UF/IFAS professor wins national communicator’s award

Kevin Folta

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kevin Folta, a professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has received the prestigious 2106 Borlaug CAST Communication award from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). Folta, chair of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, was lauded for being an outstanding teacher, mentor, researcher, and organizer.

“Folta focuses on clear, credible information when communicating science to non-scientific audiences,” said Kent Schescke, CAST executive vice president. “He does an excellent job in training scientists, farmers, physicians and students to perform public outreach in scientific or controversial topics.”

As a department chair, Folta provides statewide administrative leadership in UF’s teaching, research, and Extension fruit and vegetable programs. He coordinates and supports faculty efforts in more than 50 research programs at seven locations, ranging from citrus breeding and biotechnology to organic and sustainable production.

His laboratory examines how plants sense light signals and how different parts of the light spectrum can affect shelf life and high-value fruit and vegetable traits. Folta’s group also uses novel genomics approaches to identify genes related to flavor and disease resistance.

Communicating about science is a driving force for Folta. His blog (Illumination) covers recent events at the interface between society and science, and his weekly podcast (Talking Biotech) discusses genetic improvements in agriculture and medicine.

Folta’s educational background includes B.S./M.S. degrees from Northern Illinois University, a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin. His CV is filled with impressive publications, presentations, and awards—including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Award for undergraduate mentoring, the University of Florida Research Foundation Award and the UF Postdoctoral Mentoring Award.

With his abilities to engage diverse audiences about anything related to science, Folta is a sought-after speaker at workshops, conferences, podcasts, television shows, and radio broadcasts across the country and around the world. He also designed a communication workshop that teaches scientists how to properly engage a skeptical public. As one nominator stated, “He has not shied away from controversial subjects and has often been the number one target of the anti-science movement on behalf of all of us who support biotechnology.”

Folta devised a professional development program for postdoctoral researchers—assisting them in the fundamentals of grant writing, application preparation, interviewing and professional presentation. As one of his students said, “He taught me that my science could go beyond tables and figures to help someone understand the joy of discovery.”

An award presentation will occur at a breakfast event cohosted by DuPont and CAST at the World Food Prize Symposium on October 12 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Borlaug CAST Communication Award honors the legacies of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. Charles A. Black, the first president of CAST.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Source: Kevin Folta, 352-273-4812, kfolta@ufl.edu