CFAES announces winners of its Spirit of the Land Grant Award

CFAES announces winners of its Spirit of the Land Grant Award

By Tracy Turner

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Two researchers­—one faculty member and one student—at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) have won the college’s Spirit of the Land Grant Award.

Ansley Watkins

The Spirit of the Land Grant Award was initiated during Ohio State’s sesquicentennial year to celebrate land-grant heroes. The award recognizes individuals who support, exemplify, or create opportunities that embody CFAES’ values and personify the college’s land-grant DNA, said Vice President for Agricultural Administration and CFAES Dean Cathann A. Kress. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the award—which was originally scheduled to be presented in 2020—was presented April 7 via a YouTube Premiere video on the CFAES YouTube channel. As a result, both the 2020 and 2021 winners were announced and awarded during the online presentation.

The 2021 winner is Ansley Watkins, an undergraduate in the CFAES School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR). Watkins, who is also the Environment and Natural Resources peer mentor president, was chosen for her work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as her research and outreach in environment and natural resources.

Yael Vodovotz

The 2020 winner is Yael Vodovotz, a professor in the CFAES Department of Food Science and Technologyand the director of Ohio State’s Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship (CAFFRE), which is part of CFAES. She was chosen for her innovative work with CAFFRE and the Bioplastic Alternatives Interdisciplinary Team (BAIT).

“The recipients of the Spirit of the Land Grant Award remind us of the ideals that we aspire to attain and to embody,” Kress said.

This new award recognition includes a focus on:

  • Translational research
  • Collaboration and engagement
  • Students as co-creators
  • Lifespan learning
  • Future perspective

It’s important to note that even with the focus on educational access, many land-grant institutions originally were not open to all, although some were, Kress said. 

“The recipients of the Spirit of the Land Grant Award remind us of the ideals that we aspire to attain and to embody.”Cathann A. Kress, Vice President for Agricultural Administration and CFAES Dean

“We recognize and acknowledge this part of the story of our land-grant university, while at the same time celebrating that the spirit of our institution is to acknowledge our history, recognize our shortcomings, and continue to evolve and strive to meet the aspirations of access and opportunity while serving as broad a constituency as possible,” Kress said. “The land-grant ideal was focused on access and opportunity, on learning and growth, on innovations and engagements. And it has always included a willingness to reevaluate where we as an institution might fall short and challenge ourselves to continually do better to meet that ideal.”

“The evolution and impact of our land-grant universities over the past 150 years has been profound in addressing the challenges of a continually developing nation through a wide spectrum of worldwide impact and technological advancements. There are members of the CFAES family making connections and discoveries each day that advance the dream of the land-grant mission.”

Ansley Watkins 

Ansley Watkins 

Watkins is a Morrill Scholar through the Ohio State Office of Diversity and Inclusion as well as one of the 25 students selected as part of the Buckeye Leadership Fellows program. She has worked tirelessly within SENR to provide programming that helps underrepresented minority students transition from high school to Ohio State. As a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholar at Ohio State, Watkins conducted research in the Stream and River Ecology Lab, where she examined nitrogen and phosphorus effects on watersheds while creating a mapping tool used to predict harmful algal blooms.

“Watkins is the embodiment of the land-grant mission. She understands the role our institution can have in changing people’s lives, and she strives to ensure that such change recognizes and overcomes personal, inter-social, and institutional barriers for all so that we have a more just and equitable future,” said Tracy Kitchel, CFAES senior associate dean and director of faculty and staff affairs.

Watkins understands the origins of land-grant universities and the historical dispossession of Indigenous land that occurred as a result of creating these universities. She continues to advocate for these Indigenous communities.

“Being a CFAES student means being amongst people who are fervent in their passions that better the world around them, and that passion is something I do not take for granted,” Watkins said. “I accept this award but do so with the ever-present inner conflict mentioned above and the knowledge that a better future exists for all of us.” 

“In my remaining time as a student here, I will continue to do work I believe benefits students and surrounding communities, and I would be glad to continue this conversation as related to direct actions, especially those in the areas of program creation for future students and hiring Black, indigenous, and people of color faculty and administration.”

Yael Vodovotz

Yael Vodovotz

Vodovotz, who joined CFAES as an assistant professor in 2000, has completed over seven clinical trials with functional foods as part of an interdisciplinary team and has over 70 publications. Through CAFFRE, she has collaborated with other members to test the cancer-fighting properties of tomatoes, grapefruits, black raspberries, and soy in clinical trials using novel food products invented in her lab. She has successfully commercialized several of these food products bringing functional foods from the bench to the consumer.

“Her extensive collaboration efforts both within and outside of the college have a significant impact on many people’s health and well-being and create novel solutions to the most pressing medical issues,” Kitchel said. “One example includes her black raspberry confections used successfully in several clinical cancer trials.”

“She exemplifies the land-grant mission through her work as a collaborative researcher and engaging teacher, and her ability to translate findings into meaningful practice.”