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USDA-NIFA Honors UF/IFAS Faculty with Prestigious Teaching Awards

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two faculty members with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received Excellence in Teaching awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) on Nov. 11. The recipients were honored with the awards at the 2018 annual meeting of the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Monika Oli, a UF/IFAS lecturer in the microbiology and cell science department, was awarded one of two national Teaching and Student Engagement awards. Kimberly Moore, a UF/IFAS professor in the environmental horticulture department, received one of six regional awards. Each award winner received funds that will be used to further support their teaching programs within the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).

UF continues to hold the most total (national and regional combined) USDA-NIFA teaching awards than any other institution. The USDA-NIFA recognizes 10-12 faculty members each year nationwide through its teaching excellence awards. Along with Oli and Moore, 16 additional UF/IFAS faculty have received these awards since 1992.

Monika W. Oli, national teaching and student engagement award winner

From the day Oli arrived in the microbiology labs at UF, her goal has not changed: to revamp the laboratory experience. She has done so through numerous ways, such as including a smartphone application with lab materials and encouraging students to start their own research projects in the lab. Oli has also created a summer study abroad program called “Microbes Without Borders” as well as a professional development course for microbiology and cell science majors.

“Dr. Oli is truly re-writing the traditional “lab manual” for teaching microbiology laboratories by recognizing the critical skills needed by tomorrow’s professionals and the necessary pedagogy for engaging today’s students,” Turner said. “She encourages students to explore a diversity of career options and she expands students’ international awareness.”

Oli brings personalized mentorship and advising to her students, and even to “unofficial” advisees. She goes out of her way to find research and internship opportunities for her students and continues to keep in touch with them after they graduate. Her teaching philosophy includes fostering students’ curiosity, empowering students in an environment where they can learn from mistakes, integrating technology in the classroom, and enlisting active listening skills.

“Throughout my education, I have never had a teacher who supported my personal passions quite like Dr. Oli,” said one of Oli’s former students. “It was not until my undergraduate microbiology lab with Dr. Oli did I realize that my love of science and agriculture could come together. She was always willing to let me draw connections with my farming background to what we were doing in class. She did not just care about me as a student, not just as part of a job description, but as a whole person.”

Kimberly A. Moore, regional USDA-NIFA award winner

Enhancing access to horticulture education has been a primary teaching goal of Moore’s. As a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Moore has been at the forefront of providing multiple ways for students to learn. Some of these opportunities include: moving undergraduate and graduate courses to online platforms, strengthening the statewide undergraduate plant science curriculum, and creating an online certificate in environmental horticulture management.

“Dr. Moore’s leadership in the profession, as a scholar and mentor is exceptional,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “Her research program is seamlessly interfaced with her teaching program, and is addressing the critical global issue of water quality and availability for agricultural production. Students can’t be passive in her classes, and frankly don’t want to be as she entices them to dig deeper and create personal connections with the material.”

Moore’s core teaching philosophy uses enthusiasm, empathy, active learning, organization and preparation, and innovation. She incorporates all learning styles into her classes, and utilizes anonymous surveys mid-semester to evaluate her teaching. Assignments in Moore’s classes incorporate challenge questions that include real-world scenarios, application questions that are based in interpreting data, discussion thought questions, and hands-on experiences in their ‘home’ environment.

“She has mentored so many mid-to-late-career graduate students of relatively mature age; I was myself one of these students,” said one of Moore’s recent Ph.D. graduates. “It is another testament of her ability to connect with and guide non-traditional students. Her mentorship as my Ph.D. adviser has not been limited to my research, presentation and publishing. She has encouraged me to grow as a human being outside of academia.”

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

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