About the AgriLife Research Director’s Awards
Note: The 2021 Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Awards, as well as the recognition of recent faculty fellows, were delayed until now in 2022 due to transitions within AgriLife Research and certain lingering effects of COVID-19. The perseverance of our faculty and staff through these times carried special opportunities for recognizing their impact. Congratulations to all of our recipients.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Awards recognize the achievements of individuals and teams who have put forth outstanding work in support of the agency’s research mission.
Meritorious accomplishments this year are recognized through four award categories: Research Scientist of the Year, Administrative Staff Support, Infrastructure and Information Technology Staff Support and Technical Staff Support.
An AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow and a Senior Faculty Fellow also are named as part of the director’s awards.
Nominations are open to employees of at least 24 months who hold majority appointments within AgriLife Research.
Read more about all of our recipients online at AgriLife Today.
- Administrative Staff Support Award
- Infrastructure and Information Technology Staff Support Award
- Technical Staff Support Award
- Research Scientist of the Year Award
- The William A. Dugas Early Career Award for Research Excellence
- Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow
- Texas A&M AgriLife Research Senior Faculty Fellow
Administrative Staff Support Award – Judy Young
Judy Young is a senior administrative coordinator, and she has served the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences for over 33 years. Since joining the department in 1989 as a word processor operator, Young has provided administrative support for five department heads. She has exemplary organizational skills and attention to detail as well as invaluable historical knowledge about the department. Young is known in the department as a friend to faculty, staff and students. She is also prized for her integrity, accountability and passion for helping others.
Infrastructure/Information Technology Staff Support Award – Dustin Law
As the farm research services manager for AgriLife Research in Overton, Dustin Law is responsible for more than 1,600 acres of research infrastructure. This includes horticultural plots, research pastures and meadows, irrigation systems, cattle facilities, equipment, labs and buildings. Law has an uncanny ability to quickly spot and solve problems with minimal downtime. He is particularly good at considering the big picture in job assignments, and he is credited with ensuring that research activities stay on track. He has been an indispensable part of the AgriLife Research team in Overton, providing outstanding services that keep the center running.
Technical Staff Support Award – Viktor Grichko, Ph.D.
Dr. Viktor Grichko maintains a highly varied array of advanced lab equipment in College Station. No doubt aided by his doctorate in physics and a deep knowledge of instrument functions, Grichko often modifies tools to improve performance and meet non-standard experiment requirements. In his work as a senior research instrumentation specialist, he preempts problem areas. He secures instrument parts and updates and makes important recommendations for
instrument replacement. Grichko also serves as a valued informational resource for labs across the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building at Texas A&M.
Research Scientist of the Year – Muthu Bagavathiannan, Ph.D.
Dr. Muthukumar Bagavathiannan, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, has made extraordinary advances in accelerating weed ecology research and precision integrated weed management in the U.S. His multidisciplinary research coalition across 16 states fueled the development of environmentally friendly alternatives to herbicides for weed resistance management in turfgrass. He has been integral to expanding non-chemical weed control approaches across the country. Bagavathiannan is deeply connected to agribusiness and commodity groups spanning cotton, sorghum, corn and rice, and he received a Superior Grantsmanship Award from AgriLife Research in 2020. He has published more than 110 peer-reviewed journal articles, mentored 19 doctorate students, and serves as an associate editor for Weed Science Society of America and Crop Science Society of America journals. Bagavathiannan has received many accolades including the 2020 Weed Science Society of America Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award and the 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Outstanding Early Career Research Award.
William A. Dugas Early Career Award for Research Excellence – Sarah White-Springer, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarah White-Springer is a rising star in the field of skeletal muscle physiology. Her research program in the Department of Animal Science focuses on nutritional and training modulation of skeletal muscle metabolism and mitochondrial function in young horses. Her efforts have garnered much acclaim, as evidenced by national and international presentations, recruitment of horse industry collaborators, and funding support of over $2.7 million. In 2021 White-Springer served as the sole panelist representing the Future of Equine Research at the Equine Science Society biannual meeting. She also received the 2021 Equine Science Society Josie Coverdale Award for Outstanding Young Professional. She has authored or co-authored 23 refereed journal articles in top-tier journals, including a first-author paper published in Skeletal Muscle. She has mentored seven master’s students and one doctoral student as chair of committee and has served as the primary instructor for six courses.
Faculty Fellow and Senior Faculty Fellow Honorees
In recognition of the significant scholarly contributions and research leadership of its faculty, AgriLife Research established the Faculty Fellows Program in 1998 to acknowledge and reward exceptional research faculty within the agency.
The Faculty Fellows Program recognizes outstanding and productive faculty who have contributed to the scholarly creation and dissemination of new knowledge through exceptional research leadership and grantsmanship within their respective discipline.
AgriLife Research Senior Faculty Fellow: Pingwei Li, Ph.D.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Pingwei Li has discovered many fundamental features of the structural, biochemical and functional aspects of immunity and host-pathogen interactions. He formed his lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in 2005. Since then, his team has made many groundbreaking findings that are useful for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases. The work has included publications related to viral RNA detection and antiviral immunity. Through numerous impactful contributions, Li has helped drive a medicinal revolution related to cGAS-STING, a signaling pathway involved in inflammation, infection, cell stress and tissue damage. His most recent publications in Nature have reshaped understanding of how cGAS activity is regulated in cells.
AgriLife Research Senior Faculty Fellow: Suresh Pillai, Ph.D.
Dr. Suresh Pillai has impacted the lives of many people through an extensive body of research and expert recommendations to federal policymakers. He is a molecular biologist and director of the National Center for Electronic Beam Research at Texas A&M. He has a passion for and has made great strides in promoting the use of electron beam technology for protecting public health. Pillai has recruited an impressive amount of external funding support, trained the next generation of food scientists and public health professionals, and promoted Texas A&M University and e-beam technology to NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, its National Nuclear Security Administration, and various other institutions to enhance food quality and safety. U.S. firms rely on Pillai’s research expertise to produce fresh foods for U.S. and global consumers – protecting the public from human and livestock diseases like brucellosis, salmonellosis, shigellosis, cholera and others.
Read more about all awardees of the 2021 AgriLife Research Director’s Awards online at AgriLife Today.