Auburn University’s College of Agriculture is celebrating nine of its graduates from as far back as 1966 to as recently as 2005 as its 2018 Alumni Award winners.
The honorees include eight successful professionals selected as the most outstanding alumni by their respective academic departments and one College of Agriculture graduate whose professional and personal accomplishments have had a tremendous impact on his profession and on society in general.
The recipient of that latter honor—the 2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award—is Claude Boyd, alumnus of and professor emeritus in the college’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.
Boyd received his doctorate in water and aquatic soil chemistry from what was then Auburn’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures in 1966 and returned to his home department five years later for a faculty position. The unparalleled academic and research programs he has built at Auburn have earned him recognition as one of the world’s foremost authorities on managing water quality and chemistry in aquaculture systems.
One of his most significant contributions to the U.S. catfish industry and the field of aquaculture came in the mid-’80s when he developed an electric paddlewheel aerator that ensures adequate dissolved-oxygen levels in aquaculture ponds. That machine has saved aquaculture producers in Alabama and beyond billions of dollars by reducing both fish mortality rates and energy costs. He considers his greatest career accomplishment the 133 graduate students who have earned their master’s and doctoral degrees under his direction.
He retired—on paper—as professor emeritus in 2015, the same year he published his sixth book on water quality in aquaculture. One of those books, originally published in 1979, has been revised and reprinted three times in English and has been translated into four languages. Over the past 47 years, he has traveled to 41 countries time and again to help fish and shrimp farmers in those countries solve aquaculture problems and operate more efficiently and sustainably.
Following are the departmental 2018 Alumni Award winners, who were chosen based on their career accomplishments to date and their support of their respective academic units and the College of Agriculture.
Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology
Pigg (BS agricultural economics ’79) has been helping improve the quality of life for Alabama farmers and rural residents throughout his 39-year career with First South Farm Credit. He joined First South as a loan officer trainee in its Montgomery branch shortly after receiving his degree and from there rose to positions as a branch manager and a regional and district vice president at locations primarily in the Decatur area. In 2016, he was named president of the lending institution’s Alabama operations, which include 16 branches, 95 employees and $1.1 billion in assets and is based in Montgomery.
RANDALL D. HUFFMAN
Department of Animal Sciences
Huffman (BS animal sciences ’86) is an internationally recognized leader in food safety who serves as chief food safety and sustainability officer at Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto, Canada. The University of Florida Ph.D. alum joined Maple Leaf, Canada’s largest consumer-packaged-meats processor, in 2009 from his previous position as president of the American Meat Institute Foundation in Washington, D.C. In 2008, as a tribute to his father—Auburn animal sciences Professor Emeritus Dale Huffman—and to the animal science department, he established the Dr. Dale Huffman Endowed Scholarship in Animal Sciences at Auburn, specifically to support meat science majors at Auburn.
Department of Biosystems Engineering
In 2002, Montgomery (BS biosystems engineering ’00) completed her master’s in civil engineering at Auburn and then spent the next decade working as an environmental engineer and a water resources management engineer in Kentucky and Alabama. Since 2014, she has been with the City of Durham, North Carolina, as civil engineer project manager in the Department of Water Management. Throughout her career, she has been a passionate and involved supporter of her undergraduate department, interacting with faculty and talking with current students about her career path, her experiences as an engineer and the versatility of a biosystems engineering degree. She also is vice chair of the department’s Advisory Council.
JAMES L. “JIM” FENN III
Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences
Fenn (BS agronomy and soils/production ’96, MS ’98) agronomy and soils/production) serves as senior vice president of Olam Edible Nuts’ U.S. Peanut Blanching and Ingredients division, based in Blakely, Georgia, and is considered one of the world’s premier experts in raw-peanut processing. He began his career with Universal Blanchers LLC in Blakely as a plant manager focused on maximizing operating efficiencies and minimizing waste and, in 2000, he was named vice president of Universal’s Georgia operations. While in that position, he revolutionized the industry’s quality standards by developing processing technologies that eliminate foreign materials from raw peanuts. Following Universal’s sale to Olam International in 2009, he managed the global transfer of Universal Blanchers’ exclusive process technology into Olam’s operations.
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
Garcia-Ruiz (MS plant pathology ’00) has served as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Nebraska Center for Virology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln since 2014. He completed his doctorate in molecular virology from the University of Wisconsin in 2006 and over the next eight years worked under world-renowned plant virologist James Carrington, first as a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University and then as a research scientist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis. His research in the field of small RNA biology in plant and viral systems is contributing to a better understanding of small RNAs and their role in living organisms, including disease-causing viruses in plants.
Department of Horticulture
Gibson (BS horticulture/landscape design ’98) started his own landscaping business from scratch in Jonesboro, Georgia, straight out of Auburn. In the years since, with strong emphasis on innovative solutions, superior quality and service excellence, he has built Gibson Landscape Services LLC in Atlanta into a $20 million landscape company that provides landscape and hardscape construction, landscape maintenance and irrigation management services for high-profile commercial clients across the southeast. Among his recent The Battery at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, the Omni Hotel and Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Duke University Learning Center in Durham, North Carolina, and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration in Huntsville are among his company’s recent projects.
Department of Poultry Science
Spann (BS poultry science ’95) gained experience in all aspects of the poultry industry in the first decade and a half of his career, rapidly progressing through a series of management positions with Gold Kist Inc. and Pilgrim’s. In 2011, he joined American Proteins Inc., one of the largest poultry-byproduct-recycling facilities in the world, as general manager of its Hanceville division and continues in that role today. He has maintained a close connection to his undergraduate department through the years, not only in recruiting, mentoring and supporting poultry science majors but also in advising faculty and staff on technical issues, collaborating on applied research and assisting the department in managing its poultry byproducts.
BENJAMIN BECK, Ph.D.
School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences
Beck (BS fisheries and allied aquaculture ’02, MS ’05) went on to complete a doctorate in molecular and cellular pathology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2009 and in the years since has developed a solid research program in the field of fish health and disease. In 2010, he joined the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center in Arkansas as lead scientist and continued in that position until 2015, when he was named to his current post as director and research leader of the USDA–ARS Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit in Auburn. He holds seven USDA–ARS merit awards and in 2017 was presented the U.S. Aquaculture Society’s Distinguished Early Career Award.