Alumni Spotlights & Faculty Highlights

Dr. Carrie Harmon

Faculty Highlight: Dr. Carrie Harmon DPM Newsletter Fall 2015

Dr. Carrie Harmon has been employed with the University of Florida since 2003 in her role as Associate Director of the regional project the Southern Plant Diagnostic Network (SPDN). In 2009, Dr. Harmon also became the Director of the Plant Diagnostic Center. Currently, Dr. Harmon serves as Associate-In Extension Scientist for UF. Her appointment is 80% extension and 20% research.

In the Plant Diagnostic Center, Dr. Harmon places priority on the extension clinic. Her daily duties include keeping track of samples from anywhere in the world, providing recommendations and identifications, checking in on research with graduate students, and organizing various trainings. Her passion for plant pathology and educating others lends itself to successful hands-on detection and ID workshops for extension agents and international groups as well as valuable lectures for graduate students. Each training oversees 9-12 people on average and occur three to four times per semester.

Additionally, Dr. Harmon facilitates two graduate-level courses and one professional internship in the PDC.

Dr. George Fox

Alumni Update: Dr. George Fox DPM Newsletter Fall 2015

Dr. Fox is now working with the USDA, specifically with APHIS International Services. He will be serving as a Foreign Service Officer, stationed internationally to represent US agricultural interests. Upon completion of an intensive training program, Dr. Fox expects to be headquartered at a U.S. Embassy in 2016. Expertise and practical knowledge of plant pests and diseases, earned by becoming a Doctor of Plant Medicine at UF, helped Dr. Fox secure high-level employment with APHIS.

Tomás ChiconelaAn interview with Tomás Chiconela, by Nicole Casuso DPM Newsletter Fall 2015

Q. Please describe your academic background.
A. I received my B.Sc. degree in Agronomy at the Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering of Eduardo Mondlane University, in Maputo, Mozambique. Then, I moved to South Africa, where I obtained my M.Sc. degree in Agriculture (Weed Science) at the University of Orange Free State. Afterwards, I was awarded a Ford Foundation scholarship to pursue DPM program at UF. Immediately after my DPM graduation in 2006, I enrolled in the Agronomy (Weed Science) PhD Program at the same University and completed that degree in 2008.

Q. What is your current occupation and how has your DPM degree aided you in the duties and obligations associated with your position?
A. Currently, I am Dean of the Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering of Eduardo Mondlane University. I was appointed to this position after heading the Department of Plant Production and Protection (twice), and the Department of Plant Protection, after the first department got split in two (Department of Plant Production, and Department of Plant Protection). Despite my administrative responsibility, my DPM degree has allowed me to teach several courses both at graduate and postgraduate levels. Similarly, it also allows me to supervise students working in different thematic areas.

Q. What prompted you to pursue your current career?
A. Immediately after completion of my B.Sc., I was hired as an assistant lecturer in Weed Science, and later appointed to be in charge of the Plant Protection Section. Thereafter, I was appointed as head of department of Plant Production and Protection. While acting in both position I had to deal with all kind of pests without that expertise that was required from me. One day a colleague of mine got a newsletter from Cornell University. In it, a new course in plant health, at the University of Florida, was being depicted. By then, I was in a process of applying for a scholarship from Ford Foundation to pursue my PhD degree in Agronomy, at the UF, under Dr. Bill Haller. I didn´t think twice. I decided to put my PhD in hold and go for DPM first. While in the program, I asked my Committee´s Chair (Dr. Bill Haller) to let me help in his laboratory to keep me busy. After a while, I realized that it was possible to combine both degrees, and I decided to do it.

Q. Why did you choose the DPM program?
A. I wanted to get that myriad of knowledge in plant health that the program provides that any other course in plant protection was able to offer.

Q. On a personal and professional level, how has your DPM degree influenced you?
A. DPM opened up many doors for me. I have been able to interact with colleagues working in several subjects without any problem. I also have been able to teach several courses and supervise students conducting their research in several plant healthy problems.

Q. Are there any challenges that your DPM degree has helped you overcome?
A. The DPM program helped me a lot in sense that I can confidently interact with farmers, researchers, policy makers, industry and students about plant health problems.

Dr. Jason Smith

Faculty Highlight: Dr. Jason Smith DPM Newsletter Summer 2015

Dr. Jason Smith is the Co-Director of Emerging Threats to Forests Research Team, Associate Professor of Forest Pathology, and State Forest Health Extension Specialist at the University of Florida. Dr. Smith has been employed at UF since 2006.

The focus of his research program is to provide a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and biology of interactions between tree hosts, pathogens, their vectors and the environment to reduce the impact of disease on trees in the context of global change. Current research focuses on: 1.) Exotic tree disease detection and management; 2.) Phylogeography and pathogenicity of tree pathogens; and 3.) Management of diseases affecting rare, endangered or relict tree species in a changing climate. In addition to serving as the Principal Investigator of the Forest Pathology Laboratory, Dr. Smith teaches several graduate and undergraduate courses and carries out forest health extension activities including advanced tree diagnostic services.

Professionally, Dr. Smith is active in the American Phytopathological Society, American Conifer Society, and serves as associate editor of the journal Forest Pathology.

Smith   Dr. Smith’s career combines academia and extension. The pursuit of these combined   interests stemmed from his enjoyment of the research/problem solving interface. Additionally,   his passion for education echoes in his extensive involvement at UF and with the DPM   Program. Dr. Smith has served on the supervisory committees of several DPM students,   including: Keumchul Shin, Don Spence, Carmen Collazo, Lacey Mount, Lanette Sobel, and   Greg Kramer.

In response to the question: “How would you qualify the effectiveness of the DPM program at training students for careers in academia and extension?”, Dr. Smith stated, “My experience has been that DPM students fare quite well post-graduation. I am amazed at the diversity of career paths that are available and how readily DPM graduates obtain these positions.” Dr. Smith also offers a few words of wisdom for his students:

“One must remember that graduate school is about more than receiving another diploma. To be successful, you need to really embrace your discipline and go beyond the minimal expectations for graduation. Try to take every opportunity you can to experience new things and acquire new skills.”

Sam GluckmanAn interview with Sam Glucksman, by Nicole Casuso DPM Newsletter Summer 2015
Q. Please describe your academic background.
A. I received my B.S. in Botany at the University of Florida in 2007. I then enrolled in the DPM Program and completed my degree in August 2011.

Q. What is your current occupation and how has your DPM degree aided you in the tasks and
responsibilities associated with your position?
A. Crop Management Specialist-Account Manager with Glades Crop Care, Inc. My DPM degree has aided me in my current occupation by giving me the knowledge and skill set for identifying and controlling pests, diseases, and other issues that affect plant health. My internships with the Doctor of Plant Medicine Clinical Trials and the UF Plant Disease Clinic have contributed greatly to my success as a principle investigator for large scale grower demonstrations, and field diagnosis of pests and diseases.

Q. What prompted you to pursue your current career?
A. I wanted a position that would allow me to utilize all the skills and knowledge gained from the program including trial work and contract research.

Q. Why did you choose the DPM program?
A. I love working with plants in the field, greenhouse, and laboratory, but wanted more than a research experience. A practicing degree allowed me to utilize the information gained in research, and apply it to real world scenarios.

Q. On a personal level, how has your DPM degree influenced you?
A. Besides all the science, my degree has influenced my personal life in many ways. It has taught me the importance of discipline and hard work, networking and social development (maintaining good relationships). Most of all, admiration and respect for the agricultural industry and community.

Dr. John Erickson
Faculty Highlight: Dr. John Erickson DPM Newsletter Spring 2015

Dr. John Erickson is an Associate Professor and Environmental Agronomist at the University of Florida. He joined the Gator Nation faculty in the summer of 2007 after completing his post-doctoral research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD. That same year Dr. Erickson became an Affiliate for the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). His post-doctoral research focused on wetland responses to elevated CO2 levels resulting from global climate change. Prior to working at the Smithsonian, Dr. Erickson completed his Bachelor’s and Ph.D. in Physiology within the Forestry Department at the University of Wisconsin.

Between his undergraduate and doctoral degrees, Dr. Erickson traveled to Florida Atlantic University for his Master’s degree. While in South Florida, he worked at the UF Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC) on minimizing the environmental impacts of urban landscapes.

Many of the projects currently underway in Dr. Erickson’s lab involve reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture through the use of best management practices and crop phenotypes that increase fertilizer and water use efficiency. Specific crops of interest include sorghum, wheat, corn, peanuts, and turf.

Additionally, Dr. Erickson is an instructor for both Crop Ecology and Environmental Crop Nutrition. These courses are offered during Fall semesters and may be taken on campus or distance-based online.

Aside from his role as an instructor and his passion for scientific discovery through research, Dr. Erickson serves as the Supervisory Committee Chairperson for DPM students Kayla Thomason and Christopher Kerr. He is also a Committee Member for DPM Student Christopher Ferguson. When asked for his opinion of the effectiveness of the DPM program at training students for future careers in academia and extension, Dr. Erickson explained that he felt the program is quite interesting and managed well. He believes the program’s strength lies in its interdisciplinary approach, breadth of curricula, and intensive internship requirement. He also notes that it grants both students and faculty the ability to interact with one another in unique environments that might not exist with a more traditional degree program. This mentality echoes in Dr. Erickson’s advice to his students to get to know their professors and faculty members early in their degree program to establish a well-rounded and strong network for communication and future opportunities.

Dr. Leroy Whilby
An interview with Dr. Leroy Whilby, by Nicole Casuso DPM Newsletter Spring 2015

Q. Please describe your academic background.
A. My general agricultural studies began at the College of Agriculture in Portland, Jamaica where I received my A.Sc. I then worked for a few years as an inspector before pursuing a B.S. in Plant Science at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. My graduate studies began in 2001 at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee, FL where I conducted research studies in agroforestry. At the conclusion of my M.S. in Plant Science at FAMU, I received the FAMU Graduate Feeder Program Fellowship, which assisted me in acquiring the DPM degree from the University of Florida.

Q. What is your current occupation and how has your DPM degree aided you in the tasks and responsibilities associated with your position?
A. I currently serve as the State Survey Coordinator for the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) Program under FDACSDPI. My DPM degree gave me a broad spectrum of knowledge on pathogens, nematodes, entomology, and agronomy. The DPM program enhanced my ability to apply a diverse knowledge base within CAPS while also enabling me to make rapid and holistic assessments.

Dr. Kimberly Moore
Faculty Highlight: Dr. Kimberly Moore DPM Newsletter Fall 2014

After graduating with her MS and PhD in Horticulture from Iowa State University, Dr. Kimberly Moore was first hired
as an assistant professor at the University of Florida in 1995. Currently, Dr. Moore is a Professor who focuses on teaching and conducting research in the Environmental Horticulture Department at the UF Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC). Her continued efforts and successes in the horticultural sciences have resulted in the recently added title of Distinguished Teaching Scholar at UF.

Unlike the other faculty members DPM News has featured thus far, Dr. Moore serves the university and its students from one of UF’s Research and Education Centers (RECs). Twelve RECs, Research and Demonstration Sites (RDSs), and several other offices are located throughout the state to help provide extension level support and distance education to students, faculty, and the general public.

Since Dr. Moore was hired to teach courses catered to place-bound students who could not relocate to Gainesville, she felt that moving to Gainesville was not necessary. As the resident student numbers changed, Dr. Moore increased the availability of her courses online. With improved technology, she has been able to participate in meetings
statewide without leaving the office. This grants her the flexibility to manage her various responsibilities and collaborate with other faculty from the Plant Pathology, Wildlife Biology, Geomatics, and Entomology departments all within the confines of the REC.

In addition to her role as a Professor and her research responsibilities at FLREC, Dr. Moore serves as chair for the DPM committees of Greg Kramer, Director of Horticulture at Bok Tower Gardens, and Theresa Chormanski, Associate Professor for the Landscape & Horticulture Tech Program at Miami Dade College. She also serves as a member of the supervisory committee for Nicole Casuso. When asked to rate the effectiveness of the DPM program at training students for careers in academia and extension, Dr. Moore replied:

“I think that the DPM program is very effective. In my opinion, the internships and practical work experience are the most beneficial. Course work is great for the foundation knowledge, but actually working in an area of study puts the knowledge to work. For example, it is fine to understand nutrient uptake in plants, but a different set of skills to figure out which one is deficient and fix the problem.”

Dr. Tim Durham
An interview with Dr. Tim Durham, by Nicole Casuso DPM Newsletter Fall 2014

Q. Please describe your academic background.
A. I received an AAS in Horticulture and Greenhouse Management from Suffolk County Community College. Thanks to an articulation agreement, I transferred to Cornell University, where I received a BS in Plant Science. Later, I was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship for postgraduate study at Lincoln University, New Zealand, where I received a Postgraduate Diploma (P.G. Dip.) in Applied Science. Immediately upon my return to the US, I enrolled in the DPM program at UF.

Q. What is your current occupation and how has your DPM degree aided you in the occupational tasks and responsibilities?
A. I’m currently an Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Agriculture Program Coordinator at Ferrum College, a small liberal arts institution in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The DPM degree has been an invaluable asset. In essence, it allows me to act as a disciplinary linguist – switching dialects on the fly. For example, over the course of a day I can: 1) discuss the use of braconids as biocontrols with colleagues, 2) interpret a soil test report in class, and 3) work with students on a calibration lab at the campus farm.

Dr. Nicholas Dufault
Faculty Highlight: Dr. Nicholas Dufault DPM Newsletter Summer 2014

Since the start of his employment with the University of Florida in November 2010, Dr. Nicholas Dufault has been involved with several academic activities that complement his role as a university faculty member. Dr. Dufault is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology, responsible for Vegetables and Agronomic Crops. Additionally, Dr. Dufault is involved in the Plant Science Research and Education Units Faculty Advisory Committee serving as the immediate past chair. In relation to the DPM program, Dr. Dufault serves as the Plant Pathology Department Liaison. The liaison sits on the DPM faculty advisory council and acts as a resource which students can use to ask questions or address concerns about plant pathology related topics. The liaison also coordinates the plant pathology faculty in preparation of the plant pathology DPM comprehensive written exam which is offered every semester.

Furthermore, Dr. Dufault aims to help reduce losses attributed to fungal diseases of agronomic and vegetable crops through monitoring, research, and education. His extension work more specifically targets peanut, cotton, potato, and watermelon producers throughout the state of Florida.

“My program uses fungicide trials to assist with product selection and to explore new or novel management strategies and products. Our research focuses on increasing our knowledge about environmental factors that affect disease, and assessing pathogen population diversity through molecular techniques and fungicide resistance. Ultimately, my goal is to help producers make educated and sound disease management decisions that will save them time and hopefully money.”

A side from his extension appointment and traditional duties as a faculty member, Dr. Dufault has elected to serve as a committee member for several DPM students. Alumni that he mentored include Ken Johnson and Todd Leeson, while current committee involvements include serving as the chair for Christopher Ferguson, and as committee member for Wael Elwakil and Rebecca Barroco. His dedication to the DPM program and its students is reflected in his view of the program’s overall effectiveness at training students for careers in academia and extension. When asked to qualitatively rate the program, Dr. Dufault responded with the following:

“I would rate the effectiveness of the training from the DPM program very high. Students have multiple opportunities to not only learn about integrated pest management strategies and other systems approaches to plant health, but also get hands-on experience. This experience can be through internships at the University and/or with external employment opportunities. The knowledge gained from these hands-on experiences provides DPM students with a unique training and educational experience that can build effective leaders. I think there are many career paths in both industry and academia that require this unique education and skill set.”

Dr. Mike Merida
An interview with Dr. Mike Merida, by Nicole Casuso, 1st Year DPM Student DPM Newsletter Summer 2014

Q. Can you share with us your academic background?
A. I earned my bachelors of science degree through the Horticulture Department at the University of Florida in 2001. In 2002, I enrolled in the DPM program and graduated in May 2006.

Q. Please describe your current occupation.
A. I currently work as the Foliage Production Manager for Costa Farms where I manage over 800 acres of production. Primary responsibilities include managing growing practices, pest & disease management, field scouts, the potting department, live goods receiving, standards and process improvements, budgets and perpetual inventory.

Q. What prompted you to pursue a career in industry?
A. During my last internship prior to completion of my DPM degree, I worked for a large field nursery that produced different species of palms for landscape installations. This is when I felt that private industry would be the appropriate sector to apply the strong curriculum the DPM program provided.

Q. Why did you choose the DPM program?
A. I chose to pursue a degree in the Doctor of Plant Medicine program because of the strong base it would provide me upon graduation. It allowed me to grow within the company at a faster rate, applying all aspects from disease and insect diagnosis to crop nutrition and every other discipline in between.

Q. On a personal and professional level, how has your DPM degree influenced you?
A. The DPM degree has not only opened many opportunities within the company but has also allowed me to grow within the industry. As a result of the extensive knowledge gain I received, I have been able to build strong relationships with companies dealing in various fertilizers, pesticides, soil products, herbicides, and biological agents. Earning a DPM degree is one of my proudest moments and continues to benefit me as a professional in plant world. Dr. Agrios had a great vision, and we as alumni, current students, and faculty are pioneers of his vision. I certainly have not looked back nor do I regret the decision I made years ago to pursue a DPM degree.

Dr. Norman Leppla
Faculty Highlight: Dr. Norman Leppla DPM Newsletter Spring 2014

When asked to reflect upon his personal involvement with the DPM Program, Dr. Leppla graciously agreed to provide our readers with insight about his professional background and role as an advisor for numerous students. He also shed light on a truly inspirational philosophy that illustrates his positive outlook on education and personal achievement.

“Steadily but almost imperceptibly, pest management has been transitioning to a new, exciting era that I can envision due to my 45 plus years in the field. Going fast are the days when someone could simply apply a series of broad-spectrum pesticides with minimal training and expect pest problems to miraculously disappear. Pest management has become too complex for that approach, requiring considerable education and technical training to be effective and sustainable.

This new era in pest management also was recognized by Dr. George Agrios, so consequently he founded the University of Florida’s Plant Medicine Program to satisfy the critical need for professional plant health practitioners, “plant doctors.” My professional experience enabled me to quickly get involved by serving as an advisor and mentor for many of the Doctor of Plant Medicine (DPM) students. This experience included B.S. and M.S. degrees in zoology from Arizona State University, respectively in 1968 and 1970, and a Ph.D. degree in entomology with a minor in biological sciences from the University of Arizona in 1972. I served as a research entomologist with the USDA, Agricultural Research Service at Gainesville, Florida and Weslaco, Texas, Chief of Methods Development and Associate Director of the National Leppla  Biological Control Institute, USDA, APHIS, in Riverdale, Maryland; and Director of the UF,   IFAS Research and Education Centers at Leesburg, Apopka and Sanford. I was honored to   serve as president of the Florida Entomological Society and be recognized as Entomologist of   the Year; be appointed chair of the Florida A&M University, Center for Biological Control   Advisory Council and adjunct faculty member; and be elected Entomological Society of   America, Southeastern Branch president and recipient of the Award for Excellence in   integrated pest management (IPM). I am a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America. In 2001, I was given an opportunity to establish IPM Florida to provide statewide, interdisciplinary and inter-unit coordination and assistance in IPM to protect agriculture, communities and the environment. As Florida’s first comprehensive statewide IPM program, IPM Florida encourages collaboration in advancing IPM primarily through research and Cooperative Extension activities. However, as director I soon realized the importance of an educational component and the Plant Medicine Program was a perfect fit. A considerable amount of DPM education and training is in IPM, particularly under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Amanda Hodges, current director of the Plant Medicine Program.”

Dr. Leppla has been an important figure in the lives of many DPM students. He has served as the supervisory committee chair or co-chair of: Javier Garces, Dan Sonke, Esther Dunn, Denise Thomas, Joyce Merritt, Rafael Vega, Kirk Martin, Ken Johnson, Tatiana Sanchez, and Christopher Kerr. He has also served as a committee member for other DPM students: Rajya Pandey, John Porter, Brian Jackson, Leroy Whilby, Brian Jackson, Heidi Bowman, and Alicyn Ryan. To each student, Dr. Leppla imparts this philosophy:


Dr. Raj Singh
An interview with Dr. Raj Singh, by Nicole Casuso, 1st Year DPM Student DPM Newsletter Spring 2014

Q. Can you give us insight on your academic background?
A. I received a Bachelor’s in Agricultural (Honors in Plant Protection) from Punjab Agricultural University, Punjab, India. The Punjab Agricultural University is Asia’s leading Agricultural University and is responsible for bringing the ‘Green Revolution’ in India. I then moved to United Kingdom and obtained a Master’s Degree in Crop Protection from University of Reading.

Q. What is your current profession?
A. I currently direct the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center’s Plant Diagnostic Center. Everybody here calls me ‘Plant Doctor’. I am an Assistant Professor of Plant Diagnostics and a State Plant Diagnostics Specialist. After being promoted to an Assistant Professor last year, I have become the first Tenure Track Assistant Professor in the United States with a Doctor of Plant Medicine degree.

Q. What previous involvement led to your present position? A. I held an instructor position (2008-2013) and an extension associate position (2007-2008) with the LSU AgCenter. Prior to joining the LSU AgCenter, I held a Post-Doctoral Associate position (2005 -2007) in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida. I became a Plant Doctor in 2004. Q. So what made you choose DPM?
A. I never wanted to focus on just one area related to plant health such as Plant Pathology or Entomology. I always wanted to do something different, but was never sure. Then I came to know about the DPM program and without any hesitation I called Dr. Agrios and the next thing I know, I was accepted to the program. Truly the intensity and the inter-disciplinary nature of the program attracted me to become a Plant Doctor.

Q. How do you feel your DPM degree has influenced you?
A. I love my career and it is because of the DPM program that I have been able to achieve so much in such a short time. The newly advanced Plant Diagnostic Center was known as Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic. It is because of the DPM training and experience that I was able to convert the Clinic to the Plant Diagnostic Center and provide our clients a one-stop shopping for all their plant health problems. Every day, I work with something new and different. You never know what kind of plant sample will walk into the Center. I believe that DPM has provided me with the training and confidence to fulfill the mission of my program. Go DPM!

Adam J. Silagyi
Interview with Adam J. Silagyi, by Lacey Mount, DPM Alumna, Dellavalle Laboratory, Inc., Fresno, CA DPM Newsletter Fall 2013

Adam J. Silagyi became the world’s first Doctor of Plant Medicine in 2003. He also holds a Master of Science in Entomology from Purdue University, but he elected to make D.P.M. the end of his academic training. Currently, as an Agricultural Development Officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. Silagyi helps with the implementation of the U.S. Presidential Initiative Feed the Future in Guatemala. Prior to USAID, Dr. Silagyi also worked for such agencies as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry (DPI), and the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection & Quarantine (PPQ) Department. Delving further into his past, we find Dr. Silagyi conducting research as an intern at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, CATIE) in Costa Rica CocaCola World Citizenship Program in Bolivia. Dr. Silagyi also spent time in the Peace Corps in Paraguay. So, what made him choose the D.P.M. over a traditional Ph.D.? “Personally, I learned a lot during my master’s degree; conducted agricultural research in the field, understand its importance. But I did not want to continue with a Ph.D., which is purely research. When I was walking down the hall at Purdue I saw a poster advertising and describing the newly formed D.P.M. program at my alma matter. I hold a B.Sc. in Agronomy from the University of Florida. I immediately spoke to my wife about this great opportunity to continue my education that was holistic and practical, and would take us back to Florida and family.”