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Research Faculty, Postdoctoral Associates and Staff

Whitnee Askew,, Turfgrass Program Manager

Kevin, Research Specialist Senior
Kevin is responsible for day-to-day operations of our applied weed management research trials in agronomic crops (mostly corn, soybean, and wheat) and pasture/forage that includes locations throughout Virginia. Kevin's duties include plot layout, herbicide application, planting, data collection, and harvesting and operates equipment to do so.

Jason, Agricultural Supervisor
Supervise and support research, teaching and extension programs at Kentland Farm by operating and maintaining sophisticated agricultural equipment. Maintain grounds and buildings, repair, modify and fabricate research equipment.

Jordan Booth,, Research Associate
Jordan is based in Richmond, Virginia pursuing his PhD while managing research and extension responsibilities in Central Virginia. Jordan's primary research focus is ultradwarf bermudagrass putting green management in colder regions of adaptation.

Ruslan Biyashev,, Research Manager
Ruslan coordinates experimental aspects of our soybean root rot disease and seed composition projects with lab and field personnel. Coordination of experimental material transfer and data processing of the root rot disease project with various collaborators on-campus and at Iowa and Ohio State Universities. Ruslan participates in the design of field experiments and in planting and harvesting and supervise DNA extraction/genotyping in the lab and DNA preparation for genotyping at the USDA/ARS Beltsville laboratory.

Wynse Brooks,, Senior Research Associate
Wynse is in the Small Grains Breeding and Genetics program, with a primary responsibility to develop and improve useful traits, such as disease resistance, superior quality and high yield in hulled and hulless winter barley varieties for various end-use (Malt, Feed, and Food) markets. Wynse’s role is vital to the agricultural industry as there are constant challenges to meet market requirements and consumer demands.

Michael Brosius,, Research Specialist Senior 

Jeff Burr,, Horticulture Greenhouse Technician
Jeff manages the day to day operations at the SPES Greenhouse Facility. 

Elizabeth Bush,, Senior Research Associate
Elizabeth has a 100% Extension appointment and is a co-manager and diagnostician in the Plant Disease Clinic. 

Pamela Capps,, Program Support Assistant
Pamela provides program support to the Nutrition Management program at The Department of Conservation and Recreation. Pamela also handles the administration for implementation of the program. 

Paul Chumbley,, Head Horticulturist

Elizabeth Clevinger,, Research Associate
Elizabeth coordinates activities in the field for planting, maintenance of soybean plants and harvest and coordinate greenhouse research when necessary for projects.  Elizabeth also performs various molecular research activities in the lab located in Latham Hall.     

Cindy Denbow,, Laboratory and Research Manager
Cindy is a lab manager shared with Pilot Guillaume.

Thomas Dick,, Research Associate
Thomas manages several of the research labs and developing analytical instrument and extraction methods. Currently Thomas is working on developing extraction methods for noenicitinoids in soil and plant samples. 

Jason Doby,, Soil Analyst
Jason analyzes soil samples sent to us by farmers and homeowners for pH, nutrients, organic matter and soluble salts. The clients then receive lime and fertilizer recommendations based on what they're growing whether it be commercial crops, lawns, and gardens. 

Pat, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Pat provides geospatial support to SPES faculty and graduate students on research projects including mine land reclamation, crop yield improvement, biofuel land suitability, UAS imagery analyses and acid sulfate soil mapping. Pat creates and manages GIS data for the College in support of nutrient management planning on CALS Montgomery county farms and Virginia’s ARECs.  

Joshua Fitzgerald,,  Research Associate
Joshua aids in the development of new and improved, high yielding, small grain varieties with enhanced resistance to FHB and lower DON accumulation that are adapted to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern U.S. 

Clebson Gomes Goncalves,, Postdoctoral Associate 
Clebson is a postdoctoral research associate in turf weed sciences. The research program includes: herbicide selectivity, evaluation of new herbicides, evaluation of organic and cultural weed control, herbicide application technology, and environmental impacts of weed management in turfgrass.

Velva Groover,, Senior Research Specialist
Velva supports Megan O'Rourke's research program in agroecology, pollinator conservation, and landscape ecology. In the field, Velva helps lay out plots, plant, collect and enter data for the overall projects and support grad student research. Velva maintains the lab, ordering, logistical details, etc. for the program for 50% of her time.

Also she is the teaching assistant for the Plant Propagation Lab, setting up the weekly labs, and instruct students on lab procedures.

Hope Gruszewski,, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Hope’s work specializes in growing plants in controlled research environments, as well as supporting field campaigns in environmental conditions. Hope’s current projects involve plant disease dispersal studies, plant tissue culture, pollen dispersal, and algal bloom sampling.

Regina Hanlon,, Research Associate
Regina studies ice-nucleating microbes in the atmosphere and track the movement of hazardous agents in the water.  Regina participates in training and mentoring students in research experiences for undergraduates (REU).  

Steve Heckendorn,, Laboratory Manager
Steve analyzes soil samples submitted from farmers, homeowners and landscapers from across the state in order to provide lime and fertilizer recommendations for optimum plant growth and environmental protection.

Kevin Hensler,, Field Greenhouse Manager
Kevin’s primary role is handling our field fungicide efficacy program.

Tammy, Nutrient Management Specialist
The small farms nutrient management programs purpose is to help individuals develop strategies to best manage land nutrients. As one of the two members of the small farms nutrient management team, Tammy is dedicated to working with farmers to educate, improve water quality, develop nutrient management plans and provide technical support to Virginia farmers. She is part of the DCR/VSU/Va Tech team working in coordinating with regional office staff and allied colleagues in the development of nutrient management plans and with localities, agencies, and other stakeholders in programming that promotes responsible watershed management and nutrient reduction of the Cheseapeake Bay.

John James,, Research Specialist Senior
 John manages, develops, and maintains the Urban Horticulture Center (UHC) as a facility for diverse research, teaching, and outreach purposes. Supervises daily activities, assists with research establishment and maintenance, teaching activities, and safety operations and training.  John also serves as the primary staff support for student participation in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC), assists with instruction of a Landscape Practicum course associated with the NCLC event, and collaborates with faculty in selecting, preparing and annual travel with the student team. 

Devon Johnson,, Communications Project Coordinator
Devon provides state-wide programmatic support of the Extension Master Gardener program. Devon manages program digital media, websites, press, program marketing, donor/volunteer recognition, and provides design and media support to Master Gardener units throughout the commonwealth.

Sara Klopf,, Research Associate
Sara has a full-time appointment that is split between the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.  Sara specializes in plant ecology and land reclamation, and manages research projects related to the revegetation of mined landscapes, the use of native plant species for reclamation and restoration, community ecology, wetland ecology, water quality monitoring, American chestnut restoration, and forest genetics.

Michelle Lee,, Agricultural Specialist III
Michelle provides support in the field and lab for wheat and soybean breeding program projects: including collecting data on agronomic traits, rating disease, and scouting for pests. Michelle works closely with wheat breeder seed and plant variety protection data collection, as well as, the purification of soybean seed increases and purification rows.  Also assist technical supervisors with research activities, including preparation of fields for planting and harvest, planting of nurseries, nursery management, plot harvesting, plant threshing, and seed cleaning.

Brandon Lester,, Environmental Monitoring Technician
Brandon designs, builds, and maintains remote sensor networks used to collect data in soil, water, and the atmosphere. 

Jon Light,, Research Specialist 
Jon takes care of the wheat and barley at Kentland. Jon sprays using nitrogen and other fungicides, performs maintenance on equipment, drives the combine during harvest and the tractor during planting. Supervises student workers, works in the greenhouse and makes all the scab inoculum in the lab for 2 scab nurseries at Mt. Holly. Jon also treats all the seed planted in plots across the state.

Gregory Lillard,, Farm Manager 

Lisa Lipsey,, Extension Program Coordinator

Haijie Liu,, Labratory Specialist Senior
Haijie contributes to several research projects in Dr. Vinatzer's and Dr. Wang's labs in environmental and plant microbiology and genomics and plant virology using her wide range of skills in molecular biology, genetics, and bioinformatics. 

Limei Liu,,  Research Associate
Limei does research of hard wheat or bread wheat variety development.

Niki McMaster,,  Research Associate
Niki manages the mycotoxin testing in the Schmale Lab at Virginia Tech in cooperation with the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.  Conducting the high throughput testing of samples from numerous research groups from across the country. The primary focus of the analysis is the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol and uses GC/MS quantitative methods.

Kerri Mills,, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Kerri is manager for Bingyu Zhao and Mark Williams supporting graduate student research. Keri handles a variety of tasks including Molecular cloning, Microbiology, and NextGen Sequencing library preparation. Kerri also manages sample preparation, field, and greenhouse work.

Steve Nagle,, Research Specialist
Steve provides support of lab analyses of soil and water samples. Steve also is the primary field technician/supervisor for soil and plant tissue sampling in the field. 

So Yon, Senior Research Associate
So Yon conducts experiments on the characterization of parasitic plant interactions with their hosts. So Yon works on understanding host defense response to parasitism and discovering how parasitic plants manipulate their hosts. 

Muliang Peng,, Research Specialist
Muliang helps the soybean breeder with planting, harvesting, seeds packaging, seeds processing, data collection, and tests field management.

Earl Petzold,, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Earl is the lab manager and safety officer. Earl also helps with student supervision, molecular biology, and cell biology.

Kara Pittman,, Research Associate
Kara disseminates research findings through scientific journal articles, extension publications, and presentations. Kara also assists in lab management by supervising undergraduate research assistants and overseeing greenhouse experiments.

E. French, Value Chain Coordinator
French Price is a Value Chain Coordinator with Virginia Cooperative Extension working to enhance farm-to-market connections in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont Regions of Virginia as part of a USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service Local Food Promotion Program grant project for area farmers and food businesses. Working closely with Extension colleagues and community partners, French’s main responsibilities are match-making, relationship building, networking, and convening with small to mid-sized producers, aggregators, processors, and buyers to strengthen the region’s food value chain. 

Kathleen, Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator
Kathleen worked with Virginia Cooperative Extension as an Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Agent for three years prior to joining the State Office. As part of her role as an Extension Agent, Kathleen also served as the local coordinator for the Master Gardener program in Roanoke. While earning her Master’s in Community Sustainability at Michigan State University (MSU), Kathleen worked for MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems as a team member of the Good Food Charter. As the State Coordinator, Kathleen leads volunteer leadership and development efforts, provides administrative and volunteer management support to Extension Agents and Master Gardener Coordinators, and helps to promote the Master Gardener Program throughout the Commonwealth.

Jerry Rogers,, Agricultural Inspector
Jerry performs quality control field & labeling inspections for peanuts, soybeans, small grains and turf.  Collect royalties on VA Ag. Exp. Station public crop varieties and report to VA Tech Intellectual Properties semiannually.

Brooks Saville,, Kentland Farm Research Manager
Brooks manages Kentland Farm.

John Seago,, Research Specialist
John works in the  small grains program. John’s primary responsibility is to help gather and analyze data to help the breeders select which lines to advance.  

Chao Shang,, Senior Research Associate
Chao’s effort is to develop chemical and/or instrumental methods for each analytical task originated from on-going research projects, to adapt the existing methods according to the lab facility available and sample matrix, and to train research personnel including graduate assistants and post-doc researchers to master analytical and instrumental skills needed in their research.  

Joel Shuman,, Senior Project Associate
Joel has a 100% research appointment to further the McDowell Lab investigations into the molecular interplay of plants and pathogens. The primary model patho-system studied is Arabidopsis thaliana (thale or mouse-ear cress) and the oomycete Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis (downy mildew disease). Other systems include Tobacco/Phytophthora nicotianae and soybean/Phytophthora sojae.

Brent Stewart,, Agricultural Technician
Brent mows, bushhogs, boom mows, sprays, fertilize, prunes, plants, and plows.

Athena, Research Associate
Athena is manager of the SPES Soil & Water Quality Analysis labs in Smyth and Latham. This cluster of labs supports a wide range of faculty programs in soils, agriculture and water quality research.

Mark Vaughn,,  Research Specialist
Mark reads mildew, leaf rust, and blotch on most years and have read stripe rust, septoria, tan spot, scab, and scald when plots have been infected with the disease.  On barley, Mark makes selections from all our tests based on the data that’s taken and also from several observations made by walking through and observing plots.

Tad, Nutrient Management Specialist
Tad provides technical assistance in developing nutrient management practices with a focus on dairies and beef operations without permits. The goal is to improve use of manure to protect water quality in Virginia.

Xunzhong Zhang,, Research Assistant Professor
Xunzhong leads the plant and turfgrass stress physiology and bioproduct research program and collaborate in basic and applied research with the turf team colleagues from all disciplines. Xunzhong’s research area has also expanded to include stress physiology of forage and bioenergy grasses, row crops, and vegetables.  

Dongfang “Emily”, Postdoctoral Research associate
Emily is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Controlled Environment Agriculture. Her research area includes greenhouse hydroponics and indoor vertical farming with leafy greens, microgreens, baby leaf greens, strawberries etc. Emily is based at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center (CEAIC) in Danville, VA, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Evans.