SDSU faculty and SDSU Extension expert recognized for excellence

South Dakota State University
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Faculty members and researchers in South Dakota State University’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, as well as SDSU Extension experts, were recognized at the university’s annual Celebration of Faculty Excellence on February 18, 2020, for outstanding research, teaching and service.

“The Celebration of Faculty Excellence is an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge some of our faculty that have made significant impacts on their students, fields of research or communities and society,” said College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean John Killefer. “We had the privilege of celebrating several of our faculty who are truly exceptional and are making a difference at SDSU, for the state and world.”

Dr. Anne Fennell, a professor in the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture, & Plant Science, was named a distinguished professor.

“This is the university’s ultimate academic recognition presented to those who have reached the pinnacle of their careers through distinguished performance and national or international recognition,” said President Barry H. Dunn.

Fennell has a proven track record as a teacher, mentor and researcher committed to the land grant mission. She has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses related to plant physiology and fruit crop production at SDSU since 1992. She has also served as a mentor for students in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Fennell developed a nationally and internationally recognized grapevine systems biology and genomics research program and transitions the knowledge to applied research. She has provided team leadership as a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on $44.67 million in national research projects. Additionally, she has contributed to the state, national and international research agenda through the National Grape Research Alliance, BioSystems Networks/Translational Research (BioSNTR), National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee of Visitors, NSF International Research and Educational Collaboration for Grape Functional Genomics, and European Cooperation in Science and Technology INTEGRAPE.

Believing strongly in local foods, Fennell contributed to the development of the South Dakota grape and wine industry and South Dakota Specialty Producers Association.

Honored as the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Outstanding Researcher is Dr. Joy Scaria, assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.

The primary goal of Scaria’s research program is to understand how the composition of gut microbiota determines health or disease. Using this knowledge, his laboratory seeks to develop gut commensals as an alternative to treat drug-resistant infections. He is also an expert in bacterial genomics and helped develop genome sequencing as a new generation diagnostic tool to track multi-state foodborne outbreaks. Additionally, he serves as a resource person for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to use genome sequencing as a tool for pathogen detection and tracking.

Scaria also delivered the David Fee Memorial Lecture during the Celebration of Faculty Excellence. Fee taught philosophy and religion at SDSU for more than 20 years. Annual presenters of the named lecture are selected based on their topics and contributions to Fee’s example of cross disciplinary learning, inquiry and collegiality.

Scaria’s lecture titled, “Transforming Animal Agriculture to Improve Planetary Health,” focused on the need for innovations in agriculture and medicine to feed the people of the world sustainably and keep them healthy. His lab has developed beneficial bacterial blends to treat human and animal gut bacterial infection. Development of such non-antibiotic alternatives and improved diagnostic methods are important to keep the food production system efficient without compromising human and animal health.

Receiving the Excellence in Outreach and Engagement Award as a team were Dr. Amber Letcher, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist and associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development, along with Dr. Kristine Ramsay Seaner, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development.

In 2017, they formed Strengthening the Heartland, which is a multi-state, collaborative program between SDSU Extension and NDSU Extension dedicated to preventing opioid misuse in rural communities across the Dakotas. Strengthening the Heartland facilitates evidence-emerging prescription opioid misuse prevention programs, while also providing educational resources such as webinars and print materials for front-line professionals who support rural communities. Since forming, they have received over $2 million in federal and state funding to prevent rural opioid misuse and increase life readiness skills for rural youth.

The team reached over 4,000 individuals in 50 communities in the first year of opioid misuse prevention programming. Evaluation results indicated a significant increase in knowledge of safe prescription opioid use practices from pre-test to post-test. They are currently partnering with eight rural schools to nurture the social-emotional development of the students and professional development of the staff.