MSU faculty, staff, students honored for excellence in ag, life sciences

Author: Vanessa Beeson

Mississippi State Agriculture and Life Sciences

Mississippi State faculty, staff and students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station have been honored for excellence in teaching, research and service throughout the 2021-22 academic year.

Scott Willard, CALS dean and MAFES director, said the individuals recognized exemplify a dedicated team aimed at fulfilling the university's land-grant mission.

"Our faculty and staff are the engine that makes our enterprise work as they meet and exceed the needs of our students and stakeholders. CALS/MAFES is exceptional at experiential learning and our hands-on approach trains nearly 2,100 undergraduates, 340 master's students and 125 doctoral students annually who will become tomorrow's leaders in agriculture and life sciences. In research, our faculty generated well over $35 million in grants and contracts in 2021 alone," Willard said.

This year's honorees include:

Associate Professor Natraj Krishnan, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS Excellence in Teaching—Upper Division Award. Krishnan teaches a first-year seminar, four split-level undergraduate and graduate courses and two 8000-level graduate courses. Students and colleagues admire Krishnan's devotion to teaching and note he invests substantial time and effort to course material and expects students to do the same. Krishnan, also a MAFES scientist, has published nearly 40 peer-reviewed articles in the last decade.

Instructor Mandy Conrad, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS Excellence in Teaching—Lower Division Award. Conrad teaches undergraduate and graduate nutrition courses and helps administer MSU's Dietetic Internship Program, a highly competitive post-baccalaureate program that is a critical step in becoming a registered dietitian. Many students combine the internship with master's or doctoral degrees, and Conrad helps them navigate the process. Because of her previous counseling and clinical work, she brings real life experience to the classroom, where her enthusiasm and passion for nutrition are evidenced by student feedback.

Professor Wen-Hsing Cheng, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS Teacher of the Year and CALS Excellence in Teaching—Graduate Award. Regardless of teaching face-to-face or online, colleagues said Cheng is organized and easily adapts to the changing landscape. He is noted as an inspired instructor who puts students first and fosters strong critical thinking skills and self-efficacy. One colleague said his students are so proud of the papers they complete in his courses, they're eager to submit to journals.

Assistant Professor Samuel Ward, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS Excellence in Teaching—New Faculty Award. Through the utilization of flip-classroom scenarios, group discussion and open work areas, Ward employs new and exciting teaching methods. Colleagues and students note that his general enthusiasm and passion encourage students to exceed as scholars.

Assistant Professor Shecoya White, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Faculty Service Award. White serves as president of the midsouth section of the Institute of Food Technologists, co-chairs the CALS/MAFES Diversity and Inclusion Committee and serves on the MSU Community Engagement Committee and CALS Teaching Excellence Award Committee. She is co-advisor for the MSU Pipetting Club; MSU Food Science Club and the MSU Chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS. One colleague noted that White operates on a "see a need, meet a need" philosophy, always putting her students first while demonstrating what it means to be a servant leader.

Assistant Professor Antonio Gardner, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS/MAFES Faculty Diversity Award. Gardner has served on the MSU President's Commission on the Status of Minorities; mentor for B.R.I.D.G.E.S., part of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, which mentors racially underrepresented freshman, sophomore and transfer students; and campus advisor for the Kappa Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. His dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion has extended to his professional membership in the Society for Public Health Application where he designed a fellowship to address the lack of diversity among leaders in the organization and the field.

Mississippi Bug Blues team, CALS/MAFES Team Diversity Award. Mississippi Bug Blues is an educational outreach program dedicated to teaching residents of the state about native insects, invasive insects, biodiversity, the environment, conservation and more. Led by Assistant Professor JoVonn Hill in biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology and plant pathology, team members include Megan Gaulke, Genesis Ferris, Cassidy Jenkins, Jennifer Seltzer, Beverly Keasler, Ashley Baker, Matt Thorn, Harry Jones, Zach Brown, Phillip Barlow, Brady Dunaway and Jordan Gesell.

Professor Wes Schilling, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, Mississippi Land Bank-sponsored MAFES Excellence in Research Faculty Award. Schilling has published 180 peer reviewed publications, 15 book chapters, 150 abstracts and more. In 18 years at MSU, he has obtained 17 grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and garnered $5.3 million in funding.

Assistant Research Professor Ganesh Karunakaran, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, MAFES Grantmanship Award. The award recognizes the scientist who garners the most in competitive grant funds. The MAFES scientist stationed at the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville received a $1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea Grant College Program to establish national economic metrics for the U.S. aquaculture industry.

Research Professor Ramakrishna Nannapaneni, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, MAFES Outstanding Publication Award for an article which describes research on changing tolerance levels of food-borne pathogens to commercial cleaning products.

Assistant Professor Anuraj Theradiyil Sukumaran, Department of Poultry Science, MAFES Most Impactful Publication Award for his article describing the challenges and potential solutions of controlling food-borne bacteria in "no antibiotics ever" broiler production published in the journal Microorganisms.

Jane Dentinger, doctoral student, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, College of Forest Resources, Graduate Research Award. Earning her bachelor's degree in biology/biological science from the University of Southern California, Dentinger began working under the direction of Associate Professor Garrett Street earning a master's degree in 2019 before starting her doctoral degree. She studies movement ecology in large mammals using accelerometer technology. She has published or submitted for publication five refereed journal articles, was the 2020 MSU Graduate Student of the Year and presented her research internationally.

Chelsie Dahlgren, senior animal and dairy sciences major, MAFES Research Support Award—Undergraduate Student. Dahlgren, under the direction of Associate Professor Thu Dinh, has had one manuscript accepted, has two more in development and has presented at two national meetings. She now is working on her master's degree in animal and dairy sciences.

Undergraduate research scholars were recognized for their work with the inaugural 2022 George Hopper Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award. Sarah Broadaway, junior biochemistry and microbiology double major, first place; Dutton Day, senior biochemistry major, second place; and Josie Nasekos, junior environmental economics and management major, third place.

Tannah Christensen, program coordinator, Department of Poultry Science, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Professional Staff Award. Christensen, who has worked at MSU for 11 years, is described as the "go-to" for faculty, staff and students in the poultry science department. Colleagues admire that Christensen approaches every challenge with positivity and professionalism.

Kathy Breland, administrative assistant I, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Support Staff Award. Breland, who has been with MSU for nine years, is described as a keystone of the department by colleagues and noted as diligent, meticulous and thoughtful, epitomizing the phrase "service with a smile."

For more on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, visit Learn about the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station by visiting

Date: 2022-06-22

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences