Excellence in Mississippi agriculture recognized

Published 9:14 pm Monday, June 26, 2023

Mississippi State faculty, staff and students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station have received special recognition for excellence in teaching, research and service throughout the 2022-2023 academic year.

Scott Willard, CALS dean and MAFES director, shared his excitement and appreciation for the honorees and award winners.

“We have exceptional teaching faculty, research scientists and extension specialists in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Our faculty and staff are dedicated to student success and making new discoveries to improve agriculture in our state. It is an honor to recognize our faculty, staff and students for the work they do every day to improve the lives of Mississippians,” Willard said.

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This year’s honorees include:


—Instructor Matthew Janzen, Department of Agricultural Economics, CALS Excellence in Teaching-Graduate Level. Janzen, who has been a part of the department for nearly five years, is described as helping “revitalize and transform” the Master of Agribusiness Management degree program.

—Assistant Clinical Professor Aswathy Rai, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS Undergraduate Teaching Award-Upper Level and CALS Teacher of the Year Award. One colleague described Rai as “a teacher every inspiring instructor should want to be like who sets a high standard for her students.” As an educator and faculty advisor for the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, Women in STEM Departmental Outreach Membership, or WISDOM, MSU American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student chapter, and Undergraduate Biochemistry Club, Rai prepares her students for success in STEM fields.

—Assistant Professor O.P. McCubbins, School of Human Sciences, CALS New Faculty Teaching Award. Described by colleagues as an “intentional educator,” McCubbins teaches three undergraduate and one graduate course, in which he emphasizes the inclusion of immersive technologies throughout his lessons.

—Riley Messman, doctoral agricultural science major, CALS Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant. Messman, known for her hands-on experimental learning techniques, was also recognized with the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Certificate of Merit, along with Courtney Wynn, a graduate molecular biology major, and Kevin Braman, a graduate agriculture major.

Diversity and Service:

—Assistant Professor Shecoya White, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS/MAFES Faculty Diversity Award. White is admired by colleagues and students for her passion for diversity and open-door policy that “allows people to be in the room with us who traditionally might not have had a seat at the table.” She is advisor for MSU’s chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS; Food Science Club and the Pipette Team; encouraging partnerships with community centers and schools and helping promote diversity through her various leadership roles in organizations.

—MSU Chapter of MANNRS, CALS/MAFES Team Diversity Award. MANRRS promotes the inclusion of underrepresented ethnic and cultural groups in agriculture, natural resources and related fields. Faculty advisors include White, Associate Professor of Animal and Dairy Sciences Derris Devost-Burnett, and Dean Scott Willard. Team members include students Okikiola Alegbeleye, Zonia Caro Carvajal, Mya Dixon, Courtlone Glaspie, Kenisha Gordon, Lauryn Heidelberg, Meredith Maynard, Avona Randolph and Tori Smith.

—Associate Professor Julie Parker, School of Human Sciences, CALS/MAFES Faculty Service Award. Parker serves as an advocate for women, children and families in the local community as an advisor for the Human Development and Family Science Option Club; associate editor for the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, and member of numerous local, state and national committees and MSU’s Faculty Senate.


—Associate Professor Carrie Vance, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, MAFES Excellence in Research Faculty Award. At MSU, Vance has served as a major or co-major professor to 14 graduate students, mentored 11 undergraduate researchers and co-authored 54 journal publications. In the last five years, Vance has brought in over $8 million in sponsored research.

—Research Professor Mark Shankle, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, MAFES Grantsmanship Award. Shankle served as the lead principal investigator on a $5 million sweet potato seed sustainability project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

—Assistant Research Professor Raju Rangappa, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, MAFES Outstanding Publication Award for his article exploring safeguard methods for preserving corn’s plant health, yield and quality composition in hot and dry environments.

—Research Professor Raja Reddy, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, MAFES Most Impactful Publication Award for an article detailing two soybean cultivar growth habits to help soybean producers maximize yield and seed quality.

—Sabin Poudel, doctoral poultry science student, MAFES Excellence in Research Award-Graduate Student. Under the mentorship of Professor Li Zhang, Poudel has completed and assisted in four MAFES-funded projects and one U.S. Poultry-funded project, published three first-authored and two co-authored research articles, authored 20 abstracts and been awarded a Poultry Science Association Student of the Year award and International Paper Scholarship by the Mississippi Poultry Association.

—Jenny Ryals, research associate II, South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station, MAFES Research Support Award. Ryals has co-authored 29 arthropod management tests and 27 abstracts, is actively working on a Ph.D. in horticulture, serves as a Mississippi Academy of Sciences Summer Symposium Scientific Committee member and holds membership in various agronomy-related organizations.

—Taylor Blaise, senior horticulture major, MAFES Excellence in Research Award-Undergraduate Student. Under the direction of Associate Professor Tongyin Li, Blaise is co-author on two peer-reviewed publications submitted this past spring. One co-worker describes Blaise as “someone who is diligent” and puts incredible effort into her research as a dependable team member.”


—Laikyn Starkey, MAFES business manager II, CALS/MAFES Professional Staff Award. Starkey is described as having an “unmeasurable willingness to help people.” Colleagues admire Starkey’s positivity, accountability and work ethic.

—Kimberly Young, business coordinator, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, CALS/MAFES Support Staff Award. Young has been commended for her “responsiveness and dependability,” and is admired by colleagues for her friendly demeanor and professionalism.

For more on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, visit www.cals.msstate.edu.

Learn about the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station by visiting www.mafes.msstate.edu.