Persistent rains and looming off-coast Hurricane Joaquin didn’t deter nearly 100 guests from coming to celebrate the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ annual Alumni Awards event Oct. 2. The reception and ceremony took place at the NC State University Club, as Dr. Wanda Collins and North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler were named the college’s 2015-2016 Distinguished Alumni. Also receiving awards on this Friday night before CALS Tailgate and Ag Day weekend were 12 Outstanding Alumni and seven Outstanding Young Alumni.
Josh Starling, a 1994 CALS alumnus and executive director of the N.C. FFA Foundation, welcomed the honorees, guests and CALS faculty and staff in attendance before yielding the podium to Dean Richard Linton, who presided over the awards presentations, assisted by George Simpson, president of the CALS Alumni and Friends Society.
“The alumni here tonight represent the fulfillment of the promise of our land-grant mission in academics, research and extension,” Linton said. “Their professional achievements and service to NC State and their communities exemplify the extraordinary possibility of achievement to our current students, who are our future alumni and leaders. Thank you all for your commitment to excellence.”
The CALS Distinguished Alumnus Award, established in 1974, annually honors individuals who have made a commitment to service and outstanding contributions in their respective careers. Chosen by the college’s administration, the awards honor excellence in implementing progressive state, national and/or international programs; development of improved technology or science; or other outstanding achievements in the field of agriculture and life sciences.
Thus, Collins and Troxler join a select group of top scientists, physicians, business and political leaders, agriculturalists and public servants who have been named CALS Distinguished Alumni.
Collins is an expert in international agricultural research and development. From 2001 until her retirement in 2012, she served as director of the Plant Sciences Institute, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Beltsville, Md., and was acting director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center from September to December 2012. She earned her 1974 master’s and 1976 Ph.D. degrees from NC State in plant pathology and genetics. In 1976 she became a CALS assistant professor of horticultural science and advanced through the ranks to full professor.
In 1995, Collins joined Environmentally Sustainable Development/Agricultural Research and Extension at the World Bank to promote the development of a global agricultural research system. She joined the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru, as deputy director general for research in 1997. While at CIP she oversaw a global research program on potatoes, sweet potatoes and Andean root and tuber crops; led the Global Initiative on Potato Late Blight Disease and was instrumental in developing CIP’s Vitamin A for Africa program, as well as Urban Harvest, a global program on urban horticulture.
She has also consulted and served as a technical adviser and scientific liaison officer for USAID, with experience in Latin America, the Caribbean and Nigeria. She is currently chairman of the board of trustees of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, headquartered in Cali, Colombia. Collins resides in Emerald Isle.
While presenting Collins her award, Linton also surprised her with a video he had taken during his recent trip abroad. It featured congratulations from some of Collins’ colleagues in Africa, including CALS’ Dr. Craig Yencho and Dr. Robert Mwanga, one of her former students, who are involved in sweet potato research in Kenya.
Troxler, who holds a 1974 CALS degree in conservation, took office as commissioner of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2005. Since then he has focused on developing new markets for the state’s farm products, preserving working farms and protecting the state’s food supply. He was raised in the Guilford County community of Browns Summit. He has spent his entire career in agriculture as founder, owner and operator of Troxler Farms, where, over the years, the family farm has produced tobacco, wheat, vegetables and soybeans.
Also active on the national level, Troxler is a past president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and former chairman of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee. Additionally he was president of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
The commissioner serves on the boards of the N.C. Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation, the Rural Economic Development Center and the N.C. Biotechnology Center. He is a member of various organizations, such as the N.C. Tobacco Research Commission and the Southern United States Trade Association.
Troxler has been recognized with numerous awards, including the 2014 Public Service Award from the N.C. Travel Industry Association. Other recent honors include the 2013 Forest Conservationist of the Year Award from the N.C. Wildlife Federation, the Meritorious Service Award from the N.C. Soybean Producers Association, the Elliot O. Grosvenor Food Safety Award from the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the Distinguished Service Award from the N.C. Agricultural Foundation and a leadership award from the Western North Carolina Livestock Center and WNC Communities.
Joining Collins and Troxler as event honorees were the college’s Outstanding Alumni and Outstanding Young Alumni for 2015-2016:
Outstanding Alumni (with degree years and departments)
Gwen Clark, 1986, Agricultural and Extension Education
Dr. Barry Goodwin, 1988, Agricultural and Resource Economics
Charles Easton, 1962, Agricultural Institute
Richard D. Smith, 1967, Agricultural Institute
Dr. Karen Jordan, 1981, Animal Science
Norman Jordan, 1978, Animal Science
James Hipps, 1973, Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Dr. Laura Harrington, 1993, Entomology
Dr. Pablo Coronel, 2001, 2005, Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences
Dr. Richard Olsen, 1998, 2006, Horticultural Science
Dr. Kate Barger, 1998, Poultry Science
Dr. Mike Mullen, 1987, Soil Science
Outstanding Young Alumni
Tara King, 2003, Agricultural and Extension Education
Sara Lane, 2001, Agricultural and Resource Economics
Sterling Smith, 2001, Agricultural Institute
Dr. Todd Armstrong, 2000, Animal Science
Dr. James Morris, 2009, Applied Ecology
Tiffany Sepanski, 2006, Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences
Dr. Brian Jackson, 2002, Horticultural Science
— Terri Leith