainability and long-term health of the animals and soil.”

Alexis Omar

Omar, a junior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences with a double minor in wildlife conservation and theatre studies, said that her main focus was the sheep during lambing season.

“Now that lambing season is over, I have been working with Larry in the overall care of the farm. Besides working with the lambs, which was my personal focus, I also have helped with the beef cattle. Now that it is spring, the beef cattle are allowed to go out and graze on the pasture. I have helped put up fences for the beef cattle, to block off certain areas of the pasture so the cows don’t over graze,” said Omar.

Omar said she loves working on the farm, being outdoors and getting an experience that helped her realize how much she enjoys working with sheep.

“I love working with sheep and would like to pursue sheep production or be involved in some way with the sheep industry. I would not have realized how much I enjoy working with sheep if it weren’t for this independent study,” said Omar.

Both Omar and Scarff also thanked Griffiths for letting them know about the independent study experience.

 Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Wenbo Fan
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics offers students hands-on learning opportunities

UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics offers students hands-on learning opportunitiesThis semester, 11 undergraduate students in the University of Delaware’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) have worked as teaching assistants (TAs) for various professors in the department, getting hands-on learning experiences working with their peers while at the same time allowing the professors to expand their curriculum or focus on research projects by alleviating a bit of the teaching work load.

Tom Ilvento, professor and chair of APEC, said that while having undergraduate TAs isn’t new for the department, it is something that he is trying to push as another way to give undergraduates an experiential learning opportunity and a chance to get involved.

“We’re viewing it as an experience for the student as much as help for the faculty so we’ve developed a new policy that the department would support this,” said Ilvento. “We think this is a good investment for the faculty and the student. We’ve got to find a way to teach more but still hold the line that we’re a research department. We’re looking at teaching smarter, teaching larger and being more effective and offering support to faculty, and this is a way to do that. We think the best way to learn a subject is to be involved in teaching it.”

Leah Palm-Forster, assistant professor in APEC, had three student teaching assistants this past semester and said that they allowed her the opportunity to incorporate frequent assessments, such as in-class polls, problem sets, quizzes and discussion boards into her classes that “provide opportunities for students to apply and test their understanding of course concepts – hopefully these activities increase knowledge retention.”

Palm-Forster said that working with undergraduate TAs has “improved how I teach. TAs provide feedback about how course content is presented, and they let me know what knowledge gaps they notice when grading or answering student questions.”

Keith Medwid, a senior majoring in food and agribusiness marketing and management, was a TA for Palm-Forster and said that his role included everything from grading tests and assignments to assisting with in-class activities, answering student questions and updating course material with more accurate figures and information.

Being able to help the students was Medwid’s favorite part of the experience.

“If they have a question or do not understand the material, working with them to understand the material is rewarding,” said Medwid. “Many of the situations when a student needs help, it creates a challenge for us to understand the material better and figure out a new way to explain it to the student. This allows me to reassure and strengthen my knowledge on the topic as well as create new ways to explain things.”

Candace Casey, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation and agriculture and natural resources and minoring in resource economics, and Erica Rossetti, a senior majoring in natural resource management and agriculture and natural resources, also worked with Palm-Forster as TAs and said that the process gave them an appreciation for everything that professors do behind the scenes.

“I don’t go to the class that I TA for because I have another class at that time so most of what I do is online but it’s a lot of grading,” said Rossetti. “I don’t grade everything but there will be some weeks where I spend 15 hours just working on grading, and I can’t imagine doing that and going to class and doing research.”

In addition to helping grade, they also helped Palm-Forster develop questions for exams and create some course content.

Casey said she thinks it is a big benefit to have TAs readily available to help answer any questions that students might have.

“I feel like it’s a good resource if they’re too intimidated to go to the professors. It’s nice to have a peer because a lot of the people that are in these classes are people that are also in our major and we know them and are friends with them so we can be more approachable if they have questions or need help on assignments,” said Casey.

Grace Hassler, a senior natural resource management major, has been a TA this semester for Olena Smith, the lead geospatial information consultant at UD, for APEC 480, a class focused on geographic information systems (GIS) and natural resource management.

Hassler, who took the class previously, said that the class meets for one three-hour session each week, which she attends and then also helps out in the lab.

“Most of the time, students are pretty good on their own but sometimes, especially with GIS, problems can arise and so I’m there to help them through that or if they have just general questions, I’m there,” said Hassler.

Outside of class, Hassler grades assignments and assists students on an as-needed basis. She said that it is an interesting and fun experience meeting new students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and grading her peers.

Hassler said that for as much as she learned from taking the class, she has learned even more being a TA.

“Olena has also taught me so much and taught me how to instruct well on top of that, and she’s always been so patient. If I don’t know the answer, she’s always willing to show me and explain to me what the answer is so that in the future I can be the one to tell them what to do,” said Hassler.

Jessica Simmons, a senior majoring in statistics, has spent the semester as a TA for Melissa Ziegler, a senior biostatistician in the College of Health Sciences, for Stat 674, a graduate-level class that teaches Statistical Analysis System (SAS) programming.

Simmons took the class last semester and said that her favorite part and the most beneficial aspect about being a TA is grading.

“I learn a lot through grading and I’m really bad at explaining things to people so I’ve gotten better at that,” said Simmons. “I really like the program so I’m learning every time I’m working. I guess that’s why it benefits me personally.”

Simmons said that her responsibilities in addition to grading include helping students outside of class and helping students prepare for exams.

 Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Wenbo Fan
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Michele Walfred receives the 2017 CANR Excellence in Service Award

Michele Walfred, communications specialist at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, has received the 2017 Excellence in Service Award from the College of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesMichele Walfred, communications specialist at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, was honored with the 2017 Excellence in Service Award.  The award was presented to her at the convocation ceremony held in Newark on May 26 by the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

The award, which is presented by the college every other year, recognizes professional excellence and superior dedication.  In addition, the recipient receives a $2,000 monetary award with the honor.

“Michele has significantly reached across her unit to provide outstanding service to our college. Her efforts and commitment to promoting our college is exemplary” said Mark Isaacs, director of the Carvel Center.

Walfred has 16 years of service to UD. Isaacs shared in his nomination letter that Walfred began her UD career as a receptionist and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree while, “providing amazing service to our facility as well as our college.”

“In her role as communications specialist, Walfred leads the communication efforts for our Carvel Research and Education Center’s research and extension programs, including Lasher Lab. She does this through numerous venues with a focus on website content, social media, press releases, videography and print media and outreach education in the forms of seminars, workshops and trainings,” Isaacs wrote.

In addition to Walfred’s service across college programs and departments, her involvement with partnerships and outreach across state lines was noted. These included trainings and presentations with the University of Maryland Extension on Annie’s Project, Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture, Mid-Atlantic Crop School, regional FFA, and nationally with 4-H and, the latter serving as an Extension Fellow, and Innovation Creative Coach to Extension professionals in Ohio and Oregon.

In 2015, Walfred led a social media campaign on behalf of Delaware 4-H, that resulted in a national First Place award of $10,000, which was used for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for Delaware youth.

“Michele has an exceptional work ethic, working outside the normal work hours including many nights and weekends promoting and marketing our college and UD,” Isaacs said.

In supporting documentation, colleagues praised Walfred as an innovator. “She truly understands that in order to reach the people we serve, we sometimes have to think differently and creatively than we have in the past,” wrote one co-worker.

“Delaware Cooperative Extension outreach has been able to shine through her efforts. Locally she has done YouTube videos, Facebook Live, Flickr, Twitter, advertising with Facebook boosts, Instagram, press releases and UDaily articles to promote our gardening, beginning farmer, ornamental horticulture, production agriculture, and volunteer programs,” wrote another co-worker.

For several years Walfred served as communications chair for the Kent-Sussex Alumni Club, and is a contributing member of the UD’s Delaware Diamonds Society. She has served as chair of Extension’s Delaware State Fair committee and currently chairs the UD Extension Innovation team. She is a current Fellow in Class IV of LEADelaware, an agriculture leadership program. In addition to her degrees, Walfred earned the UD Social Media Strategic Marketing Certificate in 2014. Walfred also serves on the board of the Delaware Press Association.

“Michele exemplifies the type of individual that the college would like to recognize for this award. I can’t think of a more deserving individual,” said Isaacs.

UDairy Creamery opens new storefront in Wilmington

Grand opening ceremony, block party, and ceremonial “first scoop” in recognition of the opening of the first off-campus location for the UDairy Creamery.  (Evan Krape / University of Delaware)

The University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery officially launched its first off-campus location on Tuesday, May 23, with a block party on the 800 block of Market Street in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, outside the new Creamery Market Storefront.

The two-hour block party had everything from free ice cream, tributes from dignitaries, an elementary school drumline medley, UD cheerleaders, YoUDee and a poetry reading about ice cream from one of UD’s Associate in Arts students.

Over the two-hour time period, the Creamery handed out 1,500 scoops of free ice cream to those in attendance.

UD President Dennis Assanis kicked off the festivities by welcoming everyone to the storefront and stressing how the new Creamery Market will give the Associate in Arts students a hands-on learning experience while also bringing a sweet treat to the city.

“We are proud to share with you not only our ice cream but also our students,” Assanis said. “At the University of Delaware, we say that students are our product and ice cream is just the byproduct. We are really thrilled that our students from our Wilmington Associate in Arts Program around the corner are going to be the people who will be the part-time employees involved in the production and serving of the ice cream.

“We also don’t just scoop the ice cream here, we actually make it,” he continued. “Experiential learning is a very big part of what we teach our students at the University of Delaware, and it’s all about hands-on learning, literally, and you will be the beneficiaries of the application of the learning today.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney said the revitalization of the city of Wilmington was of the utmost importance to his administration and getting attractions like the University of Delaware on the Market Street Mall will help the city to be successful.

“We need some ice cream downtown number one, and we need business here on the Market Street Mall,” said Carney. “We’ve been working since I was sworn in as your governor three and a half months ago on doing everything that we can to strengthen the neighborhoods in our city, to strengthen our central business district and to make Wilmington strong and vibrant again. You are the folks that are going to make it happen by coming down here on the Market Street Mall, so thank you for coming today.”

Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki, a 1967 UD graduate, said it is truly exciting to have the Creamery in Wilmington, both because ice cream is an admitted guilty pleasure and it is a unique attraction for the city.

“Everybody wants the city to grow in big leaps and bounds, but the city grows in small increments of quality,” Purzycki said. “It’s the small things that make a city great. It’s the little individual things, the things that are special that nobody else has that make your city great, and we welcome you with open arms.”

Michael Hare, senior vice president of the Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG), said his firm couldn’t be prouder to have UD as a partner. BPG has been the driving force behind the revitalization of downtown Wilmington and its historic Market Street corridor. The firm partnered with UD to bring the Creamery to Wilmington and owns the site where the Creamery Market Storefront is located.

UDairy Creamery opens new storefront in Wilmington“The key to getting people to want to work in Wilmington, to want to live here, is to add amenities for our residents who are already here and to make this a compelling city is to bring exciting attractions to our city, and this is an exciting attraction,” said Hare. “We in the city have been working for years to expand the University’s footprint, and I can’t think of a more delicious way to do that. On behalf of the lactose-intolerant in our community, myself included, this is a risk worth taking.”

Hare noted that his uncle majored in agriculture at UD and milked the cows on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus. He said it was a privilege to watch the “full trajectory of cow to cone now that this ice cream is in Wilmington.”

CANR Dean Mark Rieger highlighted the UD students who helped put together the business plan for the Creamery Market Storefront, specifically Keith Medwid, a senior majoring in food and agribusiness marketing and management and the assistant manager intern at the creamery.

“Keith Medwid worked at the Creamery on campus for two years, and he is going to go on to a wonderful career in agribusiness or food science because of his experience in the Creamery,” said Rieger. “The reason that we’re here, and the product of that place across the street is a better educated student.”

Rieger also thanked Melinda Shaw, director of Creamery operations, LeeAnne Ahamad, manager for the Creamery’s Wilmington location, Jen Rodammer, manager of UDairy’s Newark location, and Grace Wisser, CANR event coordinator, for all their work with the Creamery and with putting the opening event together.

Associate in Arts student workers

The new location provides a great job opportunity for many students in the University’s Associate in Arts program.

“It’s my first real day and I already love it,” said Ameerah Taylor, a rising freshman planning to major in early childhood education.

She and her fellow co-workers agreed that UDairy’s willingness to work with their schedules made their lives a lot easier.

Other perks of the job include free ice cream, getting to suggest new flavors and camaraderie.

Derek Simpson, a rising freshman planning to major in biology, said that he had taken classes with some of his co-workers, but working with them in this setting was already bringing them closer together. “When you’re producing ice cream, you get to know people,” Simpson said.

Blaise Cristello, a sophomore planning to major in criminal justice, said that he was most excited to see what new flavors come out of the new location. While he could not disclose the new ones, he was happy to serve the new flavor that had been created for the grand opening: 8th and Market, which was inspired by the new UDairy location and consisted of chocolate ice cream, chocolate cookie swirls and mini-marshmallows.

Medwid said that he is excited to see the impact that the new UDairy Creamery will have.

“I think it’ll be good to get fresh food in here because we’re going to be selling UD produce,” Medwid said. “And I think it’s just a more welcoming face,” he added.

More than UD produce, the creamery will be selling locally sourced foods with a menu that will include grilled cheese using bread from local bakeries and eventually cheese that will also come from UD, cheeseburgers, and salads that feature UD’s produce.

UDairy Creamery opens new storefront in Wilmington
Elbert-Palmer Elementary School drumline also was on hand for the event, playing an impressive set

Poetry contest and drumline

The UD Associate in Arts Program held an ice-cream themed poetry contest in conjunction with the event.

The winners were Christian Wills, first place, and runners-up Nolan O’Neill and Daniel L.L. III.

Wills read his winning poem, “Creamery Sensation,” to the crowd ending with the line: “Every cup, every cone, we make it with pleasure, In hopes that you love our ice cream we treasure.”

The Elbert-Palmer Elementary School drumline also was on hand for the event, playing an impressive set that included everything from classical music to a royal-themed contemporary line-up of hits from Prince, Queen and Michael Jackson.

Article by Adam Thomas and Anne Grae Martin

Photos by Evan Krape and Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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