CALS Celebrates Academic Father Figures
By Teresa Suits, agricultural education and communication master’s student (BS ’17)
As we honor our fathers during the month of June, the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) would like to thank the many father figures within our college. Like all fathers, our “CALS Dads” teach students to be resilient in stressful times, provide tough love as needed and always extend a helping hand. Three CALS students share how their successes, both inside and outside of the classroom, were directly influenced by their “CALS Dad.”
Jade Bittenbender, a junior family youth and community sciences major, met CALS associate dean Al Wysocki in her UF Honors professional development class during fall 2017. Compared to her pre-requisite courses with more than 200 students, Bittenbender’s small honors course allowed her to gain a mentorship-like relationship with Wysocki. Since their initial meeting, Wysocki has continued to mentor Bittenbender with useful wisdom and support. He encouraged her to travel the globe with a CALS study abroad trip and apply to the CALS Ambassador program where she has gained leadership skills.
“I am so grateful that I was able to go to Dr. Wysocki for guidance – I definitely look to him as a father figure,” Bittenbender said.
After hearing positive reactions from several of his Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers, William McMullen, a junior food resources and economics major, knew Michael Olexa’s class was one that he should take while at UF. In one of Olexa’s agricultural law class, McMullen learned how to think outside of the box and look at life’s big picture. Olexa spent time outside of classroom hours to explain to McMullen career options and important life advice, which McMullen valued greatly.
McMullen praised Olexa saying, “Dr. Olexa has a lasting impact on the lives of all his students.”
As a first-generation college student from rural Florida, Ashley McLeod-Morin, now an agricultural education and communication Ph.D. student and two-time graduate of CALS, struggled to feel like she fit in academically at UF, but Ricky Telg helped her overcome this perception.
“Dr. Telg is the kind of instructor who builds confidence and makes students like me feel like they can serve an important role in the classroom,” McLeod-Morin said. “I have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Telg in many capacities and always admire his integrity, leadership and ability to answer all his emails really fast.“
McLeod-Morin has known Telg for more than five years. Telg served as her undergraduate adviser, graduate adviser and supervisor within the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education. During this time, Telg has served as McLeod’s mentor, providing thoughtful advice and challenging her to contribute to the academic field.
“Dr. Telg has always encouraged me to believe in my own abilities and not to compare my journey to other peoples’,” McLeod-Morin said.
Wysocki, Olexa and Telg are just some of the many father figures students in CALS encounter in the classroom, extracurricular activities, service projects, and many other opportunities within the college. Happy Father’s Day to all father figures who do so much for our students!