Published on 12/05/12

Jean and Rob Fowler to receive CAES Medallion of Honor

By Merritt Melancon

Former Jasper County Extension agent Jean Fowler may have retired in 2011, but she and her husband Rob continue to promote the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Fowlers have traveled the globe promoting the college’s Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system while supporting the college’s domestic and international outreach missions.

“Jean and Rob Fowler have been tireless advocates for our work and invaluable ambassadors of our programs especially in Central America,” said Dean J. Scott Angle, of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Angle will recognize the Fowlers’ contributions to the college with the CAES Medallion of Honor at the college’s Dec. 14, fall commencement ceremony. The award is given periodically in recognition of service to the college and the agricultural industry in Georgia.

“The Fowlers' commitment isn’t only in extending our programs internationally, but making sure Georgians have access to our research and Extension programs as well,” Angle said.

Rob Fowler, a retired president of Main Street Bank in Covington, Ga., helped arrange the first endowed 4-H agent’s position in UGA history, also believed to be the first endowed agent position in the country. In 2007 he worked with BB&T to create a $1.2 million endowment to continuously fund the 4-H agent’s position in Jasper County.

Over the years the couple has hosted several international students from South America, Central America and Asia at their farm in Newton County. These students have been able to complete graduate work and undergraduate internships with the college while living with the Fowlers.

Apart from their work with young people, the couple was integral in implementing use of UGA’s distance diagnostic system in Central America, where it is helping curb pest problems on farms and in exports.

The Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system (known as DDDI for short) is an Internet-based system by which farmers and field agents can communicate with university experts using digital images and samples to diagnose problems with soil, plants, animals and insects. The DDDI program is part of the college’s Center for Internet Imaging and Database Systems.

In 2006 Rob Fowler secured $100,000 to fund the international distance diagnostic pilot program in Honduras. Success in Honduras led to a USAID grant that extended use of the distance diagnostic system throughout Central America.

Jean Fowler worked to popularize the system among county agents in Georgia and then went on to set up the system in Central America. In 2003 she used the system to link children in a Jasper County 4-H Club to a group of school children in Honduras.

Currently, the couple is volunteering to help set up a DDDI system in Haiti.

Fowler believes that impoverished countries, like Honduras and Haiti, may also be able to put the system to use to connect doctors to their patients in outlying areas or to specialist in other countries.

"I believe the DDDI system is the answer to affordable health care for the world,” Jean Fowler said.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.