UF CALS students earn annual awards

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fifteen UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students were recognized for their academic accomplishments and successes at the University of Florida during the annual CALS awards banquet, held April 18.

“It is an honor each year to celebrate our students for their service to their university, commitment to improving the wellbeing of their fellow students, advancement of the agriculture and life sciences industries, and accomplishments throughout their student experience,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “Our student award winners excel in their studies and involvement beyond the classroom, and they exemplify the college’s values of integrity, diversity, collaboration and service. We are proud to have them as students in CALS.”

The following students were recognized as some of the most exceptional in the college, demonstrating exemplary scholarship, leadership and dedication to UF and their community.

J. Clay Hurdle, an agricultural education and communication Ph.D. student from Valdosta, Ga., received the Jimmy G. Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence. Recipients of this award are outstanding graduate students who demonstrate high academic potential and achievement, leadership and community involvement and commitment to his or her chosen field of study. The award is named after a former CALS dean and former UF/IFAS senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. Hurdle’s research focuses on the leadership development of academic administrators in the land-grant system, to understand how to better prepare faculty who take on an administrative role.

Tyler Carney, a forest resources and conservation Ph.D. student from Melbourne, received the Jack L. Fry Award for Teaching Excellence by a Graduate Student. This award is named after the former CALS assistant dean for academic programs and recognizes excellence and efficacy in classroom or laboratory teaching in addition to high academic achievement. Carney has served in roles as both lead and co-instructor, teaching about 200 students per semester. He focuses of educating and empowering the next generation of learners by creating an interactive and engaging learning environment through discussions and group work activities.

Abigail Putnam, a Bartow native, is earning dual degrees agricultural education and communication and Spanish. She was presented with the outstanding senior award, the J. Wayne Reitz Medal of Excellence. This award, established in 1967, is awarded to an outstanding senior for distinguished scholarship and leadership. The award is named after J. Wayne Reitz, UF provost for agriculture from 1949 to 1955, and UF president from 1955 to 1967. Abigail Putnam completed internships with the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, UF/IFAS Government Affairs and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Asia and Europe, while also investing time in student programs and experiences like the CALS Leadership Institute, Florida Blue Key’s Keystone Florida program and UF Student Government.

Jieli Wegerif, a plant science student from Merritt Island, received the Larry J. Connor Medal of Excellence. The award, established in 1999 and named after a former CALS dean, recognizes a senior student who fosters diversity and has a distinguished academic record and a high degree of leadership. Wegerif has served as the president of MANRRS at UF, as well as the head grower for the Environmental Horticulture Club’s annual Gator poinsettia sale. They also have completed several research projects and taken part in service projects with the Changemakers’ Dialogue, challenging other students to create more accessible and inclusive spaces at UF and in the greater Gainesville community.

Elanie Mason, from Parrish, is majoring in agricultural education and communication. Elanie was awarded the Emelie L. Matthews Award of Excellence, given to an outstanding senior who entered UF as a transfer student. The award is named in honor of contributions made by Emelie Matthews, a former CALS employee of 35 years. Mason is currently serving as the president of Collegiate Farm Bureau and secretary of CALS Council, a governing group to support students and student organizations in the college. She is also part of the Alpha Tau Alpha agricultural education honorary, Agricultural Communicators and Leaders of Tomorrow, CALS Ambassadors and the CALS Leadership Institute.

Kaitlyn Tucker, a marine science student hailing from New Port Richey, received the CALS Alumni and Friends Leadership Award. This award is presented to a senior who has shown exemplary leadership, scholastic achievement and citizenship in departmental or college organizations and supports the agriculture, natural resources and life sciences industries. Tucker was selected for the University Scholars Program, where she conducted an individual research project on nitrogen and carbon dioxide emissions of fertilizers. She has also served as a CALS Ambassador, secretary of the Society for Conservation Biology and the president of Gator Comics.

Libby Putnam, an agricultural education and communication student from Bartow, was awarded with the E. T. York, Jr. Medal of Excellence. This annual award is presented to an outstanding junior who exhibits a distinguished academic record and demonstrates leadership success. Libby Putnam is currently the vice president of CALS Council and has been a member of UF Student Government and Florida Blue Key’s Keystone Florida program. She also was the first UF student to complete the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge, where she spent her summer working with Land O’Lakes partners, better understanding the differences across U.S. agriculture.

The following students were recognized as Top 10 Seniors in the college, in addition to Abigail Putnam, Wegerif, Mason and Tucker:

  • Marlen Barajas Espinosa, nutritional sciences
  • Melanie Cabrera, plant science
  • Madison Daigle, animal sciences
  • Debriana Love, wildlife ecology and conservation
  • Chloe Schwab, marine sciences
  • Madison Woodard, nutritional sciences

The following students were recognized as finalists for the E. T. York, Jr. Medal of Excellence, in addition to Libby Putnam:

  • Nicholas Blumenthal, nutritional sciences
  • Gabriella Kabakchieva, animal sciences


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.

cals.ufl.edu  |  @UFCALS



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Posted: April 19, 2023

Category: UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Award

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