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UF/CALS Ph.D. student receives university-wide graduate teaching award

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –  Michael Vickers, a second-year entomology and nematology Ph.D. student in the University of Florida’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, was honored with a university-wide graduate student teaching award at a ceremony on May 5. Vickers received the 2017 Jack L. Fry Award for excellence in teaching by a graduate student at the CALS scholarship and leadership awards banquet in April.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for doing something that I truly love,” said Vickers. “Teaching students is one of the best experiences. When they get enthusiastic about the subject matter, it means the world to me.”

As a first-generation college student, Vickers did not have much guidance on how to navigate or apply to college. As a junior in high school he was placed in a class with students who were likely not to advance to higher education. Against these odds, Vickers earned his bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Illinois and his master’s degree from Clemson University. He was specifically recruited to UF for the teaching skills he developed at these universities.

“Mike seems to have made it his personal mission to reach out to marginalized students and make sure his classroom is a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone,” said Vickers’ supervisory committee chair and UF/IFAS research assistant scientist, Lisa Taylor.

Vickers considers himself fortunate to have had influential college mentors at Millikin. One of his first professors as an undergraduate was an entomologist, who Vickers said was one of the most exciting and knowledgeable teachers he’s ever had. She has continued to mentor Vickers after graduation.

“I take my past experiences and apply them as a way to reach students who may feel the same way I did,” Vickers said. “A lot of my past has affected how I interact with students. I know what it’s like to not really be sure what to pursue for a career.”

Often referred to by his students as the “best TA at UF,” Vickers is following in the footsteps of the teachers who had an immense impact on his chosen career path. With a wide variety of students in his classroom from the pre-medical track to tourism and management, Vickers makes it his goal to provide an enriching lab experience for all using the outdoors as his classroom.

Vickers’ most memorable moment came during the fall semester when a student was apprehensive to touch or be around bugs. After Vickers’ class, she went from having a fear of insects to appreciating the creatures and enjoying her outside surroundings without anxiety. This is one of many stories where Vickers has helped his students overcome their entomophobia.

“I think what gets me so excited to teach is when my students are able to connect concepts and look at them as a big picture of how the subject relates to them,” Vickers said. “I always try to bring in examples of how this affects them in the future and why it’s important to realize they will use this information for years to come.”

UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones


By: Dana Edwards, 352-392-1963,

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. Visit the CALS website at, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.