Teaching Prize Winner Can’t Contain His Enthusiasm: Plant Scientist Dave Rizzo and Students Learn From One Another

Dave Rizzo, an expert in plant diseases who helped identify the cause of sudden oak death, is the recipient of the 2017 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You could tell that Dave Rizzo was going to be a science guy when he started doing chemistry experiments and growing molds for second- and third-grade show and tell.

But, the fact that science would lead him to square off with one of California’s most destructive forest diseases and help create an entirely new global-disease major at the University of California, Davis, came as a surprise — and to no one more than Rizzo himself.

“When I was young — or even 30 — if you had told me that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have laughed at you,“ said Rizzo, a plant disease expert who joined the UC Davis faculty 22 years ago.

“That’s why I tell students not to worry if they don’t know what they want to do in life — keep working, but don’t stress,” he said, smiling.

Today, Rizzo, whom colleagues describe as a “student of pedagogy” — the theory and practice of teaching — received the 2017 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement, funded through philanthropic gifts managed by the UC Davis Foundation and, at $45,000, believed to be the largest recognition of its kind in the nation.

It might be surprising to find that Rizzo takes teaching so seriously. It seems he can’t keep a straight face for more than an instant before breaking into a smile and cracking a self-deprecating joke.

But, in fact, a touch of fun and excitement are prerequisites for any class Rizzo teaches. If he has a philosophy of teaching, certainly enthusiasm for the subject and the students is its foundation.

“To be a good teacher, I think you have to be enthusiastic,” he said. “If I can’t get enthusiastic about something, how can I expect students to get excited?”

That philosophy is not lost on his students, who peppered their evaluations of him with comments such as: “Extremely energetic,” “Made class fun and interesting,” “One of the best professors I ever had” and “Beyond helpful and enthusiastic!”

Into the woods

In contrast, it was a rather sobering moment that pointed Rizzo toward a career in academia and research.

While an undergraduate biology student attending James Madison University in Virginia, Rizzo went hiking in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. He was struck by the giant stumps dotting the landscape. They were all that remained of American chestnut trees, wiped out in the United States by chestnut blight.

“It was amazing to me that a disease could so radically change what the forest looked like,” he said.

Just 17 years after graduating from James Madison, having collected master’s and doctoral degrees in plant pathology from the University of New Hampshire and University of Minnesota, Rizzo found himself on the opposite coast in different forests but once again facing a deadly tree disease. This one, dubbed “sudden oak death,” was mysteriously and quickly killing tanoaks and other trees in Northern California and appeared to threaten the entire state.

In 2000, Rizzo and colleague Matteo Garbelotto at UC Berkeley identified the culprit behind sudden oak death as Phytophthora ramorum, a funguslike microorganism that caused infected trees to ooze sap, lose foliage and soon die. The disease spread and, 17 years later, is still difficult to treat across the landscape. But Rizzo’s laboratory is involved in numerous efforts to restore infested forests and protect forests that are still at risk.

As the sudden oak death story has unfolded, Rizzo has maintained a robust teaching program, including both introductory and advanced courses in mycology — the study of fungi and molds. He developed an interest in mushrooms and other fungi because they play such an important role in the forest landscape.

“I like mushrooms and fungi because they are so weird and different,” he said. “And, unlike animal and human diseases, which are mostly caused by viruses and bacteria, most forest diseases are caused by fungi.”

He shares that fascination with his students, taking them each November to the Mendocino coast to hunt mushrooms.

By university standards, where faculty members are tasked with conducting research, mentoring graduate students and applying for research grants — in addition to classroom and laboratory instruction — Rizzo’s teaching load is hefty. He generally teaches at least one course every quarter and now also carries lead administrative responsibilities as chair of the Department of Plant Pathology.

Every student learns differently

Through the years, Rizzo’s teaching style has evolved to include a greater recognition of students’ varied learning styles. “I’ve slowly gotten out of the traditional mode of lecturing and testing,’” he said. “Some students are just lousy test takers.”

Instead, he started offering alternatives, including oral exams, which are really formal discussions with students.

“During an oral exam, I might say, ‘Are you sure about that?’ Then they can backtrack, and lots of times will just nail the answer,” he said. “With a written test, how much of it was the student not knowing and how much of it was me writing a poor question?”

Taking a global disease perspective

Three years ago, Rizzo led development of the global-disease biology major, which he describes as “a supersized public health” major for undergraduates. Linking faculty from the schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the major educates undergraduate students on the importance of understanding the connections between human, animal and plant health. Taking such a “one health” approach to the world is something only UC Davis and a handful of other universities throughout the country are equipped to do, Rizzo said.

The major, launched in the 2014-15 school year, was an instant hit with students. It opened with an enrollment of 96 students, grew to 230 students the second year and now has nearly 300 students — an unusually rapid growth rate for a new major.

“A lot of students are interested in health but not all want to go to medical school,” Rizzo said, noting that students appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of global disease biology and the opportunity it offers undergraduates for research.

Keeping the goal in mind

Like any instructor who is truly a teacher at heart, Rizzo enjoys his students and finds himself continually learning from them. When he chooses a graduate student to join his laboratory, he never looks for a “mini-me,” but rather someone with a different background and perspective, he said.

“Some of the most fun things are when students come to office hours just to chat or ask questions beyond what they have to know,” Rizzo said. “And it’s also cool to get an email or note from a former student.”

After his students are finished with their many lectures, labs, midterms, field trips and finals — and UC Davis is in their rearview mirror — Rizzo hopes they have gained something very specific from him.

“I hope that the one thing that they take away from me is that they’ve learned to love to learn,” he said, nodding his head with a contented Rizzo smile.

About the undergraduate teaching prize

Established in 1986, the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement was created to honor faculty who are both exceptional teachers and scholars. The $45,000 prize is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country and is funded through philanthropic gifts managed by the UC Davis Foundation. The winner is selected based on the nominations of other professors, other research peers, and representatives of the UC Davis Foundation board of trustees, as well as from students. See a list of all the recipients since the award’s inception.

Media contact(s)

Pat Bailey, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-219-9640, [email protected]

Media Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program 2017-18 Awards

 

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program has announced their 2017-18 Fellows and Peter Henry of the department was an awardee. We are pleased to announce that at least 16 of our current UC Davis graduate students have received the award, as well as 12 of our undergraduates, and an unknown number of awardees who may be entering our graduate programs in Fall 2017. In addition, 21 current students and 12 undergraduates received “honorable mention”. The listing is available at https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do

Lilly Chin, daughter of Dr. Lih-Shen Chin (the first graduate student of Distinguished Professor Bryce Falk), wins 2017 Jeopardy College Tournament of Champions

Lilly Chin

Lilly Chin, daughter of Dr. Lih-Shen Chin (the first graduate student of Distinguished Professor Bryce Falk), won the 2017 Jeopardy College Tournament of Champions. While Lilly’s father “Lih-Shen Chin” was a graduate at UC Davis, he was working with Dr. Falk on Beet Western Yellows Virus.
Dr. Lih-Shen Chin, now an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the Emory University School of Medicine, studies elucidation of the molecular pathogenic mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease.
A tribute to great success and mentorship from the Department of Plant Pathology.

More information is available here

Department of Pesticide Regulation Integrated Pest Management Research Symposium

Since 2013 the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) Pest Management Research Grant Program has been providing funds for research projects that develop integrated pest management (IPM) in both agricultural and urban situations. To date, more than 4 million dollars has been awarded to fund 18 projects. Over the same time period 1.8 million dollars has been awarded for research contracts to explore facets of IPM of special interest to DPR. Sharing the outcomes of this research is integral to the mission of DPR, part of which is to “foster reduced-risk pest management”.

To that end, DPR is hosting an Integrated Pest Management Research Symposium to showcase DPR funded research and outreach projects that have recently been completed, or are nearing completion.

This event will take place on March 21, 2017, from 9:00 to 4:30,

Sacramento State University
Modoc Hall, Willow Suites 2 & 3
3020 State University Dr.
Sacramento, CA.

Lunch will be provided and parking passes will be provided at the venue.
Registration is free, here, or link below. Seating is limited so register early. Registration will close on March 15.

 

More info: http://www.cvent.com/events/department-of-pesticide-regulation-integrated-pest-management-research-symposium/event-summary-094ddccc968e4b5797bb72dbe9d892d7.aspx?tw=F5-F8-89-0F-11-A9-F9-10-69-A1-E9-CB-ED-94-A9-AB

Jessica Franco: DEBVBD Graduate Student Travel Award

Jessica Franco: DEBVBD Graduate Student Travel Award

Jessica Franco

Jessica Franco, a fourth year graduate student in Dr. Gitta Coaker’s lab, will be attending the International Research Conference on Huanglongbing (HLB) in Orlando, FL with support from the DEBVBD Graduate Student Travel Award. HLB is a devastating bacterial disease of citrus vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. HLB researchers and citrus growers will attend the meeting and discuss concerns, methods, and findings to improve pathogen detection, vector control and disease resistance. Jessica will give an oral presentation focusing on her research on HLB.  Jessica has sampled a large number of Navels in both greenhouse and field experiments to identify dynamically changing citrus proteins in response to infection. She has identified secreted citrus proteases that are upregulated during infection. She has performed activity profiling and identified a subclass of these proteases whose activity may be inhibited by the HLB pathogen. This work has the potential to significantly enhance our understanding of how this pathogen manipulates citrus to cause HLB.

With the familiar Cavendish banana in danger, can science help it survive?

The banana is the world’s most popular fruit crop, with over 100 million metric tons produced annually in over 130 tropical and subtropical countries. Edible bananas are the result of a genetic accident in nature that created the seedless fruit we enjoy today. Virtually all the bananas sold across the Western world belong to the so-called Cavendish subgroup of the species and are genetically nearly identical. These bananas are sterile and dependent on propagation via cloning, either by using suckers and cuttings taken from the underground stem or through modern tissue culture.

The familiar bright yellow Cavendish banana is ubiquitous in supermarkets and fruit bowls, but it is in imminent danger. The vast worldwide monoculture of genetically identical plants leaves the Cavendish intensely vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Fungal diseases severely devastated the banana industry once in history and it could soon happen again if we do not resolve the cause of these problems. Plant scientists, including us, are working out the genetics of wild banana varieties and banana pathogens as we try to prevent a Cavendish crash.

 

Read more on The Conversation

2016-2017 Plant Pathology Graduate Student Awards

Congratulations to the following winners of this year’s Graduate Student Awards.  The awardees were selected by the department’s Publicity and Awards Committee based on evaluation of candidates’ statements and supporting letters from their major professors.

 

The James and Mary DeVay Travel Award goes to Betsy Alford

 

The Lyle Leach Memorial Travel Awards go to DongHyuk Lee and Furong Liu

 

Erna and Orville Thompson Travel Award goes to Li-Hung Chen

 

The Harley English-Edward Butler Travel Award (sponsored by Jesse and Gloria Dubin) goes to Jennifer Yuzon

 

The Irving Schneider Travel Awards go to Wenjie Qiao and Minor Maliano

 

In addition to the above awards, four one-quarter graduate student research assistantships were awarded.

 

The William J. Moller Scholarship goes to Peter Henry.

 

DongHyuk Lee received the Erna and Orville Thompson Scholarship.

 

Betsy Alford and Tyler Bourret received William Hewitt Scholarships.

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