At the 28th annual Celebration of Faculty and Staff picnic, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recognized numerous faculty and staff for their contributions and dedication to the college.

The Andy Swiger Land Grant Award recognizes faculty members whose accomplishments help to fulfill the land-grant mission of addressing state and national needs through teaching, research, or Virginia Cooperative Extension. The Andy Swiger Land Grant Award is made possible by an endowment established in honor of retired dean Andy Swiger.

This year, Mark Reiter, professor of soils and nutrient management and director of the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, received the award for his work with Extension and his research.

Reiter works with Extension faculty from local offices, Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, and Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus to ensure a balanced, targeted, applied researched, and wide-casting Extension program to address local, statewide, and regional emerging issues.

Reiter’s applied research program improves soil health and nutrient management within Virginia and Delmarva vegetable, grain, oilseed, and fiber systems. Both program areas are imperative to reducing water quality degradation in the Chesapeake Bay and improving producer productivity and efficiency. His work in this research area has furthered scientific understanding by stakeholders since he joined Virginia Tech in 2008.

Hengjian Wang, laboratory specialist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, was named the 2023 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Employee of the Year.

As a laboratory specialist, Wang maintains teaching and research equipment and supports various research projects and teaching activities. This includes managing more than 20 key instruments in the food science and technology shared chemistry lab and performing all proximate analyses for the entire department.

His proficiency in statistics makes him the college’s go-to resource when faculty and staff alike need statistical and experimental design help. Due to his engineering background, he is the key person to assist the labs with repairing high-end vacuum pumps.

Each year, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of its students and faculty in the core area of diversity and inclusion.

The Diversity and Inclusion Service Award was established in 2006 as the Diversity Enhancement Award, and in 2013, separate categories for faculty, staff, and students were created. The service award for graduate students is named the Randolph L. Grayson Outstanding College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity Scholar Award.

The two faculty and staff recipients of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Service Award were Julia Basso, assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, and Donna Westfall-Rudd, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.

The college presents two annual awards for research excellence to faculty members who have reached a level of research achievement judged to be the most significant within their discipline. One award recognizes excellence in conducting basic research and the other rewards excellence in applied research.

Jinsong Zhu, Department of Biochemistry professor, received this year’s Excellence in Basic Research Award.

Zhu is a world leader in insect molecular physiology, and his key contributions as a Virginia Tech professor have spanned over a decade. The innovative experimental methods, hypotheses, and forward-thinking methodologies produced by Zhu and the students and scientists in his lab have led to field defining changes in how the interactions between malarial parasites and the mosquito host are understood.

Bo Zhang, associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, received the Excellence in Applied Research Award in 2023.

Zhang developed an internationally recognized soybean breeding program that applies traditional and modern breeding techniques to enhance the value of soybeans for both human and animal consumption. Her work has continuously provided new and improved soybean cultivars for the mid-Atlantic region, and her program is also one of the leading food-grade soybean programs in the United States. Zhang’s research on nutritional and anti-nutritional factors of soybean seeds has delivered the opportunity for high-quality, plant-based protein to increase economic impact to farmers and end users.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty Association Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) Award for Excellence in Service recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in service to their unit, the college, and Virginia Tech. Nicolin Girmes-Grieco, senior instructor and director of the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise Foods Teaching Laboratories, and Leigh-Anne Krometis, associate professor and Turner Faculty Fellow in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, received the award this year.

In 2021, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences established a team award to recognize the innovation, achievements, and impacts of interdisciplinary teams. The 2023 Team Award recipient is Agriculture Awareness Day, which is a series of one-day programs developed to meet rural community needs in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics. The objectives are to conduct high impact active learning programs based on agriculture to meet state education standards in STEAM and to introduce agriculture to students who would not otherwise be exposed to any agricultural education.

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