UT has recently garnered significant national accolades, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Trailblazer award for retention and graduation rate gains and the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for outreach. These successes are due to the hard work of our innovative employees. Here’s a look at two College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources faculty members who are trailblazers in and out of the classroom.
Whether it’s her students, the gardeners who may benefit from her research, high school teachers, or her fellow faculty members, Bonnie Ownley likes to help people succeed.
A professor in entomology and plant pathology, Ownley has been teaching at UT since 1992. Her main area of research is developing organic pesticides to replace synthetic pesticides for reducing and preventing plant diseases.
Ownley runs biology and molecular biology workshops for high school teachers. These hands-on workshops give teachers skills and tricks to help their students understand the material they are learning.
Ownley remembers how one teacher from Hardin Valley Academy said working in the lab changed her life.
“She said, ‘Somehow I never got the message that it’s OK to fail. Sometimes an experiment doesn’t work, and the beauty of it is you can go back and try to figure out what went wrong. It changed the way I taught my students. I was always fearful of doing a demonstration in front of my students and it not working, but that’s not the way science is.'”
Another one of Ownley’s passions is increasing diversity at the university, particularly among the faculty. Ownley is one of ten faculty members in STRIDE—Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence.
STRIDE’s purpose is to revitalize the university’s efforts to hire and retain a diverse faculty.
“The primary literature shows that companies are more profitable if they have a diverse management group,” said Ownley. “Innovation comes from groups that are inclusive and have people from different arenas.”
STRIDE gives workshops and talks to various faculty groups to educate people and create awareness. The organization is primarily concerned with gender, but also ethnicity and race.
“I just want to see women succeed as they progress in their careers.”
Caula Beyl, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, commends Ownley for her role in educating women of all ages in the STEM disciplines.
“Dr. Ownley is a dynamic and productive researcher who is outstanding in her field, and she has been a valuable and exemplary role model for women in the science arena, both here on campus and nationally,” Beyl said. “Being taught by a successful female scientist has an indelible impact on girls who might be considering science as a career, because they can see evidence of the success of such a potential career and opportunity in action.”
Daniel Yoder has always loved to play with water.
As a kid he enjoyed going up to the mountain streams and making dams in the gutter outside his house. Now he continues to do what he loves while also making a positive impact on the environment.
Yoder is a professor in biosystems engineering and soil science. With a focus in soil and water engineering, Yoder’s main area of research is in stormwater management.
“This isn’t rocket science; it’s much more complicated than that,” he quipped.
Stormwater is rainwater that runs off streets, construction sites, buildings, and other areas and goes directly into storm drains and eventually into rivers and streams.
Because of an increasing number of buildings and parking lots, water runs more quickly through the environment rather than seeping into the soil and out to natural waterways. In running over those surfaces, the water picks up contaminants and delivers them to rivers and streams. To help alleviate this, practices like rain gardens and grassy swales are replacing standard curbs and gutters in an effort to create more natural hydrology, or water movement, through the environment.
“A more natural hydrology is better for the ground, better for the water because it gets cleaner, better for the aquatic ecosystem, and better for the people downstream because there’s less flooding and fewer dry periods,” said Yoder. “There are a lot of things it makes better.”
As an example, Yoder and a group of UT faculty work closely with the Tennessee Department of Environment Conservation to develop computer tools for engineers, architects, and designers working at construction sites to determine if their stormwater management systems will meet Tennessee requirements.
Yoder is also involved with a group of UT faculty known as the SMART Center, which stands for Stormwater Management, Assistance, Research, and Training. The center’s purpose is to provide a group of faculty with expertise to teach both students and practitioners and further research in stormwater management.
Yoder loves the complexity of his work.
“It’s as much art as it is science,” said Yoder. “You’re dealing with extremely complex systems. It’s not always easy to see what the interactions are and you don’t always know if you’ll get the same result. I like that everything is not clear-cut.”
Eric Drumm, head of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, commends Yoder for his finesse in conveying such complex subjects to his students.
“Dr. Yoder is an outstanding teacher, mentor, and advisor to the students in the Biosystems Engineering Program,” Drumm said. “He is known for clear, concise lectures, which begin with a conceptual model of the system or process and the related theory—all supported by practical examples.”
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)