Gainesville, Fla. — Fourteen UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) alumni were recognized by the University of Florida Alumni Association at the 40 Gators Under 40 award recognition ceremony on Saturday, April 16.
Since 2006, the UF Alumni Association has annually recognized young alumni for their contributions to their industries and making a difference in the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, recognition ceremonies were postponed for the past two years. This year, honorees from 2020, 2021 and 2022 were all recognized. Of the 120 alumni, 14 are CALS alumni, with four of them on this year’s list.
“In the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, we prepare students to be society-ready graduates,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “The four alumni recognized this year—and the ten from the past two years—are prime examples of difference-makers who continue to make agriculture, natural resources and the life sciences better for us all.”
The following four CALS alumni were recognized in the 2022 40 Gators Under 40:
- Kenny Brighton, Head of Philanthropy, Chordoma Foundation BA 2007 Political Science; MA 2009 Political Science; MFYCS 2011 Family, Youth and Community Sciences
- Kiley Harper Lawson, Owner, NK Lago Farms, LLC. and CEO of The Ag Safety Lady consulting firm; MS 2009 Agricultural Education and Communication
- Jacob Vencil, Owner & Veterinarian, Palencia Pet Clinic BSA 2009 Animal Sciences; DVM 2013
- Cierra Ward, District Manager, Resource Management Service, LLC BSF 2004 Natural Resource Conservation; MFRC 2006 Forest Resources and Conservation
The CALS alumni selected in 2020 included Travis Arp, Meaghan Crowley, Steven Hall, Christina Criser Jackson, Paul O’Rourke, Sundeep Rawal and Priscilla Zelaya, and the CALS alumni among the 2021 honorees included Charles Barrett, Brian Estevez and Megan Walker.
“I will forever cherish my education at UF and the doors it has opened for me,” said Vencil. “I am so honored to be a 40 Gators Under 40 award recipient and hope I can inspire the next generation of veterinarians to chase their dreams.”
Kenny Brighton, head of philanthropy for the Chordoma Foundation, a global cancer research foundation dedicated to curing chordoma, said, “I’m truly humbled to receive this award and to be recognized alongside such a diverse and extraordinary group of leaders. I’m forever grateful to UF for providing me with the confidence and skills to pursue big, consequential goals.”
For some, the 40 Gators Under 40 award elicits special memories from time spent as a UF student.
Kiley Harper-Larsen, an agricultural education and communication graduate and Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources Class X alumna said, “Each time I step onto the campus, I am flooded with memories that bring a smile to my face. I am happy to share this honor with the friends, family, faculty, administrative and extension professionals who helped me learn the value of handshakes with eye contact, applying adult learning and instructional theories to almost every meeting and training situation, typing personalities for interesting engagement and interaction and the value of properly placed humor.”
The award also serves as recognition for industry leaders who consistently focus on generating the next solution to complex problems, spurring innovation in their field or making positive improvements for the industry.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the grind to the point where you don’t recognize your own professional accomplishments or how you’ve impacted your field,” said Cierra Ward, a double Gator with two degrees from the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences in CALS. “I’m very honored and grateful to have the opportunity to relish in those successes for a moment by earning the designation of one of the 40 Gators Under 40.”
To qualify for the 40 Gators Under 40, individuals must be an alumnus of the University of Florida, under the age of 40 by April of the year being recognized, have made a significant impact on their industry, and have professional and/or civic accomplishments. The University of Florida Alumni Association describes 40 Gators Under 40 honorees on their website as leaders in their profession and community who “possess an unmistakable tradition of achievement and a commitment to strengthening The Gator Nation®.”
View the full list of 40 Gators Under 40 honorees at https://connect.ufalumni.ufl.edu/events/40gatorsunder40.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution.