Page 1

Lifescapes Summer 2005

Texas A&M Agriculture

T E A C H I N G •R E S E A R C H •E X T E N S I O N

Producing Healthier Cattle through Genetics Preparing Rio Grande Valley Students for Science Careers Fighting Insectborne College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Diseases in the Military Texas Cooperative Extension The Texas A&M University System


Fr o m t h e

Vice Chancellor My first few months on the job as vice chancellor have been both exciting and challenging. We have made great progress and numerous changes in a short time, beginning with the leadership team. Now working with me in leading the teaching, research and extension programs are Russell Cross, deputy vice chancellor; Gene Nelson, executive associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Mark Hussey, associate director of programs with the

(ISSN 1539-1817) is published three times a year by the Texas A&M Agriculture Program. Elsa A. Murano Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences Prairie View A&M University Tarleton State University Texas A&M University Texas A&M University–Commerce Texas A&M University–Kingsville West Texas A&M University Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Texas Cooperative Extension Texas Forest Service Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory Published by

Agricultural Communications Ellen Ritter, Head

Experiment Station; Ed Smith, director of Texas

Dave Mayes, Associate Head

Cooperative Extension; and Bill Dugas, our new

Helen White, Editor

interim associate director for operations with

Ann Shurgin, Editor

the Experiment Station (see page 29). Our first and most critical task as a leadership team was to ensure adequate state funding from the Texas Legislature. As a result of the vital support provided by legislators and citizens during the regular session, we were pleased to receive funding to continue the important work of our agencies and make some needed investment in research and extension facilities around the state. Over these months we also engaged our faculty in completing planning processes to focus on goals and priorities. The College’s “Teaching Roadmap,” the Experiment

Jon Mondrik, Art Director Send comments, questions or subscription requests to Lifescapes Editor, Agricultural Communications, Texas A&M University, 2112 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-2112. Or call (979) 845-2211, fax (979) 458-0450 or e-mail Visit our Web site at for more information about our teaching, research, and extension programs.

Station’s “Science Roadmap” and Extension’s “Extension Roadmap” give us a clear set of directions as we embark upon the future. You will find a list of the Roadmap goals and a discussion of the leadership team’s philosophy and aspirations for Texas A&M Agriculture on pages 10–13 of this issue. From Rhodes and Marshall Scholars, to cattle genome research and a special Master Gardener program, the stories in these pages demonstrate the enthusiasm and dedication I encounter every day among our students, faculty and staff. We are proud to be the A in Texas A&M, and we are intent on focusing our energies on the teaching,

All programs and related activities of the Texas A&M Agriculture Program are open to all persons, regardless of race, color, age, sex, handicap, religion or national origin. Copyright 2005 by the Texas A&M Agriculture Program. Written material may be reprinted provided no endorsement of a commercial product is stated or implied. Please credit Lifescapes, the Texas A&M Agriculture Program.

research and extension missions that are our heritage as a land-grant university. I look forward to continuing to share our story with you and to providing updates on our progress toward the goals of the Teaching, Science and Extension Roadmaps in the months and years ahead.

Elsa A. Murano Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences Director, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station

ON THE COVER Spring-born calves graze with their embryo transfer recipient dams in a pasture at the McGregor Research Center (see story on page 2). Photo: Jerrold Summerlin

16,500 copies printed


is not printed at state expense. MKT-3475

C o n t e n t s Vo l . 5 N o . 2 , Summer 2005

Corralling the Cattle Genome 2 Researchers seek traits that make for healthy, more productive animals


Planting Dreams 6 Master Gardeners partner with Habitat for Humanity to beautify homes

Roadmap to Success 10 New Texas A&M Agriculture leaders talk about priorities for teaching, research, extension

Of Scientific Mind 14 Texas A&M Rhodes Scholar and Marshall Scholar expand tradition of academic excellence


Grand Champion Teacher 18 Dr. Chris Skaggs motivates students to excel in the classroom and show ring

Growing Citrus and Scientists 22 Lab internships nurture Rio Grande Valley students

Empowering Teens 26 Extension programs develop confidence and leadership skills through service


Bug Battalion 30 Military entomologists combat insectborne diseases

A Taste for Giving 33 The Kruse family and Blue Bell make life sweeter for others

D e p a r t m e n t s Frontiers of Discovery 17 Trailblazers 21 State Gems 29 Giving Matters 36


Life scapes

Corralling the Cattle Genome Researchers seek traits that make for healthy, more productive animals by Edith Chenault

Photos: Jerrold Summerlin


he young cow warily watches the pickup approach through the pasture. She maneuvers herself between the pickup and the calf, not willing to leave her offspring and the green grass, but not ready to go back to her grazing. The cow and calf represent two types of genetics research under way in Texas A&M Agriculture: reproductive efficiency and feed efficiency. The cow is one of about 20 born in the spring of 2003 that have had their first calf this year at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station’s McGregor Research Center. They are half Angus and half Nellore, two completely different breeds— some say completely different species—of cattle. Angus cattle (Bos taurus) originated in Scotland, and Nellore (Bos indicus) in India. The Angus and Nellore cattle were chosen because they have many divergent character-

istics, says Dr. Clare Gill, assistant professor with Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science. “We expect them to have genetic differences at many of the positions within the genome,” Gill says. For example, Angus cattle are generally calm, whereas Nellore cattle are more nervous. Nellore, on the other hand, tend to do well on lower-quality forage, while Angus tend to require higher-energy grain rations. Angus mature earlier, yet Nellore are considered more efficient in terms of weaned calf production. By comparing the research results against the cattle genome recently sequenced by Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M researchers can identify and understand the functioning of genes that influence economically important traits in cattle, such as fertility; disease resistance; good disposition; effi-

OPPOSITE: Dr. Clare Gill uses a state-of-the-art ABI 3100 Sequencer to evaluate DNA sequencing results in research involving Nellore-Angus crossbred cattle. ABOVE: Nellore cattle, originating in India, offer genetic differences researchers seek in reproductive and feed-efficiency studies.

Summer 2005


cient use of feed; and the production of tender, high-quality beef. What researchers are trying to do, explains Dr. Andy Herring, associate professor with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas Cooperative Extension, is give the cattle industry “tools to make more precise decisions” regarding their herds. “This means you might be able to have a higher potential profit margin,” Herring says. “That allows you to make better breeding decisions and better marketing decisions.” The cattle industry is the No. 1 agricultural market in Texas. “We have all aspects of the beef industry within the state, from cows to processing plants and everything in between,” says Herring. Sires and dams at McGregor were carefully selected and bred using natural breeding, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer to form “families.” Scientists will study eight calf crops, from the spring of 2003 to fall 2006. Gill says cattle make excellent candidates for genetic study because the industry emphasizes healthy animals. “In other animal models, researchers are always selecting for the disease state,” she says. For example, researchers studying diabetes select rats that are genetically predisposed to diabetes. She says studies of the traits that make for healthy cattle could contribute


to studying the genetics of health in humans. “Why not study what makes a human healthy?” she asks. In the McGregor studies, heifers will be observed to see whether they conceive, whether they carry a calf to full term and wean that calf, and how long they remain productive. “That will help us understand why some otherwise productive-looking cows don’t conceive or raise a calf to weaning,” Gill says. “We can find genes for that, if it has a genetic component.” Researchers in the feed efficiency study document the typical amount of weight gained for every pound of feed consumed. Fifty-eight steers from the spring and fall 2003 calf crops were put through feeding trials and then slaughtered (at approximately 18 months) at Texas A&M’s Rosenthal Meat Center. Fat thickness and U.S. Department of Agriculture quality and yield grades (how much meat is acquired from a carcass) are being measured. Tissue has been collected from the heart, kidney, liver, spleen, neck muscle, endocrine glands and the reproductive tract to measure gene expression, Gill says. Observation of animals’ behavior helps researchers study disposition, or temperament, which “has been shown to be correlated with average daily [weight] gain and to affect meat quality,” says Gill. It also determines ease of han-

dling when animals are vaccinated or rounded up for sale. With six regions of the genome that may affect disposition thus far identified, Gill says, “We are already seeing differences [in disposition] between families and within families.” One task, now that the bovine genome has been sequenced, is to figure out exactly where the genes are, says Dr. Christine Elsik, assistant professor with Texas A&M and the Experiment Station. She is compiling a computer database that will compare cattle DNA to human, mouse and rat genomes, which have also been mapped. In addition, Elsik is working on oligonucleotide microarrays for cows and pigs. These are short pieces of DNA that are “spotted” onto lab slides and then used in gene function experiments. “Not all [genes] are turned on at the same time in tissue,” Elsik says. When a gene is turned on, or “expressed,” it makes a protein, the biochemical pathway that affects physiology. Her research will help scientists better understand the functions of genes by learning how and when they are expressed. Dr. Dave Adelson, associate professor with Texas A&M and the Experiment LEFT TO RIGHT: Healthy animals such as this two-yearold Angus-Nellore cow and spring calves born at the McGregor Research Center make excellent candidates for genetic study.

Life scapes

Station, is seeking a gene for marbling, or the accumulation of intramuscular fat, a desirable quality in beef. In a study known as the Angleton Project, researchers produced families of Angus, Brahman and Nellore cattle from 1990 to 1996 at the Experiment Station in Angleton. They identified a region of a chromosome that contributes heavily to marbling. But that region is quite large, he says, containing about 1,000 genes. Using molecular tools, his lab will “triage” the region to identify single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. These are variations that occur in DNA at a frequency of one in about every 1,000 bases. He believes SNP markers can be used to sample cattle in a feedlot for genetic predisposition to marbling. Having this information would “help feedlots manage their resources more efficiently and improve their bottom line,” Adelson says. “If you can predict which animal is not going to ‘grade’ [achieve USDA grading standards] on an expensive diet, LEFT: Students Livia Frazar (left) and Sara Howard use a pH meter to document the changes in pH of beef carcasses over a 24- to 36-hour period after harvest. The ideal pH is 5.6, which indicates the highest-quality color and tenderness of beef. RIGHT: Degree of marbling helps determine the grade of beef. A USDA grading card is used to measure marbling of an Angus-Nellore carcass.

Summer 2005

then you won’t keep it on feed as long,” he says. To test his theory, weight and carcass data from the Angleton steers is compared to existing genetic data from the genome sequence to help identify those markers. Adelson and graduate students also collect all information about SNPs from research material into one computer database. “From all of this work, we will know specifically, for any piece of the genome, what is there [in the research] and how it is organized,” Adelson says. Some of their research is funded through appropriations from a $1 million grant from the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation awarded to Dr. James Womack, director of the Center for Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Womack’s research focuses on disease, and the sequenced bovine genome allows researchers to take a new approach, he says. “We’ll be focusing on understanding the specific genes in cattle that show a resistance or susceptibility to potentially damaging pathogens to the cattle industry,” Womack says. His team will investigate the SNPs in chromosomes as well. “It looks as though variants occur once in about 700 letters,” says Womack. “We’re beginning to see that

big blocks of chromosomes are inherited as units and have remained conserved.” That means that variants in the chromosomes may be passed on from individual to individual, he says. Texas A&M and other researchers will use the data from the cattle genome to study herds that have been exposed to such diseases as Johne’s disease (a contagious, chronic and usually fatal infection that affects primarily the small intestine of ruminants) to determine whether there are genetic disruptions. Identifying animals with those variants would allow cattle producers to select for animals that are not susceptible to the disease. “We’re hoping to be able to identify the genes for resistance and do selective breeding to increase the number of animals that are resistant to diseases such as shipping fever and brucellosis,” he says. “All of these diseases take a heavy toll on cattle. Identifying genes is the first step in developing therapeutics and vaccines for animals.” All of the information gathered will be posted to databases and shared with other researchers around the world, Womack says. “We really have strong bovine genome projects between the two colleges,” he adds. “There’s strong collaboration between the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Agriculture Program.”




Photos: Jerrold Summerlin

Master Gardeners partner with Habitat for Humanity to beautify homes

M Texas Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, the largest in the nation, offers advanced education and training in horticulture and home gardening in 110 Texas counties. After a minimum of 50 hours of training, each participant earns the Master Gardener designation by volunteering for at least 50 hours of community service within one year following their training. As of 2004, there were more than 5,550 Master Gardeners in Texas.

by Lorri Jones

Muriel Craft answered the doorbell in her new home one Thursday morning and was surprised to find 15 people gathered in her front yard. They had brought shovels, sod and seedlings, and within a few hours they transformed hardened clay into a beautifully manicured landscape. “I think it is just wonderful,” Craft says. “Plants! I love them and I cherish them, but I can’t even keep an ivy.” Craft had just moved into the home she helped build through Habitat for Humanity, and her visitors were volunteers from Texas Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program in Montgomery County. Habitat for Humanity is the worldwide program that helps low-income people acquire a home by contributing—along with Habitat volunteers—to the home’s construction. The Master Gardeners in Montgomery and six other counties partner with Habitat to help OPPOSITE: Volunteers from the Montgomery County Morning Star 4-H Club landscape a home built by Habitat for Humanity in Conroe. ABOVE: Master Gardeners Sharon Corzine, Cindi Harper and Carol Weitzel choose landscape plants for Muriel Craft’s home.


new homeowners use landscaping to enhance and maintain the value of their property. Each Master Gardener group contributes uniquely to its local Habitat for Humanity chapter, including designing and installing garden layouts, providing education on how landscapes increase home values, and teaching basic landscape maintenance.

for the new homeowners, and our most assertive members seek out local businesses for donations of plants, materials and services.” Habitat provides the volunteers with the construction schedule each year and assigns specific houses that need landscaping. Before installing the landscape, volunteers meet with the homeowner to determine specific needs, such as for playground areas, and preferences regarding maintenance level and flowering plants. The homeowner is assigned a “mentor,” who follows up each season to offer advice on such matters as replanting flower beds and winterizing shrubs. “We give them a personalized booklet that has pictures of the plants in their landscape and how to take care of them, along with pictures of the —Molly Halloran, Master Gardener volunteer homeowners and Master Gardeners taken during the workdays and dedication,” Halloran says. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners have partnered Barbara Smith, of Montgomery County Habitat for Human with the local Habitat program since 2000. ity, coordinates with the Master Gardeners. She explains that “It’s a big job that requires a lot of volunteer hours and a lot new homeowners are required to help build their own as well of disparate talents,” says Molly Halloran, an attorney and the CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Muriel Craft, with granddaughter Kaylon Castille (right) and Master Gardener volunteer who coordinates the landscaping niece Ashjah McCloud, says the landscape completes their new home. Volunteers projects. “Some volunteers design and install the landscapes, placing sod at new Habitat homes are Morning Star 4-H Club member Carolyn while others coordinate the volunteers, services and supplies. Craft (in Conroe) and students from Baylor University, The University of Texas Our more creative Master Gardeners make personalized gifts

“It’s a big job that requires a lot of volunteer hours and a lot of disparate talents.”

and McLennan Community College (in Waco).


Life scapes

as other homes. They also take home-maintenance classes for interior repairs. Before the Master Gardeners became involved, however, Habitat volunteers were limited in what they could provide as far as yard maintenance. “Thanks to the Master Gardeners, Habitat families now learn how to create and maintain a simple but beautiful landscape for their new home,” Smith says. “As a result, the yards continue to look attractive, and Habitat homes and families are considered an asset to the neighborhood.” Tom LeRoy, Extension agent for horticulture in Montgomery County, explains that a lawn and landscaping can add thousands of dollars to the value of a home. “One of our big hopes is that the maintenance will be kept up by the homeowner; that’s why we put so much emphasis on the follow-up,” he says. In Tarrant County, the Master Gardeners provide training for new Habitat homeowners. According to Dorothy Woodson, Extension agent for horticulture, the Master Gardeners make it possible for them to attend regularly scheduled communitywide workshops, but their workshop fee is covered because they are new Habitat homeowners. Texas Master Gardeners in other counties, such as Hood and LEFT TO RIGHT: McLennan County Master Gardeners Judy Tye (with student volunteers) and Mark Clark coordinate plant selection and installation at a Habitat home in Waco.

Summer 2005

McLennan, have a relationship with Habitat similar to that of Montgomery County. Volunteers in these three counties have provided landscaping for about 80 new Habitat homeowners in the past three years. Judy Tye, Master Gardener in McLennan County, coordinates projects with Habitat for Humanity there. She and her team choose plants at a garden center or grow them in the Extension greenhouse and then schedule workdays with Baylor University students, who volunteer to do the planting. “We visit the house while it is being built and recommend what to plant,” she says. “For example, one house that we worked on this spring was in the shade of a large pecan tree. So several of us personally donated some mondo grass, a [shade-tolerant] ground cover, instead of grasses that need regular sunlight.” In San Patricio and Aransas counties, Master Gardeners cultivate flowering plants and shrubs donated to Habitat and installed by the builders to help add color to the landscapes. Doug Welsh, professor and Extension horticulturist who leads the statewide Master Gardener program, says, “Habitat impacts specific families and their quality of life. By assisting with the landscape, Master Gardeners bring expertise and education to the new homeowner and family.” Web site:


Roadmap to


New Texas A&M Agriculture leaders talk about priorities for teaching, research, extension by Dave Mayes and Ellen Ritter


Life scapes


r. Elsa Murano has been on the job since January as vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences and director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. In an interview with Lifescapes, she talks about the “roadmaps” being developed for Texas A&M Agriculture, with new goals in teaching, research and extension. Joining in the discussion are members of her new leadership team: Dr. Mark Hussey, associate director of the Experiment Station; Dr. Ed Smith, director of Texas Cooperative Extension; Dr. Gene Nelson, executive associate dean; and Dr. Russell Cross, deputy vice chancellor of agriculture. (Dr. Bill Dugas joined the team after this interview. See “State Gems,” page 29.)

vide the teaching that will develop future leaders, the research that will help Texas agriculture remain competitive and meet consumer needs, and the outreach that translates research into useful knowledge for all our constituents. Relevance, in that we’ve got to keep up with the times, and that means doing things in a new way, an efficient way, so that we don’t waste resources. We’ve got to be in tune with the needs of our stakeholders, whether it’s industry, consumers or the parents of a prospective student. Results, the last R: We are very much results-driven. If you don’t attain results, you are not accountable to people. If you are not accountable, you can never hope to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Q. : What new directions will your administration bring to Texas A&M Agriculture?

Smith: The land-grant system has served society well. But if we are going to optimize its benefits, we have to work as a team. I think the chemistry around the table is such that we understand the value of the teaching, research and extension components, and we will always be vigilant to hold the land-grant system up as our top priority.

Photos: Jim Lyle

Murano: If I had to put it in a nutshell, it’s the three Rs—not reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic, but roots, relevance and results. Roots, in the sense that we need to return to our roots as a land-grant university now more than ever, with our mission of teaching, research and extension. As traditional production-oriented agriculture is changing to a more consumer-driven agriculture, we must proLeft to right: Dr. Mark Hussey, Dr. Russell Cross, Dr. Elsa Murano, Dr. Ed Smith and Dr. Gene Nelson.

Summer 2005

Nelson: How we work together reinforces all of our programs. Because we have strong programs in research and extension, it reinforces what we do in the classroom. We take the latest results from our research and build them into the content of our courses. Our Texas Cooperative Extension programs provide

great examples and ensure that we are dealing with relevant topics in the classroom. We achieve some important synergies by having these three functions within one administrative structure. Hussey: Having this partnership really helps focus our research programs. We conduct a range of research, from fundamental to the more applied, but at the heart is solving the problems faced by the citizens of Texas—whether they be problems in production agriculture, natural resources, or the quality of food we put on the table. Cross: Our goals are fairly simple. We’re the largest university agriculture program in the country, and we want to continue to be the best at what we do. We want to be absolutely certain that we are meeting the needs of our stakeholders. That means we need to communicate with them and with our faculty. One of the themes of this administration is open and transparent communication. We have to “walk the talk.” Murano: We are engaging the faculty directly as well. On the plans for these three roadmaps, for example, we’ve had tremendous responses from the faculty, and we continue to seek their input through the Vice Chancellor’s Feedback Forum. As a follow-up to the roadmap goals, we are seeking to develop performance measures to track our results, so we are asking faculty for help on


that. It’s important to have the faculty engaged, and they are engaged. They tell me what a great tool the Feedback Forum is, and they appreciate being asked. Smith: We’ve got excellent employees at all levels of our organization. Our expectations are high, and our people are professionals who deliver. But we have to trust that we can be transparent, that we can define their roles and responsibilities and then give them the authority to carry out their respective missions without our interference. And transparency in that expectation is very important. Cross: We will not be micromanagers. As Ed said, we have very good people. We just need to allow them to do their jobs and hold them accountable. Smith: The accountability is key. We are developing a managerial culture where people have the freedom to carry out their roles and responsibilities, the authority to do that, and all we ask is that they meet performance standards and that we can measure those. Cross: We are asking the faculty, What can we do to eliminate bureaucracy? We need to make it as easy as possible for people to do their jobs. We are getting some pretty good ideas from all fronts. Our job is to facilitate. Roadmaps are pointing the direction; our job is to help generate resources, both state and federal, and our job is to make the process as transparent and efficient as possible. Murano: Six of our department-head positions on campus are open. That


presents a tremendous opportunity for us to seek out candidates who will adhere to this philosophy of accountability, transparency and empowerment of people, with a vision for the changing needs of agriculture. We also have a tremendous opportunity with the leadership team sitting around this table. It’s been a joy for me to get to know them. We have a very open relationship, so we can disagree and that’s fine. We come from diverse professional backgrounds. Two are ag economists; we have a soil and crop scientist, a meat scientist, and I am a microbiologist. I think that adds to our strength as a team. And yes, we all have our BlackBerry handheld wireless devices to facilitate communication. I’ve received and sent messages pretty late at night. We’ve had a lot of travel time together these last three or four months, meeting people around the state, and there’s nothing like a road trip to help you bond. Cross: We are trying to energize our communications with our stakeholders, and one approach to that is with our College of Agriculture Development Council. Dr. Murano met with them this spring, and there’s some tremendous enthusiasm in that group. Smith: They’ve embraced this entire land-grant mission. They’ve always supported the dean’s efforts in the college; now they’re going to take into consideration extension and research. Murano: We have seen a great deal of excitement around the state, in every city we’ve traveled to, about this theme of returning to our roots as a land-grant

institution with excellence in teaching, research and extension. “We are the A in Texas A&M” has become almost a rallying cry for our stakeholders and even for our students. It’s energizing to see that people cannot wait to see what we are going to do, and also want to help us get it done. Nelson: With Dr. Murano as our leader we have someone who is not hesitant to speak up for the organization. She asks the hard questions and is willing to explore new ways for getting things done. That’s what is exciting about being a part of this team.

Q. : What can you tell us about the college and agency roadmaps? Nelson: One of the things we want to preserve as a part of our roadmap for the college is the emphasis on advising our students. We have a reputation for giving personal attention to our students. We recognize them by their names, not as numbers. Also, one of the really exciting things for our college is that we represent a diversity of disciplines—all the way from business and social sciences to fundamental science. We are looking to combine these areas of expertise in different ways to respond to new opportunities for career paths for our students. We’re also going to stay in touch with those employers in the new industries to make sure we are providing relevant training. One of our biggest challenges is in advertising the opportunities we have for students in this college. Many times they don’t find us until later in their careers at Texas A&M, and we need to reach them earli-

Life scapes

er. Another important consideration is increasing the diversity of our student body. Again, we need to be aggressive and proactive; we need to look at a total systems approach for recruiting students to achieve higher levels of diversity. Smith: In Extension, we have a simple mission: to provide quality and relevant education programs to the people of this state. This roadmap is a manifestation of an issue-identification process that begins at the county level. We are proud of that grassroots origin. If we are doing our job in following our basic mission and meeting the needs of the people of Texas, then by definition we are going to be successful. Extension’s four main program areas—agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H and youth development, and community economic development—are our bases, our competitive advantage. We are going to maintain those efforts. I’d like to make it clear to our stakeholders and employees that we are not abandoning our strengths. We’re going at it, and we’re going at it hard. Murano: One of the things that excite me about Extension is what you are doing with information technology—providing accessibility to all the expertise that Extension has. The stereotype in people’s minds that Extension is only someone in an office in a county doesn’t begin to tell the story. Extension is in the 21st century with all of these technologies. Smith: We recognize that there are over 20 million people in the state, and you’ve got to be able to reach them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are going to focus a lot of our attention on targeting our audiences and using every educational technique we can. Hussey: As you look at the roadmap from the research perspective, we are focusing not just on agricultural competitiveness and the development of new technologies for our producers, but also on research that helps our producers contribute to cleaner water; a better ecosystem; and a healthier environment in producing safer, quality food. The faculty and staff here touch the lives of every citizen of the state every single day. Our scientists have been involved in developing the cotton for the clothes

Summer 2005

we wear, the wheat for the bread we eat. The water we drink is cleaner because of the research and outreach work we have done around the state. We talk about going from genes to jeans as it relates to our molecular activities on basic fiber production. Our scientists are discovering how they can help contribute to healthier foods. What the research roadmap is allowing us to do is make sure we stay grounded and relevant to the citizens of Texas—our traditional stakeholders—as well as everyone else. Cross: We also have one of the top three or four international agriculture programs in this country, and our goal is to be No. 1. We are in more than 40 countries now, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and that involvement will continue to grow.

Charting Future Directions for the College and the Agencies With input from our stakeholders, Agriculture Program administrators and faculty have crafted “roadmaps” for teaching, research, and extension. These roadmaps give direction to the destinations—or goals—we want to reach. The goals from each roadmap are listed below. For the objectives related to each goal, and the detailed strategic plans which support them, go to

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Offer contemporary academic programs that are relevant and effective in developing students’ lifelong-learning skills.

Murano: It is a shrinking world, and universities cannot afford to avoid international issues, especially in agriculture. To be proactive and engaged as fully as we are in so many important countries is part of the land-grant mission, to be sure.

Improve teaching effectiveness and learning excellence.

Smith: I think our biggest challenge in Extension—and probably across the board—is how to put into place a communications system that tells people what we are doing and how that impacts their lives. In a state this big, we can do great work. The people who are affected see that, but the rest of the population does not. Our priority areas will be those with a substantial impact, where we can turn our results into positives for the people of Texas, demonstrating that the tax dollars that go into our programs are warranted.

Texas Agricultural Experiment Station

Q. : Projecting into the future, Dr. Murano, what would you hope might be your legacy? Murano: The outcome I would love to have is national recognition that our teaching, research and extension are second to none. That recognition comes only when we can show that the lives of Texans—our stakeholders, students, parents and all the rest—have been improved because of our programs. There is no better outcome than that.

Attract and retain bright, capable students representing a diversity of backgrounds and experiences.

Sustain healthy ecosystems and conserve our natural resources. Enhance competitiveness and prosperity of urban and rural agricultural industries. Improve public health and well-being.

Texas Cooperative Extension Ensure a sustainable, profitable and competitive food and fiber system in Texas. Enhance natural resource conservation and management. Build local capacity for economic development in Texas communities. Improve the health, nutrition, safety and economic security of Texas families. Prepare Texas youth to be productive, positive and equipped with life skills for the future. Expand access to Extension education and knowledge resources.


Of Scientific Mind


Life scapes

T Texas A&M Rhodes Scholar and Marshall Scholar expand tradition of academic excellence

“I do believe biotechnology will play an increasing role in agriculture in the future, although I do not foresee any sudden biotechnology revolution.” —Nick Anthis, Rhodes Scholar

Summer 2005

Jim Lyle

by Blair Fannin

wo May graduates from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, both with ambitions to become scientists working in biotechnology, have been selected among the nation’s best and brightest and have been given the academic opportunity of a lifetime. Nick Anthis, a biochemistry graduate from Fort Worth, is Texas A&M’s first Rhodes Scholar in 25 years. Josh Siepel, a genetics graduate from Carlsbad, N.M., was named a Marshall Scholar in 2004. “I knew [they were special] when they came in as freshmen,” says Dr. Martyn Gunn, associate head of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. “They are two really fine gentlemen.” But the competition is fierce for such prestigious scholarships. Gunn says he and department faculty members “have made a concerted effort to push students” in applying for these scholarships. “We’ve worked with the students, even to the extent of having mock interviews, having them go through several drafts of essays,” he says. “This national recognition shows there are really exceptional students at Texas A&M.” “I am privileged to teach such talented students,” says Dr. Gary Kunkel, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics. “Nick and Josh are deserving recipients of these outstanding honors, but they are only two from a large cadre of exceptional scholars who major in biochemistry or genetics here at Texas A&M.” The Rhodes Scholarships support study for up to three years at Oxford University in England. Anthis was chosen one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars from a pool of 904 applicants. The applicants, nominated by universities across the country, go through a rigorous screening and interview process before state and regional committees. While at Oxford, Anthis will pursue a doctoral-level research degree in biochemistry and structural biology. He says he’s specifically interested in the structure of proteins involved in cell migration and adhesion, which are important for many developmental functions in the body, but also play key roles in cancer metastasis. “I do believe biotechnology will play an increasing role in agriculture in the future, although I do not foresee any sudden biotechnology revolution,” he says. “Rather, transgenic crops will slowly become more prevalent as their repertoire of uses increases and as public acceptance grows.” Anthis says political activism has come naturally to him and requires the same characteristics needed to be a successful scientist—diligence, skepticism, a desire to know the truth, and the ability to ask the right questions. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Anthis joined the Aggie Democrats after becoming concerned that “people refused to question their government, even on a college cam-


Photo provided by Josh Siepel

The scholarship allows students who are potential leaders and decision makers in their own country to gain an understanding and appreciation of British values and culture. Siepel was selected from among 150 applicants. In his scholarship application, Siepel emphasized the need to foster agricultural biotechnology by enabling a “regulatory system that safeguards the environment and food supply but also allows for innovation.” He says, “Creation of a system like this will require a humanist with one foot firmly rooted in science and the other in policy. I certainly never intended to find myself in this position—but it’s a role that I wish to play.” Siepel says agricultural biotechnology “has enormous potential” to revolutionize agriculture, but it remains controversial, especially in Europe. “Living in the United Kingdom, which has in general had strongly negative public response against the technology, has helped me to understand the cultural background behind the European concerns,” he says. “I am increasingly convinced that, in order for agricultural biotechnology to reach its potential, it will require a prudent and strong, but flexible, regulatory scheme that supports growers and encourages innovation, but also addresses concerns about the environment and public health. Constructing such a policy will be an enormous challenge, but it can have significant benefits.” When Siepel isn’t studying, he enjoys reading, writing and following college sports, particularly football and baseball. While in England, he has enjoyed exploring the Essex countryside, traveling in Europe and following the British music scene. His primary extracurricular activity at Texas A&M has been serving with the L. T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness, an endowed student organipus.” He later served as president and zation. He chaired the group for two worked as a canvasser in the successyears. During that time, the number of ful re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. sponsored international travel programs Chet Edwards. doubled, and innovative programs on But first and foremost, says Anthis, service and community health were crehe is a scientist. Scientists are often ated in the Dominican Republic and perceived as introverts. “While that Honduras. may be true for some,” he comments, Overall, both scholars agree that agri“no person exists in a vacuum; we all cultural biotechnology, particularly the have a responsibility to be active paruse of genetically modified organisms ticipants in society.” —Josh Siepel, Marshall Scholar (GMOs), is good for agriculture if used Marshall Scholar Josh Siepel is properly. studying science and technology policy “My major problem with GMOs is the related to agricultural biotechnology at potential for misuse by the major agrithe University of Sussex in Brighton, cultural corporations,” Anthis says. “I hope that academics stay about 50 miles south of London, on England’s southeast coast. involved in the development of GMOs to help counteract this.” His study began in October, and he is working on both masBoth say they are grateful for having the opportunity to ter’s and doctoral degrees. Siepel’s scholarship is for three study abroad. years. “I’m looking forward to learning about things in a variety of The Marshall Scholarships help finance study for a degree in areas from my peers [at Oxford],” Anthis says. the United Kingdom. At least 40 scholars are selected each Siepel expresses it this way: “I was absolutely overwhelmed year, at the graduate or undergraduate level, to pursue a by excitement at having such an amazing opportunity.” degree at a U.K. institution in any field.

“Creation of . . . a regulatory system that safeguards the environment and food supply but also allows for innovation . . . will require a humanist with one foot firmly rooted in science and the other in policy. ”


Life scapes

Fr o n t i e r s

Researchers Develop Stress-Resistant Corns Scientists working at The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock are developing heat- and drought-resistant food and field corns that produce good yields and also resist insects and aflatoxin. According to Texas Agricultural Experiment Station corn breeder Wenwei Xu, who holds a joint appointment with Texas Tech University, researchers will transfer genes responsible for these traits from tropical corn germplasm into temperate corn lines bred to succeed under West Texas’ harsh growing conditions. This requires hand pollination in the field and greenhouse, followed by field trials to determine success. Only the best plants are then selected as breeding candidates for multiple-stress-resistant corns. Important traits for coping with stress include strong root systems and “hydraulic lift,” or the plant’s ability to lift moisture from its deep roots up to roots just beneath the soil surface. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is also participating in the research, which is jointly funded by federal, regional, state and industry organizations. According to Xu, the research could lead to “hardier, higher-value commercial corns for producers” and may open the door for production of valueadded organic corn.

A Colorful Palette of Nutrients Cages of carrots planted around their own honeybee hives to avoid pollination with other varieties? This is just part of

Summer 2005

o f

D i s c o v e r y

the strategy used by Texas A&M Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center researchers led by former director Dr. Leonard Pike. They hope to breed carrots that are packed with lutein, carotene, anthocyanin and lycopene, natural compounds that ward off disease and improve health. The developer of such vegetable and fruit varieties as the 1015 onion and the BetaSweet carrot, Pike uses knowledge gained about color and phytochemical content to pinpoint varieties that contain especially healthful compounds. “My goal is to get one carrot that has them all,” he says. Pike is also interested in bringing variety to U.S. vegetable markets. While in Russia during the late 1980s on a seedcollecting mission for the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, he was impressed by the lemon yellow color of Russian carrots and brought back some seed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s world seed collection. He recently harvested a crop from his own planting trial, and a Texas processing company is gearing up to package the yellow carrots and other unusual vegetable varieties over the next two years.

Morphing Protein Could Help Medical Research A Texas A&M University graduate student, Min Xu, and senior research scientist Doug Struck, working with Texas Agricultural Experiment Station biochemist Dr. Ryland Young and other researchers, found something completely unexpected as they were studying “Lyz,” a lysozyme, or common protein that degrades the cell wall covering bacterial cells. Lyz is made by a virus growing inside the bacterial cell and reproduces inside the cell. The researchers found that it presents a part of the protein as a signal, or tether attached to the cell membrane. Once outside the bacterial cell, Lyz completely changes its shape, withdrawing the tether from the membrane and turning into a jawlike molecule that “chews up” the cell wall, releasing its progeny. Understanding the way Lyz works could help medical researchers design drugs to switch pro-

teins on or off at the cellular level, possibly leading to treatment for such difficult-to-cure diseases as cancer and HIV. Science magazine reported on the A&M discovery in a January issue.

Xeriscape Plants: Which Are Most Water-Frugal?

Scientists with The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Uvalde have determined which of the popular plants used in Texas xeriscaping—landscaping with native, perennial, low-maintenance plants—are the most frugal with water while maintaining beautiful flowers and foliage. Dr. Keith Owens, professor of range ecology, and Rose Cooper, research technician, studied the top 12 xeriscape shrubs and trees, measuring the amount of water disappearing daily through transpiration, or loss of water through the leaves into the atmosphere. Among the eight shrub species tested, esperanza, autumn sage and lantana needed the most water to thrive, whereas woolly butterfly bush (pictured above), dwarf yaupon holly and purple sage needed the least. Among the four tree species tested, crape myrtle (a nonnative species widely used in landscapeing) needed the most water, using more than twice as much as wild olive, evergreen sumac and mountain laurel. “All of these plants are excellent xeriscape plant materials,” says Cooper. “But when push comes to shove waterwise, our study showed that woolly butterfly bush will be the last plant standing.” A 3-gallon container of the plant used only about 4 ounces, or a teacupful, of water per day. Web site:


Grand Champion Teacher Dr. Chris Skaggs motivates students to excel in the classroom and show ring by Edith Chenault


Jerrold Summerlin

herever he is, people take note. And it’s not just because Dr. Chris Skaggs stands at 6 feet 4 inches. “He does all the little things right,” says Brandon Callis, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in May. “He’s very thorough. He has a passion for what he does.” Skaggs has taught animal science at Texas A&M University for 13 years, and his passion shows. An associate professor and adviser to countless students, he talks little about anything but his students and his love of teaching. Skaggs’ mentoring “I have the opportunity to see students come helps students gain in as fresh, timid and insecure about what the confidence, whether future holds,” Skaggs says. “As they come in judging techniques through the advising cycle, they become more or academics. sure of themselves.” Jake Franke, of College Station, who is working on his master’s degree in animal science and coached the livestock judging team in 2004, calls Skaggs “selfless” and says he’s “truly one who cares for the students.” Aaron Cooper, of Post, who plans to graduate in August with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, says Skaggs goes out of his way to help his students, sometimes even helping them find a place to live when they arrive in College Station. The students watch how Skaggs conducts himself and model their behavior after his. Franke says, “We’re learning how to conduct ourselves for the real world—with integrity and respect.” Since 1992, Skaggs has taught the introductory animal science lab during the fall and spring semesters and a fall semester class in basic cattle production for students who are not majoring in animal science. In the spring, he co-teaches an animal growth and development course. In the fall, he also teaches the subject that probably brings him and Texas A&M the most attention: livestock judging. Forty or 50

Jim Lyle


Summer 2005


students annually take the class that has developed four national collegiate championship teams in the last six years. Skaggs teaches the fundamentals of livestock evaluation in terms of an animal’s physical characteristics and performance data. Students become members of the judging team the next year. Skaggs works closely with the graduate student coaches—successful members of previous Texas A&M livestock judging teams—to coordinate travel and practice schedules. Besides the national championships, 14 Texas A&M students have won spots on the All-American livestock judging team in the five years that teams have been selected. No other university in the country has had as many. Only 10 students are named to the team each year, and to qualify they have to excel in livestock judging, extracurricular activities, leadership, scholastic achievement and community service. “We are fortunate to have a large number of highly motivated students who are willing to put forth the time and effort in practice to compete successfully on the national level,” says Skaggs. “Because we have so many students competing for the five places on the team, they push each other to become better. The graduate student coaches want to do well because they have been members of previous teams. They know what is expected of them and the time commitment involved in training teams. Texas A&M’s tradition in livestock judging [excellence] motivates them as well.” Judging animals strengthens students’ evaluation and decision-making skills, Skaggs says. Not only do they have to rank animals from best to worst according to physical appearance, but students also study production data and determine whether an animal would fit into a rancher’s breeding or meat production program. As holder of the San Antonio Livestock Exposition chair, Skaggs spends two weeks at that show each winter helping run the livestock judging contest, which draws 1,000 4-H and FFA members, and the steer show, which draws some 1,500 exhibitors. ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Skaggs coaches students in an animal judging lab. The Texas A&M Livestock Judging Team has brought home the national championship trophy three years in a row. Skaggs serves as superintendent of the steer show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.


With the help of the livestock show staff, student interns and volunteers, Skaggs coordinates the stall assignments for all of the steers, weighs and classifies the animals according to breed, assists the judge in the ring, and generates the sale order for the auction. He also is the superintendent of the steer show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which this year drew more than 1,700 exhibitors, and superintendent of the collegiate livestock judging contest. This year, 50 teams and 350 contestants from all over the U.S. competed. Next year, Skaggs will work with the State Fair of Texas in Dallas to begin a 4-H and FFA judging contest. Aggie Fest, another judging contest he helps coordinate at Texas A&M, draws 400 to 500 4-H and FFA members annually. Skaggs considers his time at the stock shows to be well spent, because he gets acquainted with prospective students and their families. “I meet students on their turf,” he says. “I increase my contact base.” Meanwhile, the contests held on campus are great ways to showcase Texas A&M to prospective students. Skaggs’ love for teaching came naturally—he comes from a family of teachers. His father, Bob, taught vocational agriculture, and his mother, Gaylene, taught home economics in Pampa schools. His uncle taught animal science at Kansas State University. His siblings have earned advanced degrees: Randy Skaggs is a veterinarian in Perryton, and sister Bobbie Renalud has a doctorate and is a school principal in Denver. Skaggs originally planned to study agricultural education when he entered Texas Tech University. “I also had a natural curiosity about animal science,” he says, having shown animals at fairs since he was 9. Skaggs says he wasn’t sure how well he would do academically, but when he found out he could “make the grades,” he decided to pursue advanced degrees. He earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in agricultural education and another in animal science, from Texas Tech in 1982. He earned advanced degrees, both in animal science, from Kansas State in 1984 and Iowa State in 1992. After graduating, he applied for positions at Oklahoma State

Life scapes

Photos: Jerrold Summerlin and Jim Lyle

Tr a i l b l a z e r s

University and Texas A&M. He turned down the Oklahoma position before even hearing whether he had the assistant professor position at Texas A&M, because the A&M position best fit his career goals of teaching, advising and outreach to the beef industry. Besides teaching, Skaggs also manages the Beef Center at the O. D. Butler Animal Science Complex at Texas A&M. The center annually hosts 2,000 students for labs, and, since being built a decade ago, has had visitors from more than 50 countries. Skaggs notes that the Butler facilities are important teaching venues because fewer animal science students are coming from rural areas, where they might have had firsthand experience with livestock. Most students come from cities, where the largest animal they’ve encountered is the family dog. “They have limited large animal experience, but they are certainly capable of learning,” he says. The students appreciate the hands-on learning they receive at the Beef Center. “I like for them to have a unique experience,” Skaggs says. “It may be a ‘Wow!’ factor for them. They can go home and tell their roommate about what they did. And even the students who have a strong production background gain a lot, because we approach [the subject] from such a strong scientific standpoint.” Paul Maulsby, a graduate student who teaches and helps manage the Beef Center, says Skaggs’ lessons are well thought out. He knows his audience and can explain things in their terms, whether it’s a group of scientists or 12-year-old 4-H and FFA members. “The students are stimulated to be all they can be,” Maulsby says. “He genuinely wants to see his students be successful in what they choose to do.” Skaggs doesn’t brag much, but when he does, it’s about his wife, Misty, and 9-month-old daughter, Miranda. Skaggs does admit that since they are sports fans, he hopes Miranda will say “Aggie Football” before the fall season. “I enjoy what I do,” Skaggs says. “I enjoy working with the students and the public. I think I have the ideal position.”

Summer 2005

Dr. Robert E. Whitson, former deputy director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, took the helm as dean and director of agricultural sciences and natural resources at Oklahoma State University on June 1. Whitson had served as deputy director of the Experiment Station since October 2003, after heading Texas A&M University’s Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management for 10 years. As deputy director of the Experiment Station, Whitson handled the day-to-day operations of the state’s major agricultural research agency, which supports the work of some 450 scientists at more than 20 research sites statewide. “Dr. Whitson has provided tremendous leadership to our agriculture program and will be sorely missed,” says Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences. “The position with Oklahoma State is a wonderful opportunity for him and is a testament to his abilities as a great leader.” Dr. Juan Vega, associate dean of the college of engineering and architecture at Monterrey Tech in Monterrey, Mexico, was recently honored by Texas A&M’s Agriculture Program for helping build relations between the two universities. An internship program has sent 10 Mexican students to The Texas A&M University System’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco to receive training in biotechnology, floriculture, plant pathology and other research areas. Another project brought Vega and Texas A&M University–Kingsville a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop training programs for Mexican students and farmers in irrigation water conservation. Monterrey Tech is a private, not-for-profit educational program with 100,000 students on 27 campuses throughout Mexico. The Monterrey campus is the system’s flagship university. Dr. Jeff Savell, professor in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, received the National Meat Association’s E. Floyd Forbes Award to recognize his career-long service to the association and to the meat and poultry industries. Savell is the E. M. “Manny” Rosenthal Chair holder and has been on the Department of Animal Science faculty since 1977. The NMA is a nonprofit organization that has served the meat industry since 1946. Dr. Thomas E. Spencer, Texas A&M University assistant professor of animal science, has been named recipient of the Young Investigator Award in life and social sciences, given by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. The award, which includes a $5,000 honorarium, recognizes promising researchers early in their career. Spencer developed the “uterine gland knockout ewe,” an animal model used for studying the role of uterine endometrial glands in the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy. He initiated a research program to discover hormonal, cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating uterine gland development. His research is expected to advance the knowledge of uterine function and abnormalities in women and in domestic animals.



Citrus and Scientists

Lab internships nurture Rio Grande Valley students by Rod Santa Ana III


Life scapes

Photos: Jerrold Summerlin


hen Dr. Eliezer Louzada walks through the citrus orchards behind his office in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, he keeps a keen eye out for any unusual fruit on the trees that could be developed into a new commercial variety. Louzada has already found some new, very deep red grapefruit that may eventually be released as new varieties. Until now, finding and inducing mutations have been the only ways to develop new citrus varieties. Since coming to the Texas A&M University–Kingsville Citrus Center in Weslaco from The University of Florida in 1997, Louzada has been reaching down to the cellular level of citrus in an attempt to create new varieties. Using biotechnology and genetic engineering, the native Brazilian and his lab technicians are work-

Summer 2005

ing to create varieties with improved cold tolerance and resistance to devastating insects and diseases. But the work is tedious and expensive, and it takes skilled lab technicians working diligently for years alongside scientists to maintain progress. A lack of local skilled labor led Louzada to do with students what he does with citrus: Build on potential to help create a new and improved product. He created a research internship program that has morphed into a graduatedegree avenue for local, mostly Hispanic, college students. His program has been so successful that educators across the country call on him for advice. Louzada is quick to share his formula. “When I started working here, I would post job openings for lab technicians and get applicants from all over the world, but none from the local area,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it.” The area’s demographic and economic statistics suggest why. Three of the four counties that make up the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas are the poorest in the nation. They are predominantly

Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley has the nation’s most heavily Hispanic population, at almost 88 percent. The poverty rate is 37.6 percent, more than twice that of Texas and three times that of the U.S. as a whole. Forty-six percent of Texas Hispanics have no high school diploma, compared to 15 percent of blacks and 10 percent of Anglos. By the year 2030, one in four Americans will be Hispanic. Serious concerns about the lack of education in this population must be addressed.

OPPOSITE: Adriana Robbins’ academic journey has taken her from teaching school in Mexico to working toward her doctorate in molecular and environmental plant science at Texas A&M in College Station. ABOVE: Sandra Ozuna (left) and Cassandra Bennett say the internship program has opened career opportunities they never anticipated.


Hispanic, with low education levels and high poverty rates. Louzada says, “If nothing is done to educate the fastest-growing minority, especially in agricultural science, where only 2.5 percent are Hispanic, all segments of the economy will suffer. Now is the time to invest in the education of Hispanics, for everybody’s sake.” Louzada has begun the investment process. Although the Citrus Center was increasing the number of graduate students in its programs, he says, the benefits were being extended mostly to foreign students, not the local population. Louzada and Dr. Allison Abell of The University of Texas–Brownsville submitted grant proposals in 2000 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first grant funded a three-year effort to recruit and train 16 undergraduate student interns from UT–Brownsville to work in Louzada’s lab. A second USDA grant, in 2001, was designed to help those students enter graduate science studies. When UT–Brownsville was no longer able to participate, Louzada teamed with Dr. Michael Persans, a professor of molecular biology at UT–Pan American in Edinburg. The two landed a third grant from USDA to pay internships for 26 undergrad students from UT–Pan American. The grants have made it possible for students who never dreamed they could one day become scientists to go on to master’s and doctoral studies and careers in science. “That’s what we do here, develop new potential,” Louzada explains. “The students are inquisitive, they ask challenging questions, and they bring an energy to this lab that can’t be described. Students who come here from situations where they thought they had no future suddenly blossom and realize they can be scientists.” Regardless of their lack of experience, the students are carefully trained to perform hands-on laboratory duties in a goal-oriented scientific research project, a rare opportunity for undergraduates. Most students work in Louzada’s lab performing gene isolation and gene expression analysis. Persans’ students work on the metabolism of herbicides, investigating the role of flavonoids. Most students were so apprehensive


Arlene Pacheco is the first in her family to attend college. She is finishing her master’s degree and has been accepted into an A&M doctoral program in molecular and environmental science.

to be working in such an expensive and high-tech laboratory, Louzada recalls, that some were actually trembling on their first day on the job. One such student was Adriana Robbins, a native of Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, who came to the U.S. 10 years ago, speaking only Spanish. She was a schoolteacher in Mexico and, after learning English at a community college in Houston, planned to teach in Brownsville. Her world took a sudden turn after she nervously walked into Louzada’s lab four years ago. Today, she is working on her doctorate in molecular and environmental plant science at Texas A&M University in College Station. Robbins was taking a genetics class at UT–Brownsville when Abell told her about Louzada’s internship program at the Citrus Center. “I didn’t think I could get in because I had no experience, but two weeks after I applied, I was in,” Robbins says. “I was very happy, but I was so scared to

even push a button on one of those expensive lab machines.” Robbins got over her fears and excelled in the biotech lab. After earning her master’s, she couldn’t resist Louzada’s encouragement to pursue her doctorate. “He convinced me that I had the potential to get my Ph.D.,” Robbins remembers. “He told me, ‘I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t think you could do it, but you can. And we need Hispanics working on their doctorates in College Station.’ “Now I’m in my first year of my Ph.D. studies, something I never dreamed I would be doing, and it all started with that internship in Weslaco,” Robbins says. Louzada insists getting Hispanics into graduate science studies is not so difficult. “To say Hispanic students don’t have potential is wrong,” he says. “Hispanics have lots of potential. They just need an opportunity and a mentor. Many of

Life scapes

“I figured I’d get a job locally, never dreaming I’d be working on my master’s, until I got an internship with Dr. Louzada. I found out what it was like to work in a lab, which is really exciting and fascinating.” —Arlene Pacheco, Texas A&M–Kingsville

these kids are the first in their family to get a college degree. So with a mentor and the opportunity, they grab it and go.” Arlene Pacheco is a perfect example. The 26-year-old Brownsville native, whose parents were born in Mexico, is the first in her family to go to college. She loved science but admittedly had no idea what to do with her biology degree from UT–Brownsville. “I figured I’d get a job locally, never dreaming I’d be working on my master’s, until I got an internship with Dr. Louzada,” she says. “I found out what it was like to work in a lab, which is really exciting and fascinating.” She is finishing work on her master’s degree at A&M–Kingsville and has been accepted to work on her doctorate in molecular and environmental science in College Station. Like Arlene, Sandra Ozuna is the first in her family to go to college. Although drawn to science since elementary school, the 21-year-old biology major was unaware the field offered so many career opportunities. “What we learn here in Dr. Louzada’s lab, the molecular biology techniques, can be applied to either leaf tissue or human tissue,” she says. “So I’m thinking I’d like to do medical research and study diseases.” Marla Anaya, 22, graduated from UT–Pan American with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Once she became an intern, she was glad to learn Louzada preferred students with little or no lab experience—and no bad habits to break. “I was apprehensive when I started, but Dr. Louzada makes it real easy to learn and work here,” Anaya confides. “He says it’s OK to mess up—that we’re here to learn. Nobody gets angry for anything that goes wrong. The point of the program is to learn—observe and fix

Summer 2005

your mistakes in order to improve.” Anaya wants to work on her master’s and apply for medical school. “In Dr. Louzada’s lab, a master’s student can take up an ongoing project as a thesis, maybe insert a gene we’re already working on into another plant, or determine at what temperature a gene kicks in. The possibilities excite me,” she says. Not all of Louzada’s students are Hispanic, nor are they all first-generation college students. Cassandra Bennett, 22, was fascinated by working in Louzada’s lab on the expression of cold-resistant citrus genes. “I had no idea I’d like this kind of work or be good at it,” she says. “But now I know that science will always be a big part of my future.” Bennett will soon begin working on her master’s degree at Texas A&M– Kingsville. Sonia del Rio, 20, first became fascinated with science when as a toddler she watched her mother, an organic chemistry teacher in Mexico, demonstrate to her students the chemistry involved in making cheese. “I vividly remember the cheese being made, the salty taste and the use of the cheesecloth,” she recalls. “I’ve been interested in chemistry ever since.” Del Rio knows she wants to work on her master’s and conduct research in her career, but she is unsure whether to pursue studies in plant or human research. “Dr. Louzada’s lab has opened up so much opportunity for me,” she says. “But the real advantage is working oneon-one with mentors.” Gabriel Murray, 21, is a pre-pharmacy major at UT–Pan American, but after working in Louzada’s lab he is considering other options. “I’m really fascinated by how DNA and RNA work,” he says.

“The work here is very hands-on, which helps me in the classes I’m taking. It’s like putting two and two together and understanding how and why chemical compounds do what they do.” Carlos Silvestre Ortiz’s parents saw their son’s science potential and moved their family from the interior of Mexico to South Texas specifically to provide him with a better education. On his second try, Ortiz landed an internship at the Citrus Center. He wants to go to medical school but not to treat patients. “I’d like to just do medical research instead,” he says. “After working here, I know that’s what I want to do. The learning environment here is incredible. When one of my procedures went wrong, Dr. Louzada dropped what he was doing, kindly told me what I had probably done wrong, and without notes or a book recited a string of steps I would have to do to correct my procedure. He really is amazing.” It’s a slow process, building homegrown scientists, one small group at a time, semester by semester. But despite limitations of space, time and funds, Louzada says he plans to continue building on his student successes. To date, 11 have been channeled into a master’s degree program, two are in their doctoral studies, and one of Louzada’s master’s graduates is now working as a lab coordinator at UT– Brownsville. “It would be wonderful to develop an entire center devoted to training students of South Texas in science,” Louzada says. “Based on my experience, I know that, despite what anybody says, there’s no lack of enthusiasm or intelligence here in the Valley. It’s a matter of offering opportunity and mentors. The students will do the rest.”



Empowering Extension programs develop confidence and leadership skills through service by Lorri Jones

Lorri Jones Jerrold Summerlin

Summer 2005

Jerrold Summerlin


ot all student leaders are among a school’s class officers, honor students or athletic team captains. In fact, many students have leadership potential—but sometimes that potential just needs a push in the right direction. For Luke Shipley, who just completed his freshman year at Texas A&M University–Galveston, that push came during seventh grade at Alief Middle School. He was selected for Young Leaders in Action (YLA), offered through Texas Cooperative Extension’s 4-H and Youth Development Program in Harris County. Shipley says he was shy, withdrawn and unsure of himself because of a learning disability. “Back then, I think I just kept away from other students because I was afraid,” Shipley says. “They [his YLA classmates] gave me the ‘most outstanding improvement’ recognition at the end of the year because I learned how to speak up.” The changes Shipley made that year are typical, says Marlo Neuhaus, Alief Middle School YLA teacher. “Throughout the year, I see students become more involved citizens,” says Neuhaus. “Their interest in helping others greatly increases. “At the beginning of the [last] school year, I had a student who was in tears when I asked her to present in front of a group of peoOPPOSITE: Martha ple,” she continues. “Throughout the year we worked on her Tesfalul radiates self-confidence, and by the end of the year she had become confidence at the our class spokesperson. The change in her was astonishing.” Harris County Neuhaus says the YLA program has benefited the whole Leadership Week school, particularly in the area of behavior. camp. “The YLA students set the precedents for appropriate behavior,” she says. “They are the role models. They encourage others to follow school rules and make good [life] choices.” YLA, for seventh- and eighth-graders, is one of the leadership programs Extension in Harris County offers under its 10-year-old Leadership Center. Other programs are Advancing Leadership and Service, for ninth-graders, and Empowering Teen Leaders and Community Teen Leaders, both for high school juniors. Extension leadership courses are offered on nine middle school and five high school campuses in Alief and Houston Independent School Districts. Each summer, the Leadership Center also presents Leadership Week, an intensive leadership training camp for high school juniors. Approximately 300 students participate in the programs each year. Shipley attended the leadership camp and graduated from three other leadership programs available to him in Alief, his hometown. He says the Advancing Leadership and Service program further developed his leadership skills during ninth grade by incorporating leadership methods in inspirational author Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. “Empowering Teen Leaders is where we really had to come up with our own service project,” Shipley says. “It was kind of hard for me at first.”

TOP: Luke Shipley credits his involvement in leadership programs as the catalyst for his coordinating several community service projects. BOTTOM: Haylee Mulkey, an Alief Middle School seventh-grader, pitched in to help paint over a graffiti-covered building on National Youth Service Day in Harris County. The “Brush Out Graffiti” effort was part of a countywide initiative to encourage young people to “take back their neighborhoods.”



Lorri Jones

TOP: Young people develop leadership skills by volunteering as tutors and mentors through Young Leaders in Action. LEFT: Austin High School student Luz Eguia and other Leadership Week campers make cuddly hats for patients at M. D. Anderson Hospital’s Children’s Cancer Center in Houston. Jerrold Summerlin

He ultimately joined forces with the school district’s security deputy, Johnny Tate, who was organizing the cleanup of a historic cemetery in Alief. “A lot of people thought it was a pet cemetery, or they didn’t even realize it was there,” Shipley says. Shipley recruited some of his friends and his mother, Debbie, and some of her co-workers to help. This task force picked up trash and removed or repaired broken headstones. They tore down a wooden fence that surrounded the cemetery and found a local business to donate a new one. Shipley says he has used the skills he learned through the leadership programs in many areas of his life. He and his mother started Boy Scout Troop 911 in Alief, and he is still an assistant scoutmaster for that troop. “When ETL students or other 4-H youth involved in a community service project go through the process of assessing needs, gathering support, and seeing the project through to completion, they develop leadership skills needed to contribute to their community now and as adults,” says Tad Pfeifer, who joined Harris County in May as Extension agent for urban youth development. Pfeifer came from Galveston County, where he had served as Extension agent for 4-H for the past four years. While the overall 4-H program incorporates leadership development as part of its activities, the Leadership Center programs focus on the characteristics of great leaders and emphasize community service. “The Leadership Center exists to create such leaders,” says Chris Hanson, a graduate of YLA and Empowering Teen Leaders, a junior at Texas Southern University, and a volunteer Leadership Center board member. “It does not exist to create students who excel in community service, creativity or ‘hours,’ but those who excel and achieve new goals in humanity.” Extension’s Leaders for Character curriculum is the baseline for all the other programs. Although each program addresses different leadership characteristics, all emphasize public speaking, coalition building and community service. Participants also take field trips, are mentored by adult leaders and benefit from community leaders who serve as guest speakers. “In addition to coming into the classroom to speak, leaders in the communities where these programs are offered often support the students in their projects by donating resources such as paint for a graffiti cleanup or fencing for the cemetery that Luke worked on,” says Hurley Miller, Extension director for Harris County. The leadership programs are taught in selected public schools, and students are referred by a school counselor or teacher. In addition, Empowering Teen Leaders meets one evening a week and is drawn from students from each of Harris County’s 25 state representative districts. All students who complete the Community Teen Leaders or Empowering Teen Leaders programs meet the 250-hour requirement for the Presidential Volunteer Service Gold Award, the highest community service recognition given to young people in the United States. Since the first programs in 1993, Extension records show that Empowering Teen Leaders and Community Teen Leaders have graduated 1,204 high school juniors. Those young leaders

recruited and managed an additional 11,912 volunteers for community service efforts. These programs and the middle school programs have contributed 88,484 hours of community service and benefited the lives of more than 323,000 Harris County residents. Sandra Farris, Extension agent for urban youth development in Harris County, managed the programs and volunteer board until her retirement last August. She says one of the strongest components of the leadership programs’ success is the support they receive from the community and from an active board. “The students are referred by counselors or teachers for a number of reasons,” Farris says. “Some may be having trouble in school, or they’re just left out of the loop and haven’t gotten involved in school. Through leadership development and giving to their community, they learn about themselves, and they understand they are making changes in their lives that will impact the future.”

Life scapes

S t a t e

‘Mutabilis’ Rose Named EarthKind Rose of the Year The ‘Mutabilis’ Rose, first introduced in 1894, is this year’s EarthKind Rose of the Year. The title, awarded by Texas Cooperative Extension's EarthKind team, comes only after years of field research during which roses are grown and evaluated under very trying conditions. Not fertilized, pruned or treated with pesticides, and grown with greatly reduced irrigation, the winning roses are so easy to grow that even novice gardeners can enjoy success with these outstanding cultivars. Also called the Butterfly Rose, ‘Mutabilis’ is an old China rose that produces blooms from spring through fall, right through summer's heat. Though not immune to pest problems, its tolerance is so great that pesticides are almost never needed. Each blossom “mutates,” or goes through three distinct color changes— opening peach gold, changing to pink and finally turning a deep crimson. Reaching a symmetrical 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide at maturity, the landscape shrub has a growth habit and shape that are attractive even without pruning.

New PBS Series Features Valley Agriculture The first installment of America’s Heartland, a new Public Broadcasting System television series, will feature agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley. The show's producers were attracted to South Texas by the variety of crops grown there and by the sugarcane research being done by Dr. Erik Mirkov at The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and

Summer 2005

Extension Center at Weslaco. Mirkov, an Experiment Station molecular biologist, has developed a transgenic (genetically modified) sugarcane variety that produces high-value proteins for the production of medical drugs and surgical equipment. The cane-derived proteins will be a safer, more plentiful and costeffective alternative to animal-derived proteins now in use. In addition to sugarcane, the show videotaped cattle ranching at the King Ranch near Kingsville and at the Yturria Ranch near Brownsville, sweet onion and aloe vera production in the Weslaco area, and spinach production in the Crystal City and Uvalde areas. Check this fall for station listings and air dates for the series.

Dugas Begins New Position with TAES Dr. William A. “Bill” Dugas has been named interim associate director for operations with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. He is one of two associate directors for the agency; Dr. Mark Hussey oversees the agency’s programs. Dugas will provide administrative staff support for all aspects of TAES research programs, which include a large component at Texas A&M University in College Station and at 13 research and Extension centers throughout the state.

National Youth Wool Judging Contest Winners Announced Kimble County’s senior 4-H wool judges were named the top 4-H wool judging team in the nation during the 45th Annual National 4-H Wool Judging Contest held in Sonora in June. Team members are Colt Brandenberger, Carl Whitworth, Callie Whitworth and Bill Allen. Brandenberger's father, Dale Brandenberger, Texas Cooperative Extension agent for Kimble County,

G e m s

coached the winning team. The contest was held in conjunction with the 68th annual Sonora Wool and Mohair Show and the fifth annual National FFA Wool Judging Contest.

Smith Selected as Texas Cooperative Extension Director In May, The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents named Dr. Ed Smith director of Texas Cooperative Extension. Smith has been interim director since July 2004. He started his 30year career with Extension in 1975 as an assistant county agent in Gaines County and has served the agency as an Extension agent, a grain marketing and policy specialist, and associate director for agriculture and natural resource sciences. As an Extension economist, Smith has specialized in farm policy and its impact on U.S. agriculture. Extension, a 91-year-old state agency within The Texas A&M University System, offers practical, how-to education programs based on university research in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H and youth, and community development. The agency conducts local informational and educational programming in all 254 Texas counties.

Bee Quarantine Discontinued Because Africanized honeybees are in more than 60 percent of the state (159 of 254 counties), the Texas Apiary Inspection Service will no longer quarantine counties. Paul Jackson, state inspector with the service, says the bee identification lab will still analyze samples for beekeepers to verify that hives have not been invaded and for the public to identify the bees and confirm counties where they are detected. Information will continue to be updated at


Bug BATTALION Military entomologists combat insectborne diseases


t’s 11 o’clock at night and 95°. The black of evening skies has softened against lights from open street markets, military bases and mosques. The air is heavy with the smells of animals, overripe vegetables and the human throng. Livestock pull carts through the streets amid sounds of traffic jams and occasional gunfire. U.S. Army Capt. Tom Janousek and his two-person crew are in the third hour of their five-hour shift and are already soaked with sweat from the heat and tension. They are in full gear, with bulletproof vests, helmets, and weapons loaded and ready to fire, safeties off. Fifty-caliber machine guns are mounted in the front and back of their Humvee. Tanks roll before and behind them for extra protection. Janousek is on a search-and-destroy mission in Iraq, but his quarry has six legs. His team is there to provide soldiers with protection from a different type of threat: insectborne disease. On


Jerrold Summerlin

by Edith Chenault

the trailer behind the Humvee is a fogging device used for knocking back mosquitoes. Janousek, who earned a doctorate in entomology at Texas A&M University in 1991, recently completed a year’s tour of duty with the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq as commander of the 14th Medical Detachment Preventive Medicine Unit. He and about 100 other military entomologists fight to prevent disease, which typically takes a higher toll on soldiers than combat. In the Vietnam War, for example, 40 percent more soldiers suffered from some type of disease—whether transmitted by food, water, air or insects—than received battle injuries. During the war in Afghanistan, battle injuries exceeded disease cases for the first time in American combat history. By the time Janousek and his unit returned to the U.S., the number of battle injuries and disease cases in Iraq was evenly split.

“In our area, Baghdad, we had the lowest disease rate in all of the [battle] theater,” he says. “Iraqi water was very contaminated, not only with sewage but with a lot of industrial metals and materials,” says Janousek. “Our role was also to make sure soldiers had good drinking water.” That’s an important commodity in a country where temperatures can rise above 100°. Janousek’s unit endured 104 consecutive days of this extreme heat. Janousek and his team were also responsible for ensuring clean air and safe food for the military in the Baghdad area. Units like his are relatively new in the armed services; they were formed after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The unit’s mosquito-fogging missions to military bases were, to say the least, the most dangerous part of its job. “Driving between the base camps was tough,” Janousek says. “We wanted our convoy to stay intact.” Vehicles stalled

Life scapes

in traffic jams are sitting ducks for mortar rounds or gunfire. “We tried to stay as close [to the tanks] as possible,” he continues. “We sometimes had to yell and scream at [other drivers] to get out of the way. That’s the way you get ambushed—if you stop and they take advantage of it.” Communication between vehicles was carried out with hand signals. The convoy moved as rapidly as it could between bases, sometimes driving at 40 to 50 mph down side streets and 60 mph down main roads, avoiding major intersections. Another entomologist, Air Force Capt. Keith Blount, served on a team in Iraq investigating leishmaniasis for four months during 2003. Leishmaniasis is a disease carried by parasitic sand flies, which contract it from rodents. It causes lesions and subsequent scarring of the skin. Blount’s team of three worked closely with local health officials, civilian con-

Summer 2005

tractors and army personnel at Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq to trap sand flies and determine the rate of infection in particular insect populations. They were also looking for reservoirs of the disease in rodents. Iraq’s hot, dry weather makes pesticides largely ineffective, Blount says. The team found that a combination of insecticides, rodent control, repellents and proper clothing was effective in controlling leishmaniasis. “It is hard work but incredibly fulfilling,” says Blount, who is back in the U.S. with his wife and two daughters. He is still on active duty and is working on a doctorate in entomology at Texas A&M. “You’re wondering, ‘Am I going to survive?’ But you’re doing the work you’re supposed to be doing.” Maj. Sharon Spradling, a U.S. Air Force entomologist who earned both a bachelor’s (1987) and a master’s degree (1990) in entomology from Texas A&M, recently returned from serving in south-

Photos provided by Maj. Sharon Spradling and Capt. Tom Janousek

LEFT: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bill Miller teaches pest control techniques to both military personnel and civilians at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. TOP: U.S. Army Capt. Tom Janousek recently completed a tour of duty in Iraq, where his team used mosquito foggers to help keep soldiers safe from disease. BOTTOM: U.S. Air Force Maj. Sharon Spradling checks for mosquito larvae in southern Iraq, a dangerous environment where temperatures soar to 130°.


Jerrold Summerlin Photo provided by Capt. Keith Blount

TOP: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bill Miller shows one of the live specimens used in classes at the army’s pest management training center. BOTTOM: Air Force Capt. Keith Blount inspects a sand fly trap as part of his team’s effort to control leishmaniasis, a scarring skin disease affecting military personnel in Iraq.


ern Iraq in a unit similar to Blount’s. “It’s such a different environment,” says Spradling, who serves at the Defense Pest Management Information Analysis Center, Armed Forces Pest Management Board, in Washington, D.C. The board maintains a library and a Web site ( that provide information about pest management issues all over the world. “Before I left [the U.S.], I didn’t know how I would adjust to it—living in a tent in a dangerous environment,” Spradling recalls. But she adapted, even to days of 130° temperatures and to being confined to the inner perimeter of her camp. She is back in the U.S. now, carrying out her duties with the Pest Management Board. “It’s our job to keep illness from occurring,” says Lt. Col. Bill Miller, chief of the Medical Zoology Branch of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Miller earned his doctorate in entomology from Texas A&M in 1997. The Medical Zoology Branch is the army’s training center for pest management. “If a soldier gets malaria, it’s estimated that it takes eight people to care for that one soldier,” Miller says. “If I can prevent the soldier from getting malaria, those eight people are there to help soldiers who get a combat injury. Our job is to keep the soldiers healthy so they can do their jobs rather than getting sick with something that’s preventable.” Roughly 10 percent of the entomologists in the military are from Texas A&M. Why so many? That could have something to do with two Texas A&M entomology professors who are graduate student advisers. Dr. Jim Olson is a former medical entomologist with the army, and Dr. Pete Teel is a former entomologist with the U.S. Navy. Olson says he encourages students who want broad experience with medically related insect problems to join the military. The military is “about the only place left that you can do operational entomology,” Miller explains. “Where you deal with the disease and the critters all over the world in all kinds of different assignments with all kinds of different solutions.” Civilian jobs for entomologists usually involve working for a business where

profit is the main motivation, Spradling says. There’s nothing wrong with that, she says, but the goal for the military is different. “Our mission is protection of our people, and that is what you work toward,” she explains. “There is no other career where a person can gain so much experience so quickly in practicing entomology at the applied level than in the military,” Olson says. “Entomologists in the military have a mission and purpose beyond self. They apply their science and talents to serving the needs of others on a daily basis.” Blount, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Arkansas, wanted to come to Texas A&M for his doctorate because of the school’s military history and Olson and Teel’s reputations. “Both are prior military and understand the needs of military entomologists,” he says. Miller confides, “The military was my dream; entomology was not.” He came into the army as a second lieutenant field medical assistant with a bachelor’s degree in biology and no entomology background. However, his work in medical administration and intelligence made him curious about why certain bugs carried other “bugs.” Miller entered graduate school at Texas A&M and worked in Olson’s lab, focusing on mosquitoes and how they carried viruses. After earning his degree, his next assignment was in Korea; he is now stationed in San Antonio. Janousek worked as an entomologist with a mosquito control district in Beaumont and then started a consulting business in his home state of Nebraska. In 1997, he joined the Army Reserve. He was commissioned as a captain in the Army Medical Service Corps, and when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, he was called into active duty. He expects his unit to be called back to Iraq but is glad to be back in the U.S. working as a consultant for now. Even so, Iraq is still on his mind. “Part of me wanted to stay,” he reflects. “I had offers to extend [my tour of duty], primarily because I’m an entomologist and have experience controlling bugs. It was tough to leave my soldier friends. Not that I didn’t want to come home, but I didn’t want to leave those guys back there.”

Life scapes

Jim Lyle

A Taste for Giving The Kruse family and Blue Bell make life sweeter for others by Paul Schattenberg

Summer 2005



onsistent. Uniform. Old-fashioned. These are words used by Ed, Howard, Paul and Jim Kruse (pronounced kroo-zee) to describe the products made at “the little creamery in Brenham.” The words also serve to describe the Kruses’ humanitarian values. For more than 85 years, the Kruses have played an influential role in setting the tone and direction of Blue Bell Creameries Inc., right down to their taste for giving. “While we’ve grown over the years, we still operate using the same old-fashioned ideals and values my grandfather had,” says Paul Kruse, 50, Ed’s son and the new Blue Bell CEO and president as of last year. One of the old-fashioned ideals the Kruses have adhered to over the decades has been to share the fruits of their labor with others, particularly those less fortunate.

A Tradition of Giving


Cushing Library Archive



Courtesy of Blue Bell Creameries Inc.



Blue Bell CEO, now president emeritus and still a board member, earned the same degree from A&M in 1952, with distinguished student honors. “When I was at A&M, the agriculture building was on one end of campus and the creamery was on the other side of the tracks,” says Ed. “I had to run to make it to class on time. I didn’t own a car. Nobody did. We walked on campus and everywhere we needed to go. On trips home and back, we hitchhiked.” The brothers credit their father with their perspective on work and giving. “Our dad thought work was a blessing, and that’s what he taught Ed and myself,” adds Howard. “He also taught us the importance of sharing what we had with other people.” When Ed was 13 and Howard was 11, they began working at the creamery, wrapping ice cream sandwiches by hand for 10 cents an hour. “We worked a six-day, 48-hour workweek when we weren’t at school,” says Ed. “From the $4.80 a week we made, Dad asked us to give half of it back to our mother for groceries.” Their father also made sure money earmarked for the church collection plate didn’t find its way into the cash register at the local ice house for soft drinks and candy. “The fact that we were taught the same values our fathers learned is a

The Kruses’ tradition of giving began with the family patriarch, E. F. Kruse, a former schoolteacher who in 1919 became manager of Brenham Creamery Company, later renamed Blue Bell for a wildflower that thrives during hot Texas summers. The tradition continues through the sons and grandsons who still work at Blue Bell Creameries Inc., as well as through the company’s employees, inspired by the Kruses’ example. Now in their 70s, secondgeneration Blue Bell brothers —Howard Kruse, president emeritus and Ed and Howard Kruse remain active in the company and are involved large part of the reason we’re involved in numerous philanthropic pursuits. in charitable activities,” says Paul. Ed, who graduated from Texas A&M Almost every day, a member of the in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in Kruse family, Blue Bell or its employees dairy manufacturing, is a former Blue contribute to a community or civic Bell CEO and the company’s current organization, educational institution, board chairman. Howard, also a former

Blue Bell Creameries Inc. is the nation’s third-largest branded ice cream maker, even though its products are sold in only 16 states. Blue Bell reports some $400 million in annual sales from more than 250 products, including year-round, seasonal, light, no-sugar-added and low-carb ice creams, frozen yogurts, sherbets and frozen snacks. Blue Bell has more than 800 employees in Brenham and more than 2,700 companywide, including personnel in its Oklahoma and Alabama manufacturing facilities and at its distribution facilities throughout the South and the Southwest.

“Our dad . . . taught us the importance of sharing what we had with other people.”


board member, Blue Bell Creameries Inc.

PRECEDING PAGE: The Kruses (left to right), Paul and his father, Ed, Howard and his son, Jim, send Blue Bell products out to customers in 16 states, who look forward to the arrival of trucks with the famous Blue Bell logo.

Life scapes

charity or other nonprofit serving the less fortunate, notes Jim Kruse, 35, Howard’s son and the company controller. “We’ve been blessed and want to give back from the many blessings we’ve received,” he says.

Supporting Texas A&M Among the institutions that have benefited from the generosity of the Kruses and Blue Bell Creameries is Texas A&M University. Like their fathers, Paul and Jim attended Texas A&M. Paul earned an accounting degree in 1977. Jim earned his accounting degree in 1992 and was the top business graduate that year. The Kruses have funded numerous scholarships at different colleges within The Texas A&M University System, including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, from which Ed and Howard graduated. Ed and Howard also established a chair at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Ed currently serves on the Bush School’s advisory board. The Kruse family and Blue Bell have also made contributions to the Bush Presidential Library, including underwriting the cost of a new rose garden honoring Barbara Bush. Howard and his wife, Verlin, recently established a founders’ professorship at the Bush School and five additional scholarships, including funding for the Corps Leadership Program of the A&M Corps of Cadets. “The leadership program helps cadets translate the skills they learn in the Corps into a business environment,” says Howard, a former regimental commander in the Corps. “The Corps whipped you into shape, humbled you and taught you respect and leadership, all of which help you later in life.” Howard and Ed (who was also a member of the Corps and a distinguished

Spring 2005

military student) were both inducted into the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets Hall of Honor. Additional service to A&M includes Howard’s role as chairman of the Campaign Leadership Committee for the Agriculture Program’s One Spirit One Vision—The Texas A&M Campaign and his membership in the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s advisory group. Ed and Howard have both received the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award, the Ruby McSwain Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association, and the Association of Former Students Distinguished Alumnus Award. “Many of our employees at Blue Bell are also A&M graduates,” says Ed, with a wry smile. “So we’re happy to support what the university is doing.”

Community Contributions For the Kruses, giving began at home, including their workplace and local community. “We try to create an atmosphere that inspires our employees to give back to the community,” says Paul. Blue Bell employees are encouraged to join civic groups, for which Blue Bell normally pays the dues, and to support charitable organizations and participate in community activities. Employee contributions, along with matching funds from the company, consistently make Blue Bell the largest single contributor to United Way for Washington County. “The Kruses and Blue Bell have avidly supported their town and the county for decades, helping fill the needs of this community,” says William Christensen, interim president and CEO of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. Kruse family and Blue Bell support for their community includes contribu-

Photos courtesy of Blue Bell Creameries Inc.

dition Jim Kruse (top) and Paul Kruse follow in their fathers’ and grandfather’s footsteps by managing Blue Bell Creameries Inc. and supporting the philanthropic efforts for which the family has become equally well known.


tions to and fundraising assistance for Kruse Village, a retirement and care facility for seniors, and for Blue Bell Aquatic Center, a community swimming facility and aquatic therapy center (Ed lettered on the A&M varsity swim team). They also recently made a significant combined contribution toward a $2 million fundraising effort for a new sports complex at Brenham High School, and they help fund scholarships for Blinn College students. “The Kruses have an exhilaration about giving,” says Paul LaRoche, the semiretired president of LaRoche

G i v i n g

Helping beyond Brenham In addition to helping those in their own community, the Kruses support a number of far-reaching humanitarian organizations. One of them, Lutheran

Social Services of the South, serves more than 25,000 children, elderly and poor throughout Texas and Louisiana. “The Kruse family and the Blue Bell company follow the Golden Rule,” says Dr. Kurt Senske, the organization’s CEO. “They believe in leading by example. They serve the customer by producing a quality product, their employees by providing an exceptional work environment, and their community and country through their giving.” Web site:

M a t t e r s

Endowment Promotes Livestock Judging Team The family and friends of Dr. John McNeill have established the John W. McNeill Animal Science Livestock Judging Team Excellence Fund with a $25,000 gift in his memory. A national leader in animal science, McNeill served as Texas Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist at The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Amarillo, associate department head in Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science, and as department head until his death in 2004. “Dr. McNeill was an avid supporter of the team,” says Dr. Gary Acuff, interim department head. “We’ve had a national championship livestock judging team three years in a row, and we hope to continue that legacy. The fund will be used to promote the excellence of the team while helping further an exceptional education at Texas A&M.”

Thornberry Children Honor Parents with Scholarship Two daughters have recognized their parents’ devotion to education by endowing a scholarship in their honor, the Drs. Fred D. and Nancy Thornberry Endowed Scholarship. Molly Thornberry Whisenant, Class of 1991, and Michelle Thornberry Bunch established the scholarship with an initial gift of $25,000, which included gifts from friends, family, colleagues and members of the poultry industry. The scholarship will be awarded each year to a poultry


Chevrolet in Brenham and a longtime friend. “While some people give begrudgingly, they take delight in sharing the wealth.” Ed and Howard have both been named Washington County Man of the Year and have been inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

science major, and will be critical to recruiting outstanding students and helping them achieve their educational goals, says Dr. Alan Sams, head of the Department of Poultry Science. It is especially fitting because both Fred and Nancy dedicated their careers to educating youth. Fred Thornberry, Class of 1959, retired in 2004 after a 36-year career as a poultry science professor and specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension. He was involved in commercial poultry production, worked to develop the commercial quail industry and was a dedicated advocate of youth programs. Dr. Nancy Thornberry, Class of 1967, has served the College Station Independent School District for more than 30 years as an elementary schoolteacher and principal and as an adjunct professor at Texas A&M in the College of Education and Human Development.

Scholarship Supports Congressional Intern Program The Texas A&M University Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Congressional Internship Program has received scholarship support with the establishment of the Texas Grain and Feed Association/ Nathan Segal Endowed Congressional Internship Fund. In the program, students serve a semester-long internship for congressional members and committees in Washington, D.C., and Austin, working on agriculture and natural resources issues. During its 15-year history, 425 students have participated in the program. Ben Boerner, Class of 1982, president of the Texas Grain and Feed Association,

says the organization chose the internship program for the $25,000 endowment because “it gives real-world experience to help develop leadership and job-training skills for future agricultural policy professionals.” (http://agintern.

Boone and Crockett Club Endows Wildlife Policy Chair The $1 million Boone and Crockett Chair in Wildlife and Conservation Policy has been endowed at Texas A&M University’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences with a gift from the Boone and Crockett Club. Club members donated $500,000, which was matched by funds donated by the late Dallas philanthropist H. R. “Bum” Bright, Class of 1943. The club established the chair “to graduate well-rounded leaders with strong backgrounds in both science and public policy,” says former club president Dan “Pete” Pedrotti, Class of 1953, who raised the funds from club member donations. The graduate students in the program will study conservation policy issues such as “the impact that state and federal environmental regulations have on private landowners and on wildlife populations,” says Dr. Bob Brown, Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences Department head. “The research-based background our students gain will equip them for responsible leadership positions in shaping conservation policy.” The oldest conservation and hunting ethics organization in the United States, the Boone and Crockett Club was organized in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt.

Life scapes


IDEAS. Bright FUTURES. You Make a Difference at A&M! Both of Keri Hoelscher’s grandfathers are farmers, and she grew up wanting to give back to agriculture. Her 10 years in 4-H helped her win a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 4-H Foundation Scholarship, and she chose Texas A&M for its rich heritage and Aggie pride. Now a senior majoring in agricultural economics, Keri, from Miles, Texas, also received the COADC–R. C. Potts Endowed Scholarship, awarded to students who have made a difference in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and have served in a leadership role. “I never would have been able to do what I’ve done if I hadn’t had the scholarships,” she says. Active in Student Council, Keri was chosen as a legislative intern through A&M’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Congressional Internship Program and worked for Texas Rep. Rob Eissler in Austin this past semester. Now in its 15th year, the ANRP program is facilitated by private donations that help with intern expenses. “This internship was an amazing experience, and I learned so much about how the Texas Legislature operates,” Keri says. As part

of her casework, she helped a single mom and her disabled daughter get moved into their home after a problem with the builder. Keri plans to go to graduate school in the Land Economics and Real Estate Program in A&M’s Mays Business School. “There are a lot of opportunities in real estate,” she says. “My goal is to help make rural areas more economically stable.” One Spirit One Vision is about helping students succeed–about making the best investment in our communities and our world. For information on One Spirit One Vision–The Texas A&M Campaign giving opportunities in agriculture and life sciences, please contact the Agriculture Program Development Office at (979) 847-9314 or by e-mail at Agriculture Program Development Office 2142 TAMU College Station, Texas 77843-2142




2142 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-2142 Change Service Requested

Making Our Communities Better Texas Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program relies on student volunteers like these as it partners with Habitat for Humanity in seven Texas counties (see story on page 6).

Lifescapes Summer 2005  

Lifescapes Summer 2005

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you