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!


Posted: June 20, 2019

Category: Agriculture, Professional Development, UF/IFAS Teaching, Work & Life
Tags: Academic Dads, Academic Mentors, Agricultural Education And Communication, Agricultural Law, CALS, College Of Ag, College Of Agricultural And Life Sciences, Father's Day, Mentors, Mentorship, Professional Development, STEM Majors, Study Abroad, Uf Honors


December 15, 2021

Amazing job my friend! Your perseverance and success is inspiring.

Andrea Gallik
December 15, 2021

So very amazed by you Jason! You have made your family and UF so proud. Your story lights a path for others. May you continue leading the way with your perseverance and integrity!

Michele Dysna leconte
December 15, 2021

Congratulations!!! Very inspiring story, May continue to be a beacon of hope for other young men dealing with similar issues

Matt Parker
December 15, 2021

Congratulations Mr. Coby. 11 straight ‘A’s eh? Way to go. Now go forth and fix the environment. Your girls look good with the current graduate. Nicely done. Beautiful fam.

December 15, 2021

Thank you for helping my nephew Jason I know he wasn’t a quicker but is this song I know if it’s Roman it will make it I’m proud of him and I look I love you and we always be there to support you we love you we love you aunt to Mimi

Anne Menard
September 14, 2021

You can post my comments.

Anne Menard
September 14, 2021

What a wonderful learning opportunity for the college students & it helps with their future education & career planning. Thank you Tall Timbers.

December 22, 2020

Dear sir, Thank you for your post. I Love group study.

Samuel Sam
December 10, 2020

Dear sir, Thank you for your post. Group study is the main for all students life and we learn a lot of things

Susan Weller
November 1, 2020

Congratulations for rewards well earned. Keep up this very important research. We are dependent on the honey bees. Your work is helping educate us all. The use of DDT was stopped due to scientist like you. Please continue to develop more earth friendly solutions for the good of mankind.

August 7, 2020


suba suba
June 11, 2020

Really appreciate you sharing this article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

Mohammed Mahmood Mohammed
May 12, 2020

Congratulations you earned that degree

May 7, 2020

Congrats Dr. Kawther. With your efforts you make what is difficult, been easy to get. Keep going don’t give up. Always the beginning is difficult but with the patience will be easy.

Pialang Indo
March 29, 2020

Very true this virus is very contagious, serious and potentially deadly virus hopes we can do what we can to reduce the spread of this virus and find the best solution to eradicate it. I was very scared until now and just stayed at home all day. Thank you for the information.

Pam Humphrey
December 19, 2019

Lindsey is an amazing, competent and caring young woman. She will be an asset to any company forward-looking enough to hire her.

Naomi Rose
December 19, 2019

Wow! I am so proud of her. Nana

Dagang Valas
December 14, 2019

Congratulation Rivas, hopefully the knowledge gained can be useful in the future and can help the community. Merry Christmas and happy new year too.

Ginny Reiss
October 1, 2019

So proud of you Adrian!!!

R. William (Bill) Henderson
June 21, 2019

Father figures are needed in all parts of education and in all of life. I teach GED to inmates in a local jail and many of the problems these inmates have stems from their many drop out fathers both male and female.

Amy Vasquez
June 20, 2019

Three perfect examples of men with integrity.

April 26, 2019

Way to go, Kendra!

April 1, 2019

Indeed everyone need to eat, and many also complain about the food source quality. I think we all should, at least, do farming in our homes. If the lack of space is a problem, then we should use vertical farming methods. This will not only clean our environment but also reduce the peoples depression (as looking at green reduces depression and is good for mental health).

Linda Nolan
March 16, 2019

Great information! Thank you Dana for sharing Ms. Clark’s enthusiasm about Florida’s agricultural importance.

March 22, 2018

I am sooo proud of Gallagher n the example given to her by these wonderful women encouraging others to jump in n make a difference. I say take your places with men n unite making the difference side by side. WELL DONE!!!

Edelyn Tidholm
March 17, 2018

Great article!

Karen Webster
February 21, 2018

We are very proud of you and your dedication to make agriculture better.

February 21, 2018

Enjoyed reading your article. It was well written and I could tell that you had put a lot of thought into what you wanted to say. Wishing you a great deal of success as you work toward your dream of becoming a lawyer. May God bless and watch over you as you embark on this journey.

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