The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation

Past Recipients

Past winners of the "Award of Excellence" are:

Andrew E. Ralowicz, University of Arizona

Andrew E. Ralowicz received the award in 1989 while at the University of Arizona, as the first co-recipient. He is currently a principal geospatial scientist in the Environmental and GIS services of MDA Federal Inc. in Rockville, Maryland. Though he no longer works in the turfgrass industry, the Musser Award gave him opportunities while working on his degree. “I am honored that regular people like myself who work hard can be recognized for what they do in their field,” he said.

Gwen K. Stahnke, University of Nebraska

Gwen K. Stahnke received the award in 1989 while at the University of Nebraska, the first co-recipient. She is currently an associate professor and extension specialist with Washington State University. For the past 10 years, she has taught two online courses in an effort to bring students and industry together. “Winning the award jump-started the mindset that you are actually being rewarded for hard work and dedication,” she said.

Phil S. Allen, University of Minnesota

Phil S. Allen earned the award while at the University of Minnesota in 1990. Since the Musser Award, he has also won the 2006 national educator of the year by PLANET. He is a professor of landscape management at Brigham Young University, where he continues to teach turf’s importance in creating a beautiful landscape. “Winning the award increased my confidence and my commitment to undergraduate education,” he said.

Melodee L. Frazer

Melodee L. Frazer received the award in 1990 while at Rutgers University. She is currently the director of research east for Pure Seed Testing in North Carolina. She has worked on several grass varieties, including tall fescues and Bermudagrasses, as well as a Tarheel, Wolfpack and Savannah-Bermuda. “Winning the award definitely had an effect in finishing up with my graduate studies and my start-up in my career,” she said.

Virginia G. Lehman, Texas A&M

Virginia G. Lehman earned the award in 1990 while at Texas A&M University. She is currently a private turfgrass breeder and small business owner of Blue Moon Farms, LLC, in Lebanon, Oregon. She considers some of her career highlights to be the development of new turfgrasses that require less maintenance and provide high quality with lower input. “Winning the Musser Award encouraged the continued quest in scientific research,” she said.

James E. Bond, University of Tennessee
Richard F. Davis, Purdue University

Richard F. Davis earned the award in 1992 while at Purdue University. He is currently a research plant pathologist with crop protection and management research within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though he moved out of turfgrass research, he is proud of his success in developing root knot nematode resistance in cotton. He appreciated that a group outside of academia acknowledged that he had done a good job.

Jeffrey P. Klingenberg, University of Nebraska

Jeffrey P. Klingenberg received the award in 1992 while at the University of Nebraska. He is currently with Targeted Growth, Inc., as a wheat breeding lead. While at Seeds West, he worked on Princess 77, a turfgrass used on football fields throughout the country, and has developed cotton varieties in use around the world. “The Musser Award is like winning the Heisman Trophy,” he said. “When you win, your stock goes up!”

Zachary J. Reicher, Purdue University

Zachary J. Reicher earned the award in 1992 while at Purdue University. Receiving the award put him on a tenure track, he said; in eight years, he went through assistant and associate professor ranks and is currently a fully-tenured professor at Purdue. In 2003, the School of Agriculture gave his program a special team award. “The award takes pressure the pressure off as winners pay student loans, finish their thesis, put a down payment on an apartment or buy a house,” he said.

Grady L. Miller, Auburn University

Grady Miller earned the award in 1993 while at Auburn University. He has been a turfgrass faculty member for the past 12 years at the University of Florida and North Carolina State University, where he conducts turfgrass research, teaches, and delivers turfgrass talks around the world. He participated as a sports turf specialist in pre-Olympic meetings before the Athens and Beijing summer Olympics. “The fact that it is coming from a foundation with such a heritage, it actually means more than some of the current association awards,” he said.

Eric D. Miltner, Michigan State University

Eric D. Miltner received the award in 1993 while at Michigan State University. After receiving the award, he was hired at Utah State University with a turfgrass focus. When he left there three years later, the university not only refilled the turfgrass position, but continued the expansion of the program he had started. He is currently an associate research agronomist of turfgrass at Washington State University. “It was an honor to be selected for an award that honors a pioneer in turfgrass,” he said.

Karen A. Plumely, Rutgers

Karen A. Plumely received the award while at Rutgers University in 1993. She has gone between a post in academia and two in the industry, now the director of research and regulatory affairs with Cleary Chemical Corporation, where she works on new products and ornamentals. She volunteers as the vice president of the New Jersey Turfgrass Association and teaches soil science at a community college. “It was wonderful for such a prestigious selection committee to recognize my achievements,” she said.

Jennifer M. Johnson-Cicalese, University of Nebraska

Jennifer M. Johnson-Cicalese received the award in 1994 for her work on buffalo grass breeding while attending the University of Nebraska. Along with the release of her buffalo grass work, she is a part-time research associate at the Marucci Center for Cranberry & Blueberry Research & Extension, where she is working on new varieties, possibly including Mullica Queen and Crimson Queen. “Being acknowledged by people in the industry for the award was very beneficial,” she said. “It helped boost the self-confidence for interviews.”

Paul G. Johnson, University of Minnesota

Paul G. Johnson earned the award while at the University of Minnesota in 1995. Now a tenured associate professor at Utah State University, his position involves researching grass genetics in blue and native western grasses while teaching two courses. He is focusing his research on the urban landscape industry and water conservation. “Receiving the award gave me confidence,” he said. “I’m glad the turf industry has such an award.”

Daniel H. Dalthorp, Cornell University
Robert C. Golembiewski, Ohio State University

Robert C. Golembiewski received the award in 1997 while at Ohio State University. He worked with Dow AgroSciences and university teams to conduct research, and used his turfgrass science background to build a family landscaping business before returning to the academic field. He is the assistant professor for the golf and turfgrass management program at a University of Minnesota branch campus. “The award carries a lot of weight both in academia and the industry,” he said. “It is a privilege to be a member of such an elite group of individuals.”

Andrew S. McNitt, Penn State University

Andrew S. McNitt earned the award while at Penn State University in 1998. He is an associate professor of soil science – turfgrass at Penn State, where he specializes in athletic field surfaces from little league to professional stadiums, also winning the Founders Award from the Sports Turf Managers Association. He has mentored several students who have gone on to work the NFL and major baseball leagues. “The Musser Award is one of the most prestigious awards and it never falls off one’s resume,” he said.

William Von Sigler, Purdue University

William Von Sigler earned the award while at Purdue University in 1999. The money allowed him to attend a major conference of the American Society for Microbiology, where he presented his data on fungicides and turfgrass. He lectured on the environmental impact of microbial communities in Switzerland and became a group leader of the molecular ecology group. He is currently in a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at the University of Toledo’s department of environmental sciences. “The award made me realize how much my work was appreciated and that gave me confidence,” he said.

Mathew J. Fagerness, North Carolina State University

Matthew J. Fagerness earned the award while attending North Carolina State University in 2000, studying PGR activity and the relationship to reduced nitrogen use and how this impacted plant density. He worked as the turf specialist for Kansas State for four years. He is currently self-employed and does consulting work with several educational firms. “Winning the award made a nice thin to list on my resume and opened many doors,” he said.

Stacy A. Bonos, Rutgers

Stacy A. Bonos received the award while at Rutgers University in 2001. She has a three-way appointment in teaching, research and extension as an assistant professor in the department of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers. With the recognition of this award, she also won the Young Crop Scientist of the year award. “This award was used to start my savings,” she said. “I didn’t feel pressured to take the first job that came my way because I had some money. That relieved me from job-hunting stress, and I got off to a better career start.”

Lane P. Tredway, University of Georgia

Lane P. Tredway earned the award at the University Georgia in 2002. Thanks to the award, he was able to find a solid job right out of school; now he’s an assistant professor of plant pathology and extension specialist at North Carolina State University, where he works to describe misunderstood root diseases. He has also traveled to Japan and present his research to 600 superintendents there. “It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever been given,” he said. “It was a tremendous feeling to be recognized as the outstanding student in turfgrass science.”

Eric T. Watkins, Rutgers

Eric T. Watkins earned the award while attending Rutgers University in 2003. He is currently an assistant professor in the department of horticulture science at the University of Minnesota. Alongside teaching and advising turf students, he researches plant breeding and improving winter hardiness of plants. He considers his position to be a career highlight, having established a breeding program early in his career. “The award highlighted my accomplishments to others in my field of turf science,” he said. “It gave me great visibility.”

John E. Kaminski, University of Maryland

John E. Kaminski received the award in 2005 while at the University of Maryland, where it led to his being hired as the first turf pathologist at the University of Connecticut. He is currently an assistant professor at Penn State and the director of the school’s two-year golf course turfgrass management program. “The Musser Award brought an immediate level of credibility and highlighted my dedication to my research efforts with turfgrass,” he said.

Kurt Steinke, University of Wisconsin

Kurt Steinke earned the award in 2006 while at the University of Wisconsin. He is currently an assistant professor of turfgrass ecology at Texas A&M University, and just completed a two-year drought study employing the largest rainout shelter in the country. “As a past Musser Award recipient, I believe this prestigious honor automatically elevates one into an elite group of scientists and provides an impetus to work that much harder to have an impact within the turfgrass industy,” he said.

Sarah R. Thompson, North Carolina State University

Sarah R. Thompson received the award in 2006 while at North Carolina State University. She is currently enjoying the transition from conducting research to directing it as a team leader with the global insecticide research advanced testing, non-crop division of BASF Corporation. She also serves as an adjunct professor at North Carolina State on a master’s student’s advisory committee. “Mentoring within the turf community will raise the caliber of students, even if they don’t win,” she said.

Aaron Patton, Purdue University

Aaron J. Patton earned the award while at Purdue University in 2007 for his research focusing on expanding understanding of zoysiagrass. He is currently an assistant professor and turfgrass extension specialist at Purdue University, department of agronomy, and has also served as an associate professor at the University of Arkansas. “I’m truly honored to follow in the footsteps of both Professor Musser and a remarkable list of previous recipients,” he said. “This is something I’ll treasure throughout my life and career.”

Adam C. Hixson, North Carolina State University

Adam C. Hixson received the award while at North Carolina State University in 2008. He is working as an agricultural biologist II with the BASF Corporation in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, a project leader developing herbicides for soybeans. He is actively trying to publish work from his doctorate, and has written articles for USGA Greens Section and Golf Course Management. “The award gave me great exposure and helped me secure my first career position with BASF,” he said.

Jo Anne Crouch, Rutgers

Jo Anne Crouch earned the award in 2009 while at Rutgers University, focusing on the population genetics of anthracnose on golf courses and other turf ecosystems. In addition to her research, she has written several journal articles and presented at industry conferences. She is currently a research molecular biologist with the USDA Agriculture Research Service systematic mycology & microbiology laboratory. “I’m deeply honored that the Musser Foundation would select me for this remarkable award that has been given to so many great researchers in the past.”

James M. Rutledge, Purdue University

James Rutledge received the award while at Purdue University in 2010 for his work focusing on the morphology and physiology of roughstalk bluegrass. Outside his PhD requirement, he also published three scientific journal articles while at Purdue. He is a product development manager at Bayer CropScience AG, where he is responsible for the development of new herbicide active ingredients. “I’m grateful to those who have contributed to my advancement and am honored to be included in the elite group of previous recipients,” he said.

Emily B. Merewitz, Physiological, Biochemical and Molecular Mechanisms associated with Drought Tolerance in Agrostix Species, Rutgers
Dr. James D. McCurdy, Assistant Professor and Turfgrass Extension Specialist at Mississippi State University

Dr. McCurdy received his B.S. degree in Plant and Soil Science (specializing in Turfgrass and Golf Course Management) from University of Tennessee, Martin. He went on to earn his M.S. at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He received his PhD from Auburn University where he worked with Dr. Scott McElroy and wrote his dissertation on “The Effects and Sustainability of Legume Inclusion within Warm-Season Turf Swards.”

Matthew Elmore, Texas A&M University and Joseph Roberts, University of Maryland

Dr. Roberts received his B.S. degree in Biological Sciences and Chemistry from North Carolina State University. He went on to earn his M.S. from Rutgers University in Plant Biology (specializing in Turfgrass Pathology). He received his Ph.D. from North Carolina State in Plant Pathology specializing in Turfgrass Pathology and wrote his dissertation on “Investigating the Cause and Developing Management Options to Control Bacterial Etiolation in Creeping Bentgrass Putting Greens. Dr. Elmore received his B.S. degree in Turfgrass Science from Pennsylvania State University. He went on to the University of Tennessee to earn his M.S in Plant Science (specializing in turfgrass weed control) and his Ph.D. in Plant, Soils and Insects (specializing in turfgrass weed control). He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on “Alternative Strategies for Weed Control in Creeping Bentgrass.”

Lisa Beirn, Rutgers University

Lisa Beirn received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rutgers University in 2007 and 2011, respectively. In 2016, she earned her Ph.D from the Department of Plant Biology & Pathology at Rutgers University. Beirn’s research focused on understanding the biology of important fungal pathogens in the turfgrass system to improve disease management and control. Beirn was been awarded with a multitude of awards and honors including: Rutgers Ralph Geiger Scholarship, Rutgers Peter S. Loft Memorial Scholarship, American Phytopathological Society's Stephen A. Johnston Memorial Student Travel Award, Rutgers Hamo Hachnasarian Scholarship Award, Rutgers Henry Indyk Graduate Fellowship Award and Crop Science Society of America Graduate Student Travel Grant. She currently serves as a scientist for Syngenta’s professional turf group.

Matthew Jeffries, North Carolina State University and David Jespersen, Rutgers University

Matthew Jeffries completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at North Carolina State University, focusing on pesticide environmental fate in turfgrass systems. Jeffries has accepted a position as a pesticide environmental fate field scientist at BASF Corporation in Research Park Triangle, NC. “ David Jespersen received his PhD from Rutgers University in 2016. He studied physiology and molecular biology of heat stress in creeping bentgrass under Dr. Bingru Huang. His thesis title was “Metabolic and Molecular Factors Associated with Heat Induced Leaf Senescence in Agrostis.” David is currently an Assistant Professor at University of Georgia where he researches abiotic stress in turfgrasses as a turfgrass physiologist in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

Patrick Burgess, Rutgers University

Burgess received his doctorate from the plant biology graduate program at Rutgers University. His dissertation was focused on "Physiological and biochemical factors associated with drought tolerance of creeping bentgrass," under the advisement of Dr. Bingru Huang. Following completion of his degree, Burgess accepted a position with Bayer as the Northeast field development scientist within the Environmental Science division. His primary goal is to drive customer-centric innovation and thought leadership across the turfgrass, ornamental, professional pest management, and vector control markets.

Phillip Vines, Rutgers University

Vines completed his B.S. degree in Agronomy from Mississippi State University. He went on to earn his M.S. from Mississippi State University in Plant Pathology. Additionally, he received an M.S. from Rutgers University in Statistics. He earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers in Plant Breeding and Genomics and wrote his dissertation on "Molecular Breeding Tools for Improving Morphological Traits and Biotic and Abiotic Stress Responses in Perennial Ryegrass." He’s currently an assistant professor of plant breeding at Rutgers.

Garett C. Heineck, University of Minnesota

Dr. Heineck received his B.S. degree in Crop and Soil Science with a minor in Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. He went on to earn his M.S. from University of Minnesota in Applied Plant Science in the Plant Breeding and Molecular Genetics track. He then received his Ph.D. from University of Minnesota in the same program and wrote his dissertation entitled, "Pragmatic Methods for Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) Breeding."

Cameron Stephens, North Carolina State University

Stephens received his B.S. in Agriculture with a focus on turfgrass science from The Ohio State University and his M.S. in Agronomy from Pennsylvania State University where he focused on turfgrass pathology and fungicide resistance. He completed his Ph.D in Plant Pathology at NCSU with a successful dissertation entitled, “Etiology, Epidemiology, and Management of Take-all Root Rot on Golf Course Putting Greens.” Stephens is now a technical market manager with BASF Turf.