CALS Awards: Faculty excellence, leadership and research awards

For the final 2020 CALS Awards post, we share information about the recipients of the Louise Hemstead Leadership Award, Pound Research Award and Robert G.F. and Hazel T. Spitze Land Grant Faculty Award for Excellence. It has been a pleasure to read about the accomplishments of all of this year’s awards winners.

Erin Silva

Erin Silva began her career as an academic staff member and proved her leadership ability as a representative on the Committee on Academic Staff Issues. Now an associate professor and Extension specialist in sustainable and organic cropping systems in the Department of Plant Pathology, Silva is the recipient of the inaugural Louise Hemstead Leadership Award. Since becoming a faculty member in 2014, Silva has published 23 refereed journal articles and participated in extramural grants that have brought in more than $11 million to CALS, of which about $5 million went to her research lab. Silva is at the cutting-edge of scientific knowledge creation and transfer on the impact of cover crops, no-till and other soil and pest management techniques on organic grain and vegetable farms. She is securing major grants and widely publishing experimental evidence on the efficacy of various tillage methods, on farmer adoption, use and experience with these methods, and comparative reviews across time and locations.

The results of Silva’s outreach work is evident in her successful OGRAIN conferences and network management, co-leadership of the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council, numerous state, national, and international presentations on cover crop and other related topics, leadership roles at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, and most recently her lead in the formation of WisCORE (the Wisconsin Center for Organic Research and Education) – a privately sponsored initiative to expand organic research, education and outreach efforts in CALS. Her leadership and outreach makes her very deserving of the first Louise Hemstead Leadership Award.

Benjamin Zuckerberg

Benjamin Zuckerberg is an associate professor in the forest and wildlife ecology department. A climate-change ecologist, Zuckerberg has all of the hallmarks of an outstanding early-career scientist. His overarching interest is exploring how changes in climate, superimposed on other anthropogenic footprints such as land use, drive biological dynamics at the level of individuals and populations, and how these responses combine to form ecological patterns within and across landscapes, regions and continents.

A pillar of Zuckerberg’s research program is his remarkably effective use of data generated via citizen science. Many of his most important scholarly contributions rely on such datasets (e.g., eBird, Project FeederWatch, Snapshot Wisconsin), and he continues to publish methodology papers concerning their analysis. He is a national leader and highly sought-after collaborator, owing to the creative and rigorous approaches he has adopted in light of the massive and often unwieldy nature of citizen-science data. Accordingly, federal agencies such as NASA and USGS have supported several of Zuckerberg’s citizen-science projects. Recently, for example, he led a NASA funded study concerning the implications of increases in avian predator abundance in urban environments.

The success of Zuckerberg’s research program stems in no small part from his effective mentoring of graduate students and post-doc trainees. In his lab thus far, five students have graduated and seven post-docs have completed their training. Currently, his research team comprises six PhDs, one MS and three post-docs. Zuckerberg supports this vibrant community with substantial extramural funding, raising over $6.5 million—nearly $4 million as PI.

Zuckerberg’s leadership and scholarly contribution have made him invaluable to the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, CALS and the UW community. He is well deserving of the Pound Research Award.

Kent A. Weigel

The 2020 recipient of the Robert G.F. and Hazel T. Spitze Land Grant Faulty Award for Excellence is Kent Weigel, professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Science. A dedicated instructor who is constantly looking to maximize learning outcomes for students, he carefully assesses his teaching and is willing to incorporate innovative methods where appropriate. Weigel is strategic in his methods and truly an advocate for students and their success. He is one of the most active faculty advisors of dairy science undergraduate students.

Weigel is regarded as one the world’s top quantitative geneticists who has helped to improve the health, fertility, and productivity of dairy cattle through innovative genetics and genomics research that he has also widely disseminated to dairy producers and industry professionals. Because of this Weigel is a highly sought-after speaker at Extension meetings throughout the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. and the world.

In addition, Weigel has been an exceptionally productive researcher throughout his career. In total, he has authored or co-authored 190 peer reviewed journal articles. Over the past 10 years he has been awarded a total of $3.8 million in grants as the principal investigator. He is a co-investigator for other project awards that total $3.0 million since 2010.

Weigel has served as chair of the Department of Dairy Science since 2010. His colleagues appreciate his style of being friendly, relaxed, supportive, highly responsive, smart and always approachable.