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USDA-NIFA Awards UF/IFAS Faculty with National Teaching Award for Food and Agricultural Sciences

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Nov. 4, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).

Robert McCleery, a professor in the wildlife ecology and conservation department, received one of six regional awards. McCleery received this prestigious award as part of the 133rd Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) Annual Meeting.

UF continues to hold more 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 McCleery’s honor, 19 additional UF/IFAS faculty have received these awards since 1992.

Dr. McCleery with black bears during a research project with FWC in 2017.

Dr. McCleery with black bear cubs during a research project with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation in 2017.

McCleery creates meaningful experiences for his students, fostering problem solving and critical thinking through his flipped classroom format with an emphasis on experiential learning.

Students in wildlife techniques, an advanced course offered to both undergraduate and graduate students, explore the techniques used by managers and researchers working with wildlife.

Senior wildlife and ecology conservation student, Kassidy King, remembers McCleery’s class as heavily influential to her academic career because of McCleery’s ability to make classes engaging and directly applicable to the world outside his classroom walls.

“He made our class very interactive and helped us apply the class content to real life wildlife management scenarios,” said King. “This class really engaged my critical thinking skills and has helped me apply other coursework to real life wildlife issues.”

McCleery also founded the Savanna Research Center in Eswatini, where students participate in a research program in Southern Africa. Students are encapsulated in one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems on the planet, directly engaging with important conservation issues in Southern Africa in his courses here.

During hands-on learning experiences in nature reserves in southern Africa, students work on research projects and interact with local managers and communities to stimulate a deeper passion and understanding for their surroundings.

Students appreciate McCleery tremendously, exemplifying why he is so deserving of this award.

King said, “Dr. McCleery is very passionate and dedicated to giving student the best classroom experience.”

McCleery has graduated an incredible total of 31 graduate students, with 17 masters and 14 doctoral students. Together with his students, he has written more than 120 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

McCleery has also been recognized by other organizations for his role as a mentor and instructor: North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Educator Award, the Outstanding Educator Award from the Florida Wildlife Society, and the University of Florida’s Dissertation/Mentoring Award, a prestigious award for faculty mentoring graduate students.

“The University of Florida and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences have benefitted in innumerable ways from Dr. McCleery’s talent and creative approaches to student research, student learning, advising and mentoring,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “I’m so proud to see him recognized for his efforts with this USDA-NIFA award.”

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