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UF/IFAS Spotlights: Elaine Turner, Innovative CALS Dean

Elaine Turner has only overseen the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences since 2014, but she’s already seen monumental strides.
In that time CALS has achieved the highest enrollment the college has seen – more than 6,000 total students. In addition to this accomplishment, Turner is proud the college has developed a clear mission statement, vision, values, and goals; launched a new Ph.D. program in Youth Development and Family Sciences; created the Roche Teaching Scholars Program for the professional development of mid-career teaching faculty, and created the Field & Fork Campus Food Program in collaboration with other campus partners.

“What I always enjoyed most about teaching is building excitement and interest among students for a subject that I find fascinating,” Turner said. “Now as an administrator, I enjoy helping facilitate connections that can last a lifetime. I’m most proud to see our students, faculty and staff be successful in achieving their goals.”

In reflection on her time as Dean for CALS, Turner shared that one of the most impactful experiences she’s had was attending the World Food Prize celebration in Des Moines, Iowa.
“That experience led to the desire to create the Florida Youth Institute (FYI),” Turner said. Now in its fifth year, FYI is a summer program for rising high school juniors and seniors. The students spend a week on the UF campus where they engage with local leaders and experts on critical global challenges, participate in hands-on activities and explore ways to make a difference in Florida and around the world, particularly around issues of food insecurity.

But her penchant for the field began long before her current appointment.

In high school, Dr. Elaine Turner enjoyed the sciences, particularly chemistry. After exploring careers in this area of science, Turner discovered nutrition and food to be an intriguing field. A family friend arranged for her to take a tour of Kellogg’s, where she met two staff members who applied their nutrition backgrounds to product development and communications. This trip led her to enter college with the intention of becoming a registered dietitian for a food company.

After completing her undergraduate degree in dietetics and becoming a registered dietitian, Turner gained experience in clinical dietetics. This path led her to continue her education and pursue a master’s degree in nutrition. While in her graduate program, Turner secured a teaching assistantship with the dietetics program. It was through this experience that she discovered her passion for teaching.

“As a clinical dietitian, I might work intensely with a patient on their nutritional needs over a few days or maybe a week, and often not know what outcomes they experienced,” Turner said. “As a teacher and adviser, I got to know students over an extended period of time and could see the progress they made in learning and in achieving their goals.”

Turner began a non-tenure track position teaching nutrition at the university where her husband had taken a tenure-track position. Two years into her role, she began her Ph.D. to hopefully continue in a tenure-track faculty position. She gained such a position at UF with a teaching and Extension appointment. Following promotion to associate professor, Turner had the opportunity to participate in leadership development programs that led to her interest in joining the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) as associate dean. She now serves as dean of the college and is leading into the future.

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