Ozzie Abaye, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences, has been appointed the Thomas B. Hutcheson Jr. Professor of Agronomy by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The Thomas B. Hutcheson Jr. Professorship was established in 1986, funded by donations from alumni and friends of the university to honor Hutcheson, the former head of the Department of Agronomy at Virginia Tech. Recipients hold the professorship for a period of five years, with the option for reappointment.

A member of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty since 1993 and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, Abaye is known internationally for her extensive work to improve the livelihoods of farmers, women, and children in West Africa through sustainable agriculture. She is also beloved teacher and mentor, affectionately known as “Dr. Ozzie” to a generation of students in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Since 2011, Abaye has been actively engaged in research and outreach to fight food insecurity and malnutrition in Senegal by successfully helping farmers implement mung bean in Senegal. The initiative was based on the many nutrient, agricultural, and climate-tolerant advantages of using mung bean to address food insecurity and malnutrition n Senegal. Working with international partners including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Counterpart International, and Virginia Cooperative Extension, she has helped develop mung bean varieties for use as a sustainable and drought-resistant crop and trained farmers in the production, marketing, and use of mung beans.

Mary Michael Lipford Zahed ’21, left, pictured with Abaye during a June 2021 trip to Senegal. Photo courtesy of Zahed.

Mary Michael Lipford Zahed in Senegal with Ozzie Abaye.
(From left) Mary Michael Lipford Zahed ’21 and Ozzie Abaye during a 2021 trip to Senegal. Photo courtesy of Mary Michael Lipford Zahed.

Abaye has helped develop several programs with lasting impact during her work in Senegal, including seed curriculum and training programs for higher education institutions and helping to initiate the 4-H Positive Youth Development in Agriculture project that now boasts active and educational community programs in several villages. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center in Senegal, which serves hundreds of people as a venue for social, business, and youth enrichment activities. Abaye and several Extension agents have delivered educational programs on mung bean production, food safety, preservation, preparation, and nutrition to more than 1,000 Senegalese women.

Nationally and internationally known as an expert in mung bean production, usage, and marketing, Abaye in collaboration with Virginia Tech’s soybean breeder and the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center, has been conducting research on mung bean in Virginia as a new alternative crop. She is currently working with colleagues at Virginia State University and in Virginia Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and School of Visual Arts on a culturally informed strategy for introducing mung beans to a food-insecure region in Namibia.

Abaye leads classes in agriculture, global food security and health, forage crop ecology, and world crops and cropping systems. Throughout her career, she has guided students on annual research and experiential learning trips in countries around the world, providing students with hands-on opportunities to directly impact the lives and livelihoods of people on globally. Abaye also serves as advisor to the Virginia Tech Agronomy Club and crops judging teams.

Abaye has received numerous awards attesting to her service to agriculture in Virginia and around the world, including Virginia Tech’s 2017 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Outreach, Alumni Teaching Award, the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Land Grant University Award, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Ut Prosim Excellence in Service Award, the Jerry G. Gaff Faculty Award for Excellence in General and Liberal Education, the Andy Swiger Land Grant Teaching and Research Award, and the American Society of Agronomy’s Presidential Award. She is an elected fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, which is the highest honor given by the national society.

“I am proud and humbled to be appointed the Thomas B. Hutcheson Jr. Professor of Agronomy. From what I heard and read, Dr. Hutcheson was dedicated to advancing all aspects of agricultural production," Abaye said. "I will spend the rest of my career honoring his name and legacy. In collaboration with the University of Gaston Berger – Senegal, we will release a mung bean variety named after Thomas B. Hutcheson Jr. Additionally, we will establish a food bank in the Southern Regions of Senegal in his name.”

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