News in Brief


Rebecca McCulley

Rebecca McCulley, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and head of UKAg’s Climate Change Working Group, grew up liking science in suburban Houston. A summer internship at MD Anderson Cancer Center convinced her medicine wasn’t in her future; she enjoyed the lab work but not the hospital. As an undergraduate at Rice University, she sought out another scientific venue.

Q: How would you describe what you do?
A: My training is really as an ecosystem-scale ecologist. Most times I call myself either a grassland ecologist, or occasionally I might say agro-ecologist.

Q: How did you get interested in working with grasses?
A: My first summer at Rice, I applied to work for a forest ecologist in the biology program. We worked in the Big Thicket National Preserve in East Texas. There used to be longleaf pine savanna there, which is characterized by widespread trees with a grassy understory that we think fire had a major role in maintaining. That led to a master’s degree at Texas A&M University, where I stayed in savannas but got interested in nutrient cycling and grass-woody transitions. For my doctorate, I went to Colorado State University where I focused on Central Great Plains grasslands from the base of the Rockies into eastern Kansas.

Q: In the process of all this, was there an aha moment career-wise?
A: I guess one that I had was not so much ecology oriented as it was probably science and research oriented. Coming out of my master’s degree, I debated about going into environmental consulting or moving on to get my doctorate. I had one environmental consulting interview, where I left the interview thinking, “That’s not science!” That was my aha moment, because I knew I didn’t want to do that; I actually wanted to do science. I never interviewed anywhere else. I went straight into a doctoral program.

Q: You focus a great deal on climate change in your research. Is there any doubt in your mind that climate change is occurring?
A: No, afraid not. Of course climate has changed in the past, but now it’s changing quite a bit faster than most of us feel comfortable with. I’m not a gloom-and-doom person. I think it’s just going to be different. Things are going to change, but I’m optimistic our systems will change too, and we‘ll adapt.


Decades of Counseling

The official grand opening of The Family Center on the UK campus was held in 1992, but actually the center has been around longer than that, providing low-cost clinical services to people who ordinarily wouldn‘t be able to afford therapy. The center started out in the Funkhouser Building, but for the past five years has been located in Scovell Hall. Center director Tracey Werner-Wilson calls it a “great location.”

“It provides better anonymity and confidentiality for clients,” said Werner-Wilson. “The improved training aspects, such as recording equipment and therapy rooms, help our students working with clients; it is unique.”

The Family Center serves as a practicum location for graduate students in the Couple and Family Therapy Program to gain real-world experience. Prior to meeting with clients, the students are equipped with the skills necessary to help couples work through a variety of issues.

“Agencies in the area love our students,” Werner-Wilson said. “The students hit the ground running after they complete the program, versus other programs where they haven’t had as much experience.”

The Family Center is open to clients from the UK Employee Assistance REFER Program, Fayette County Public Schools, and other sources.

Jeff Franklin

Kentucky is the top producer of sweet sorghum in the nation. In addition to syrup, sweet sorghum is a potential source for ethanol. As a result, it could be an attractive energy crop—if diseases don’t get in the way.

University of Kentucky plant pathologist Lisa Vaillancourt, a leading researcher in the molecular mechanisms of corn stalk rots, and doctoral student Katia Xavier are looking at potential disease threats to sorghum yields, specifically from the pathogen anthracnose.

“Hopefully, we will find why sorghum is resistant to the corn anthracnose pathogen, why corn is resistant to the sorghum anthracnose pathogen, and if there are ways to breed resistance into each,” Vaillancourt said.

The five-year project was funded by a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Collaborators include researchers from Penn State and ICRISAT in India, location of the world sorghum germplasm collection and breeding program.

The UK researchers are collecting, analyzing, and cataloguing anthracnose and other pathogens in 25 sweet sorghum heritage varieties at UK’s Spindletop Research Farm and from samples collected on corn, sweet sorghum, and the weeds Johnsongrass and shattercane in Russell County with the help of Raymond Thompson, the county’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent. 

--Katie Pratt

Informed Eating

Exactly how much protein is in that deli sandwich? Students interested in the
nutrition content of UK Dining Services menu items can have the facts at their fingertips with a new nutrition app developed by a UKAg student and a team of undergraduate computer science students.

Mallory Foster, a graduate student in the School of Human Environmental Sciences’ Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and College of Engineering computer science undergraduates Keith Moyer, Rakesh Patel, Matt Seabold, and Randy Luecke have developed the iPhone and Android smartphone app for menu items offered at Ovid’s Cafe, Commons, Blazer, and K Lair.

Foster developed her idea during an undergraduate shadowing experience with Monica Fowler, a registered dietician who works with UK athletes. One of Foster’s tasks involved providing athletes with nutrition information obtained from UK Dining Services. She and Fowler began to wonder if they could do that for every student on campus.

When Foster began her graduate studies, she pursued the idea as a master’s thesis project.

Dining Services gave Foster access to the hundreds of recipes offered on campus. She used nutritional analysis software to get the nutritional value per serving size of each recipe. The app provides information on calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. In addition, each user can put in their personal information, and the app will calculate body mass index and daily caloric needs.

--Katie Pratt

An Early Bond


Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences is a national society that welcomes members of all racial and ethnic groups interested in careers in agriculture and allied sciences.

Traditionally, students joined the society during college, but recently, several county UK Cooperative Extension offices began offering 4-H’ers a chance to be involved in a Jr. MANRRS program.

In Christian County, 4-H youth development agents Antomia Farrell and Patrick Allen began leading club meetings at Christian County and Hopkinsville high schools during the fall of 2012.

MANRRS empowers youth who are interested in agriculture and science, providing them with academic and professional development opportunities before they even leave high school,” Farrell said. “Our club members are benefiting from a solid mentoring program, and they have opportunities for serving the community, learning to work in a team, learning to be great citizens, and getting ready for future careers.”

In December, the Christian County 4-H program reached out to soldiers at Fort Campbell, where they have adopted the Wounded Warrior Battalion. They hosted a chili cook-off for the wounded warriors and their families.

“It is just one way our group is learning to give back,” Farrell said.

Other groups are beginning to form across Kentucky. A statewide Jr. MANRRS conference, Turning Vision into Action, was held on the University of Kentucky campus in December.

“What we really want to do through MANRRS, and now Jr. MANRRS, is to increase the number of students studying agricultural sciences and related fields at UK,” said Quentin Tyler, assistant dean and director of the UK College of Agriculture Office of Diversity. “We want to foster a real bond among students, faculty, staff, and administration and encourage academic and overall excellence.”

Tyler said it’s important to show high school students a glimpse of the kind of mentoring and leadership they can expect from faculty and staff at UK and for potential students to see the opportunities they’ll have in the College of Agriculture.

Jr. MANRRS clubs are currently available in Christian, Jefferson, Fayette, Daviess, and Franklin counties.

—Aimee Nielson

Feeding Chickens Before They Hatch


In the delicate stage of life inside the egg, UKAg researchers are providing important nutrition even before a chick hatches.

Chicks need selenium, an antioxidant nutrient, for normal growth and development. Normally it is added to poultry diets, but what happens when it’s introduced during incubation?

Lizza Macalintal, a recent doctoral graduate, and Austin Cantor, associate professor in Animal and Food Sciences, with help from research specialist Mike Ford, injected different levels and forms of selenium into egg yolks on day 10 of the 21-day incubation period. They found that the controlled doses of both selenomethionine and sodium selenite were not toxic as previously thought and both increased tissue selenium levels. Selenomethionine was more effective in raising tissue selenium levels in both the embryo and the chick for several weeks after hatching.

Injecting selenomethionine was also more effective in reducing the risk of free radicals causing cell damage in the lungs and heart.

These encouraging results indicate that selenium can enhance the chick’s nutritional status during development in and out of the egg.

--Aimee Nielson

Clothes Make the Reenactor


Dress played an integral part in the Civil War. Battles were fought over shoes, and Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan was widely successful at winning battles by having his troops dress in civilian clothes to surprise Union forces.

Each year, thousands of Civil War reenactors don wool uniforms, caged crinolines, and other period attire to recreate historic battles as accurately as possible. While the period clothing may not be the most comfortable or cool on a hot summer’s day, University of Kentucky Associate Professor Kim Miller-Spillman knows that to reenactors the period dress is much more than blue or gray.

“Reenactors are learners and experiential people, each with his or her own reason for participating in reenactments,” said Miller-Spillman, faculty member of the Department of Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles. “What a wonderful way to experience and study the transforming power of dress.”

She has researched Civil War reenactors and their dress for the past 23 years to understand why they spend the time and money needed to participate and how important their dress is to creating a “magic moment,” when a reenactor feels like he or she has traveled back in time to witness the battle firsthand.

Her research shows that 85 percent of male reenactors and 53 percent of female reenactors have experienced a magic moment. Most of those said historically accurate clothing was critical to making that event come to life for them.

She also found other reasons that reenactors dress in historical costume. Some of the most popular answers among men were their love of history, fun and enjoyment, and a participation requirement. The most common response for female reenactors was the opportunity to escape and assume another persona.

She has found that dress is important no matter what role reenactors play in battle. Preliminary results from a 2010 survey targeting those who participate as cavalry members show that not only must they have the correct period riding attire for themselves, but also the correct equipment and accessories for their horses, including a historically accurate saddle and blankets.

“They use dress, in this case costume, in a deliberate and purposeful way,” Miller-Spillman said. “They need specific dress items to make their impression complete and convincing. They research dress and the people they portray.”

In her research, Miller-Spillman has found that reenactors are just like any other hobbyist and span gender, age, income, and socioeconomic lines. The average female reenactor is between 46 and 53 years old, a college graduate holding a professional job, with an average annual household income between $50,000 and $74,999. The average male reenactor is between 42 and 45 years old, a college graduate with a professional level job and an annual household income between $35,000 and $49,999. On average each one spends between $1,000 to $3,999 on historical clothing, artillery, and accessories.

Like Miller-Spillman, Avery Malone, ’01, ’08, believes historical dress can play a significant role today. Malone is the director of tour operations at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. While a graduate student at UK under Miller-Spillman, she researched whether historical dress had an impact on student learning. In her research, she presented the same lesson in two eighth-grade social studies classes, but she wore period dress to one class and professional attire to the other.

“After giving both classes pre- and post-tests, the class where I wore the costume improved twice as much,” she said. “It’s experiential learning, and that’s an important, strong kind of learning. It’s the same reason why people come to Ashland—to experience what it was like in Henry Clay’s time.”

The ability for reenactors to use costumes to accurately portray what life was like 150 years ago may be one of the reasons why thousands of attendees flock to reenactments across the country each year.

---Katie Pratt

Integrated for Success


The Master Cattlemen Program, Applied Master Cattlemen, Master Grazer and Kentucky Grazing schools, East Kentucky Heifer Development Project, and Genetic Improvement Program--those are just some of the programs that have emerged in Kentucky since the UK Beef Integrated Resource Management team formed in 1995.

College of Agriculture administration charged the Beef IRM team with implementing a statewide educational program based on integrated concepts. Specialists, extension agents, and ultimately producers were to apply holistic concepts to management and problem solving, based on predetermined goals.

The Beef IRM team gained its initial momentum after meetings in Asheville in the late 1990s and early 2000s provided the foundation for a proposal to the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and the Agricultural Development Board. That proposal led to funding for many of the educational programs. The idea for holding the meetings in Asheville, near the famous Biltmore Estate, was to get participants out of their comfort zones and away from distractions so they could focus on issues. The Biltmore is recognized as a self-sustaining enterprise that profits from adding value to agricultural products.

“The main reason we chose Biltmore is it’s truly the best example of value-added agriculture in the entire country,” said Les Anderson, UK extension beef specialist and chair of the IRM team. “Biltmore is the best example of total integrated management, not only with beef, but with grapes, vegetables, and more.”

In August 2012, after many years of successful educational programs and changes in the beef industry, the IRM team felt it was time to reassess and redevelop a strategy for the future. More than a hundred leaders in Kentucky’s beef industry again met in Asheville to help direct local and state educational beef programming for the next decade.

“We need to empower a new group of leaders, new programs that impact our industry in a measurable, marketable way,” Anderson said.

Leaders were asked to identify five factors that are most important or most limiting to the beef industry today. The major issues they identified included limited public knowledge of agriculture, the dearth of young people in the beef industry, efficient use of land, marketing options and profitability, and animal welfare. With the issues identified and plans created, county groups, the UK Beef IRM team, and the Kentucky Beef Network are now tasked with implementing the plans and moving the industry forward.

—Jeff Franklin