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CALS announces new department heads

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University has announced leadership changes in six of its departments, with the appointments of three new department heads and three interim department heads.

The new department heads are Dr. Eric (“Rick”) Davis, Department of Plant Pathology; Dr. Carolyn Dunn, Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences; and  Dr. Clay Clark, Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry. Each had previously served the as interim head of the respective departments.

Davis is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of plant pathology who joined N.C. State University in 1993 as an assistant professor. His experience includes developing a research program at N.C. State in the study of nematode parasitism genes. Davis has made pioneering discoveries about nematodes that may be translated into reducing crop damage. He has authored 75 refereed publications, as well as 29 invited reviews and book chapters. He is an inventor on three patents and has three pending patent applications. Davis is a recipient of the Syngenta Crop Protection and Ruth Allen Awards from the American Phytopathological Society.

Dunn is and a youth, family and community sciences professor and nutrition specialist. She joined the faculty at N.C. State in 1990 as an assistant professor. She provides program expertise and statewide leadership for nutrition and wellness for families and communities. Her current research examines the use of distance technology to deliver nutrition education and mindfulness as a tool for weight management. She is the lead author of “Color Me Healthy,” a curriculum that helps young children eat smart and move more. The curriculum has been recognized nationally, notably as recipient of the Dannon Award for Excellence in Community Nutrition and the Nemours Vision Award for Childhood Obesity Prevention.

Clark is a professor of molecular and structural biochemistry. Since joining N.C. State as an assistant professor of biochemistry in 1999, he has studied the activation and allosteric regulation of caspases, a family of proteases that are important in cell differentiation and cell death. Caspases are critical enzymes in a variety of processes, from development of eye lens, inner ear development, to neuron maturation. The dysregulation of caspase function is problematic in a variety of diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Clark’s projects have been funded by the American Diabetes Association, the American Foundation for Aging Research and the National Institutes of Health.

Starting July 1 as interim department heads in the College are Dr. Garry Grabow, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE), with the retirement of Dr. Robert Evans; Dr. Mike Vepraskas, Department of Soil Science, with the retirement of Dr. Michael Wagger; and Dr. Wes Watson, Department of Entomology, replacing Dr. Ed Vargo.

Grabow is a BAE associate professor and Extension specialist. He joined N.C. State University in 1998 as an extension assistant professor in the Water Quality Group, where he has assisted national projects with water quality data monitoring and analysis. Since 2010, he has been a department Extension leader. His Extension work has been in the areas of animal waste management, particularly in land application, and in irrigation water management. Grabow’s applied research program covers areas similar to his Extension programs and has included research on emerging technologies, such as subsurface drip irrigation and sensor-controlled irrigation for turf and agricultural crops. While at N.C. State, he has consulted on water reuse projects in the Middle East.

Vepraskas is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Soil Science who joined N.C. State in 1980 as an assistant professor. His specialty is wetlands, and his research develops better ways to identify wetland soils, determines their rates of formation and improves methods to restore wetlands. He is co-editor of the book, Wetland Soils . He also wrote the technical bulletin, “Redoximorphic Features for Identifying Aquic Conditions,” which explained how to identify wet soils; more than 15,000 copies of the bulletin have been sold through NCSU worldwide. Vepraskas is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), American Society of Agronomy, American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, and the Society of Wetland Scientists.

Watson is a Department of Entomology professor and director of graduate programs who joined N.C. State in 1997 as an assistant professor. He has 30 years of research, teaching and Extension experience in veterinary entomology, working on a diverse array of ectoparasites, including lice, biting flies, mites and ticks. He and co-inventor Steve Denning developed and patented a unique vacuum device for the removal of biting and nuisance flies from cattle. The “CowVac” technology has been controlling flies at the Center for Environmental Farming systems since 2007 without the use of insecticides. Its use is widely accepted on organic dairies in U.S. and international markets.

Said CALS Dean Richard Linton, “I look forward to working with a new set of College leaders and thank those who have served in their leadership positions in the past.”