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News & Media

USDA Announces National Teaching  Awards for Food and Agricultural Sciences 

November 9, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today honored four public university faculty with national teaching awards recognizing excellence in agricultural sciences teaching and student engagement. Anna Dilger of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Nick Fuhrman of the University of Georgia were named national recipients of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Excellence in College and University Teaching Awards for Food and Agricultural Sciences. James C. Anderson II of the University of Georgia and Erica Irlbeck of Texas Tech University were named recipients in the national Teaching and Student Engagement category. The awards, which celebrate university faculty for their use of innovative teaching methods and service to students, will be presented as part next week at the APLU Annual Meeting.

Six regional and two early-career awardees were also named recipients of the 2021 Excellence in College and University Teaching Awards for Food and Agricultural Sciences. In recognition of their scholarship, exemplary pedagogy, and dedication to instruction, the annual awards include stipends of $5,000 for the national winners and $2,000 for regional and early-career honorees to be used for improving teaching at their respective universities. 

The six regional awards were presented to: Linda Yarrow of Kansas State University, Sanjeev Anand of South Dakota State University, Pete Bettinger of the University of Georgia, Jon Ramsey of Oklahoma State University, Kathrin Dunlap of Texas A&M University, and Dean Winward of Southern Utah University.Jamie Loizzo of the University of Florida and Beatrix Haggard of Oklahoma State University each received best early-career teacher honors. 

“We applaud this year’s winners of the Excellence in College and University Teaching Awards for Food and Agricultural Sciences,” said Doug Steele, Vice President of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources at APLU. “The high bar they’ve set stands as a powerful example not only to their students, but to other faculty striving to better serve their students.” 

Details on the 2021 recipients of the Excellence in College and University Teaching Awards for Food and Agricultural Sciences:  
 
Anna Dilger, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 
Recognized for her energy and enthusiasm in the classroom, Anna Dilger, empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning. To help students learn, she attempts to build on students’ prior knowledge using stories and examples from everyday life even with complex subjects. Through frequent feedback, she guides students to assess their own learning and uses student feedback to shape the direction of each course.   

Dr. Dilger is an associate professor and undergraduate coordinator for the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences. During her 10 years at Illinois, she has taught eight different courses for community college, introductory and advanced undergraduate, and graduate students. While many of her courses are focused on her discipline of meat science and muscle biology, Dr. Dilger is also passionate about introducing students to contemporary issues in animal sciences and agriculture.   
Anna earned her bachelor’s (2002) and Master of Science (2004) degrees at Purdue University and her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois (2009).  

Nick Fuhrman, University of Georgia 
Known by his students and colleagues alike as “Ranger Nick,” his life’s passion is teaching and Dr. Fuhrman often uses live animals (such as snakes, turtles, and owls) in the classroom and on a monthly national television series, “Ranger Nick.” One of Nick’s hallmark courses at the University of Georgia is “Teaching with Animals,” an undergraduate course designed to prepare students of any major to teach others while using animals as ambassadors of educational messages. When safely handled, the animals help take the attention off of the student speaking, making them a more relaxed, conversational speaker. Students are trained how to handle Nick’s collection of teaching animals during public presentations while forming a genuine, caring relationship with their audience. The culminating activity in this course includes Nick’s students taking his animals to visit and teach youth with special needs, alife changing experience.      

Nick earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Forestry from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Education and Communication, with an emphasis in Environmental Education, from the University of Florida.  

 
Details on the 2021 recipients of the National Teaching and Student Engagement awards:  
 
James C. Anderson II, University of Georgia  
Dr. James Anderson is an Associate Professor of Agricultural Leadership and ALEC Graduate Program Coordinator with 25 years of experience in the field of agricultural education. Grounded in culturally responsive learning, he has developed and taught 32 graduate and undergraduate courses in global leadership, leadership ethics, collaborative problem solving, effective approaches to leadership development, inclusive leadership practices, research methods, curriculum instruction and design, service learning, and effective written and oral communications. Currently, he teaches leadership to approximately 300 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students annually. Dr. Anderson formally advises or have advised 34 undergraduate Leadership and Service certificate seekers, 30 master’s students, and 14 doctoral students; as well as served on academic advisory committees for over two dozen graduate students. As an Extension Leadership Specialist, he creates and facilitates interventions each year that utilize non-traditional methods to train and support over 250 adult learners within institutions, organizations, and communities. In addition, Dr. Anderson co-facilitates the Long-Term Strategic Planning Committee for the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS), serves as the faculty advisor for the UGA Chapter of MANRRS, and provides cultural awareness training for student organizations at UGA, resulting in him being named the recipient of the CAES Faculty Award for Diversity.    

Dr. Anderson’s scholarly pursuits has led to over $3.3 million in funding to design and evaluate educational and training programs that build human capacity, especially among underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized groups. He has created a summer institute for urban agriculture and life sciences educators interested in implementing culturally responsive pedagogy into their curricula, co-facilitates a faculty learning community on the scholarship and praxis of transformative mentoring and has developed a mentoring model called the R.I.S.E. Model for Transformative Mentoring. In 2019, he was named one of three Faculty Fellows for Public Service and Outreach, during which time he developed and piloted a comprehensive six-part mentor training program for the R.I.S.E. Model, which he now uses to train both faculty and student mentors.   

Dr. Anderson received his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in Agricultural Education, his M.A. from the University of Delaware in Economics and Entrepreneurship, and his B.S. from the University of Illinois in Agricultural Education.  

Erica Irlbeck, Texas Tech University 
Erica Irlbeck is a professor of agricultural communications at Texas Tech University. In her 15-year career, she has taught 11 different undergraduate and seven graduate courses at Texas Tech, mostly in video production, risk and crisis communications, professionalism, and strategic communications. She has chaired or served on 70 graduate committees. Her teaching has been awarded at the local and national levels. 

In addition, she is faculty supervisor for Picador Creative, a communications service center established in 2014 by the Department of Agricultural Education & Communications. Picador Creative provides scholarships and hands-on experience to students while filling a much-needed role for agricultural organizations, businesses and individuals in the Lubbock and South Plains communities. 

Irlbeck serves the industry at local, state, regional, and national levels. She is president the Western Region American Association for Agricultural Education, superintendent of the Texas FFA Agricultural Communications Career Development Event, and is a committee member for the National FFA Agricultural Communications Career Development Event. Locally, she serves on the Lubbock County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and is the leader of Hub City 4H Club. 

Prior to her academic career, Irlbeck worked in agricultural television news, farm radio, public relations, and advertising. She received her doctorate in agricultural education from and a master’s in agricultural communications from Texas Tech. Her bachelor's degree in agricultural communications is from Oklahoma State. 

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