William J. Benton Graduate Student Award recipients Jacob Fooks, left, and Sudarshan Dutta.

Benton, Sparks award winners

CANR awards help University graduate students with research

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2:16 p.m., May 26, 2011--The William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards and the Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship Award have been helping University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) graduate students with their research since 2007, and this year’s winners are no exception.

Sudarshan Dutta in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences has been awarded the 2011 W.J. Benton Graduate Student Award for doctoral students and Jacob Fooks in the Department of Food and Resource Economics has been awarded the Benton Award for master's students. 

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Matt Siebecker, a doctoral level student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has received the 2011 Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship Award.

William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards

The awards were established in honor of William J. Benton, former CANR associate dean of research and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Dutta is researching the transport of hormones in agricultural runoff from soils receiving poultry manure. Dutta explained that in many U.S. states, land application of poultry manure is a common practice and that it is important to make sure that this agricultural management practice is safe for the environment in all aspects. 

Of the award, Dutta said, “I consider this award very motivating and helpful for a young researcher like me who wants to continue his career in research in an academic setting.” 

Fooks’ primary research focuses on behavioral and experimental economics, revolving around the behavior of landowners in voluntary conservation programs. Fooks has also done work to reduce stigma towards individuals with HIV in Kenya and India, and he said that he is currently working on a project that measures the visual impact of offshore wind farms.

Fooks said that he was “very honored to be chosen for this award,” and credited his adviser, Kent Messer, assistant professor of food and resource economics, and the rest of the food and resource economics faculty for giving him support.

Former Benton winners weigh in on the award

Hudaa Neetoo is a past Benton Award winner who won the doctoral award in 2008. Neetoo said the award “motivated me and helped me to stay ahead of myself in my academic endeavors. I also felt that the award brought me closer to the college and I want to somehow give back to the college and I have tried doing it through my research and service activities.”  

As Neetoo finishes up her doctorate, anticipating graduation from the University of Delaware in August, she is researching the safety of green onions, peppers, salsa and strawberries, while also trying to gain virological skills and learn cell culture techniques. She has also conducted research on sprouting seed safety, specifically, the microbial safety of several varieties of sprouted seeds commonly consumed in sandwiches and salads. 

Meredith Biedrzycki, who won the Benton doctoral award in 2010, said it “was a great help in that it supplemented my student research assistant stipend, which helped me to continue to stay in graduate school.” 

Biedrzycki just defended her Ph.D. dissertation in March in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at UD and will graduate May 28. She will start working in June with the Center for Integrated Biological and Environmental Research (CIBER) at Delaware State University. 

Biedrzycki said she is sure that having the Benton Award listed on her resume helped her with her career because it “demonstrated to my future employer that the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources had faith in me and my abilities by choosing me as a recipient.”  

Another past Benton doctoral winner is Ellen Lake, who won the award in 2009. Lake is at UD researching the biological control of the invasive plant mile-a-minute weed and how to restore native plant communities in sites invaded by the fast-growing plant. 

Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship Award

The fellowship was established in 2007 to recognize a continuing soil science graduate student who has demonstrated excellence in academic performance, shown outstanding research and/or teacher potential, leadership and interpersonal skills and who has promise for an outstanding career. 

Siebecker’s research focuses on pollution in soils, specifically on chemical forms and reactions of potentially toxic elements present naturally and caused by humans in soil and on clay surfaces. Seibecker said that his research is critical because soil is a “non-renewable natural resource that we must protect.” 

Siebecker said that he is “extremely grateful to have been selected for this award and for my opportunities and experiences here at the University of Delaware.”

Graduate support

Tom Sims, CANR deputy dean, said that the college is very grateful for the support provided by those who have contributed to the W.J. Benton fund and for the generosity of Don and Joy Sparks. "Our college is fortunate to have nearly 200 outstanding graduate students and we're very pleased that their great ideas, hard work and commitment to excellence in science is being recognized through these awards."

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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