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2012-13 Alumni Award Recipients

George E. Russell - 2013 Hall of Fame Award
George E. Russell

George E. Russell of Blacksburg, Va., and Winston and Marilyn Samuels of Warwick, N.Y., are the 2012-2013 inductees into the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame. Their selection is the result of their outstanding service to the college, university, and the agricultural and life sciences communities.

Russell, vice president emeritus for alumni relations, has served Virginia Tech for more than 27 years. After graduating in 1952 with a B.S. in animal science, Russell earned his master’s degree in agricultural education at the University of Maryland in 1959 and his doctorate degree in Extension education at the University of Wisconsin in 1964.

After a distinguished career with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Russell joined the Virginia Tech Alumni Association in 1968 as director of alumni affairs. He oversaw the creation of new alumni activities as the number of alumni grew from 30,000 to more than 130,000 at the time of his retirement in 1995. He served as president of the alumni association for 10 years and was named vice president for alumni relations in 1991, when it became an official part of the university.

Russell received the Alumni Distinguished Service Award in the spring of 1998. Soon after his retirement, the Alumni Board of Directors elected to rename the Outstanding Chapter Awards to the G.E. “Buddy” Russell Outstanding Chapter Awards. In 2007, the Class of 1952 named the Alumni Center fountain in his honor. Since his retirement, Russell has remained active with his alma mater, serving as president of the Old Guard, and as a member of both the Class of 1952 reunion planning committee and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Alumni Board of Directors.

Winston and Marilyn Samuels - 2013 Hall of Fame Award
Winston and Marilyn Samuels

Winston Samuels completed his master’s and doctorate degrees in animal science at Virginia Tech while Marilyn earned her B.S. at Virginia Tech and her master’s degree in psychology at Radford University. After successful careers, the couple cofounded Maxx Performance, Inc. in Chester, N.Y., in 2004, and now share leadership of the company and its financial management. Their successful entrepreneurial venture is a progressive biotechnology company that improves the functionality of raw ingredients for food and health by manufacturing and marketing of microencapsulated ingredients and delivery systems. The Samuels moved their production  plant to Roanoke, Va., in 2012 in order to stimulate high tech business development in the region.

The Samuels have long shared their success by funding academic and student affairs programs at Virginia Tech. Their first donation underwrote graduate student travel shortly after they themselves received their graduate degrees. They also support animal science research, the Graduate School, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Fund for Excellence, Multicultural Affairs, Women in Leadership and Philanthropy, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Organization’s Scramble for Scholars, and the ice hockey program. Most recently, the Samuels established the Samuels Family Enrichment Fund to support student travel abroad.

John Koontz - 2013 Outstanding Recent Alumnus
John Koontz

John L. Koontz of Oak Park, Ill., recently received the annual Outstanding Recent Alumni Award from Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A principle investigator and chemist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in Bedford Park, Ill., Koontz earned his B.S., master’s and doctorate degrees at Virginia Tech in Food Science and Technology in 2000, 2003, and 2008, respectively. His current research focuses on food packaging safety.

Koontz was given the award for his professional and volunteer achievements. In addition to his research, he also teaches training courses on packaging seal integrity to food industry professionals and FDA analysts. In 2010, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition recognized him with its Honor Award for outstanding service in developing a thermal processing specialist certificate program in collaboration with scientists at the Institute for Food Safety and Health, formerly the National Center for Food Safety and Technology.

He is active as communications chair with the Chicago Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, managing and updating the chapter Facebook page and website, which won the Alumni Association’s 2010-2011 Outstanding Website Award. He also serves on the chapter’s scholarship selection committee and welcomes new Virginia Tech students and alumni in the Chicago area at chapter events.

Koontz actively demonstrates the Virginia Tech spirit by participating in the Chicago Chapter’s Ut Prosim Service to the community. He volunteers by preparing dinners at Ronald McDonald House Charities. He also joined in and did fundraising for the 2012 C4 Miles: Making Strides for Mental Health.

He also contributes annually to the Virginia Tech Annual Fund for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in support of the Department of Food Science and Technology.

Kiley Petencin - 2013 Outstanding Ambassador
Kiley Petencin

Kiley Petencin, a senior majoring in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, from Charlottesville, Va., was recognized as the 2012-13 Outstanding Ambassador for her leadership and service to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Ambassador program and to the college.  Kiley has been an ambassador since 2010 and has been a leader in the organization who always bringing a well-rounded wealth of knowledge and experience to discussions and committee work.  

She has served the program in several capacities.  From chairing the committee to plan the ambassador-organized brown bag lunch on generational diversity in the classroom, to fundraising for the program’s Relay for Life team, and sharing a presentation with the members about her semester-long internship with Heifer Ranch, she always puts her passion for Ut Prosim and the college behind every project.  She has been a major spokesperson for the college’s Civic Agriculture and Food Systems minor and has participated in a service learning trip to Honduras as part of the minor.  Her resume includes multiple examples of health and fitness-related activities, community service, outreach, and proactivity in issues pertaining to diversity and social justice.

Kurt Stephenson - 2013 Outstanding Faculty Service Award
Kurt Stephenson

Kurt Stephenson (M.S. Agricultural and Applied Economics 1988) of Blacksburg, Va., was recognized with the 2012-13 Outstanding Faculty Service Award for his long-standing contributions to excellence in education in the college and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.  Stephenson is an active and innovative member of the college community working to enhance teaching programs for students and to deliver applied research findings to clientele groups.  He serves on multiple committees representing the interests of students and faculty to promote excellence in education.

Stephenson’s most important contributions involve mentoring students.  As the department’s undergraduate coordinator he works with majors, minors, and double majors from across the college and university helping students identify their future educational and career paths.  He also serves as faculty advisor to the AgEcon/NAMA Club and to the Academic Quizbowl Team that competes each February at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association meetings.  For excellence in his teaching and mentoring, he has received the AgEcon/NAMA Club Outstanding Faculty Member Award several times and in 2005 received the College’s Certificate of Teaching Excellence.

Stephenson’s professional work emphasizes support of fundamental water-policy issues facing the Commonwealth.  He has served on several state and national water policy advisory boards and panels.  Stephenson is a loved and respected faculty member who adeptly balances the role of mentor, and respected technical expert.

Lire Ersado - 2013 Outstanding Alumni in International Programs
Lire Ersado

Lire Ersado of Washington, D.C., was selected as the 2012-13 Outstanding Alumnus in International Programs.  Utilizing his multiple degrees earned at Virginia Tech (M.S. Forestry 1996, M.S. Statistics 1997, M.A. Economics 1998, Ph.D. Agricultural and Applied Economics 2001), Erasdo’s career has been devoted to the design and analysis of policies to alleviate poverty and vulnerability in developing countries.

As a World Bank senior economist he leads multi-sector teams to assist countries in poverty reduction and social protection strategies.  Ersado’s dedication to the poor spills over into his day-to-day life.  He is a founding executive board member and treasurer of Kambata Development Network, a nonprofit public benefit network dedicated to providing services to the poor in Ethiopia.  He is also a founding executive board member and auditor for Hosanna and Environs Self-Help Association, a nonprofit self-help organization supporting development work in Ethiopia and in the United States.

Ersado has received several awards related to the quality and impact of his work on the economic analysis of poverty and solutions to it and he was named the outstanding recent alumnus for the college two years ago. Ersado has achieved great academic success and recognition while devoting his work and life to helping others.

Ronnie Gill - 2013 Outstanding Alumni Leadership
Ronnie Gill

Ronnie Gill of Tappahannock, Va., was recognized with the 2012-13 Outstanding Alumni Leadership Award for his leadership and service to the college and agriculture industry.  Gill has been employed by Colonial Farm Credit since graduating with a degree in agronomy in 1982, rising through the ranks to successively more responsible positions.  He now serves as executive vice president, a role in which he has supervisory responsibilities for the majority of Colonial’s staff and reports directly to the CEO.

Outside of work, Gill has been active in community and agricultural organizations including serving as treasurer of the Virginia Grain Producers Association, as a board member of the Northern Neck Farm Museum, and as a member of Rotary International.  He has also served as president for the Essex County Little League board of directors and as chairman of the Essex County School Board.

Gill has given selflessly of his time and energy on behalf of the college serving as president of the College Alumni Organization for the past two years and as a director since 2005.  He has been successful professionally and has been generous with time and service to his industry and community.

Departmental Outstanding Alumni
Agricultural and Applied EconomicsJohn RowsellM.S. 1987, Ph.D. 1991Glen Ellyn, IL
Agricultural and Extension EducationWalter TaylorEd.D. 1982Starkville, MS
Agricultural TechnologyKelly MegeathA.AG. 1995Wadmalaw, SC
Animal and Poultry SciencesGeorge E. "Buddy" RussellB.S. 1952Blacksburg, VA
BiochemistryIra BladerB.S. 1993Oklahoma City, OK
Biological Systems EngineeringDouglas DurantB.S. 1977, M.S. 1979Waterloo, IA
Crop and Soil Environmental SciencesLouis Brooking, Jr.B.S. 1968Doswell, VA
Dairy ScienceRichard ChichesterB.S. 1956Fredericksburg, VA
EntomologyBoris KondratieffM.S. 1979, Ph.D. 1982Fort Collins, CO
Food Science and TechnologyRobert ReinhardB.S. 1994, M.S. 1995Lisle, IL
HorticultureRichard MariniPh.D. 1981University Park, PA
Human Nutrition, Foods and ExerciseChrissie Chawanje MughoghoPh.D. 1998Blantyre, Malawi
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed ScienceAnne DorrancePh.D. 1995Wooster, OH
Departmental Outstanding Recent Alumni


Agricultural and Applied EconomicsJessica Hynson CruiseB.S. 2005Newburg, MD
Agricultural and Extension EducationSarah Grim ScyphersB.S. 2005, M.S.Ed. 2006Abingdon, VA
Agricultural TechnologyNick ProudA.AG. 2010Union Bridge, MD
Animal and Poultry SciencesBrandon Ryan HorsleyB.S. 2002, M.S. 2004Virginia Beach, VA
BiochemistryJanuary HailePh.D. 2009Danville, KY
Biological Systems EngineeringMichelle SoupirM.S. 2003, Ph.D. 2008Ames, IA
Crop and Soil Environmental SciencesTodd LuxtonM.S. 2002, Ph.D. 2007Cincinnati, OH
Dairy ScienceEric PaulsonB.S. 2005, B.A. 2006Mechanicsville, VA
EntomologyBrent ShortB.S. 2001, M.S. 2003Hedgesville, WV
Food Science and TechnologyJohn KoontzB.S. 2000, M.S. 2003, Ph.D. 2008Oak Park, IL
HorticultureJake BrowderB.S. 2003, M.S. 2004Smithfield, VA
Human Nutrition, Food and ExerciseHeidi Lail HertzB.S. 2004Richmond, VA
Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed ScienceDavid McCallM.S. 2006Salem, VA