Published on 11/08/18

CAES Alumni Association recognizes outstanding alumni

By Sadie Lackey

Agricultural advocates and educators topped this year’s list of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association’s best and brightest alumni.

“We are so lucky at CAES to be part of an alumni community with a truly diverse set of interests and areas of impact,” said Van McCall, 2018 president of the CAES Alumni Association. “But whether they’re in the field, in the boardroom or in the classroom, our alumni demonstrate outstanding leadership skills and commitment to making Georgia and the world a better place.”

The CAES Alumni Association will present the 2018 awards at a banquet on November 9 at the Grand Hall in Tate Student Center.

This year’s Alumni Awards of Excellence will be presented to four CAES alumni who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields or in their communities. This year’s winners include:

Donya Lester, executive director of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association

A first-generation college graduate, Lester received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from CAES in 1981. She continued her education at Virginia Tech, receiving a master's degree in animal breeding and genetics.

After graduation, she was hired as the director of Performance Programs International Breeder Association in 1983 and returned to UGA in 1986 to serve as the first CAES development director.

After helping to launch the CAES external relations program, Lester joined the Purdue University Agricultural Alumni Association as director and served as director of public engagement for the Purdue University College of Agriculture.

Krishna Paudel, professor at Louisiana State University

Paudel, who obtained his doctorate in agricultural economics from CAES in 1999, has become an international leader in water quality modeling.

After graduation, he joined the faculty of the Louisiana State University Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. He now holds an endowed professorship at LSU and studies the relationship between income and pollution.

He has also built a reputation for encouraging international studies and service work among students at LSU and across the country.

Calvin Perry, superintendent of the University of Georgia’s C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park

Perry graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and master’s degree in 1988. His work promoting precision agriculture has made Georgia a leader in water-efficient farming.

Perry joined UGA Cooperative Extension in 1989 as a staff research engineer. He worked with a team that developed variable rate irrigation — a technology now prevalent in the industry. Since 2008, he has served as the superintendent of UGA’s C.M. Stripling Research Park in Camilla, Georgia.

In 2017, he was asked by UGA Extension’s associate dean to head a project called the Agricultural Water Efficiency Team (AgWET). AgWET trains Extension agents in smart irrigation strategies. The agents then bring their knowledge home to growers in their communities.

Jody Strickland, executive vice president of forest operations and real estate services for F&W Forest Services

Strickland, who graduated from UGA with her bachelor’s in agricultural engineering in 1986, has been a leader in Georgia’s forestry industry for more than 30 years, but she has never forgotten her roots in CAES.

She has held forest operations positions with Weyerhaeuser, Proctor and Gamble, and the Georgia Forestry Commission, and she now serves as the executive vice president of forest operations and real estate services for F&W Forest Services.

She is a past president of the CAES Alumni Association and currently serves as the chair of the board of directors for Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry.

The alumni association will also honor three young alumni with its CAES Young Alumni Achievement Awards. These awards recognize CAES alumni under 40 who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields or in their communities. The 2018 award winners include:

Linda Brothers Purvis, poultry science instructor and academic advisor at the University of North Georgia

Since graduating from CAES with a bachelor’s degree in poultry science in 2002, Purvis has worked tirelessly to bring more poultry science education to northeast Georgia, the poultry capital of the world.

Over the last seven years, she started and built the poultry science and agriculture program at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville.

The 85-student program started in 2011 with no faculty, no course materials and no scholarship money to support students. Purvis served as a founding instructor and sole academic advisor for the college’s associate degrees in general agriculture, poultry science and avian biology.

Nick Chammoun, technical agronomist for Monsanto

Chammoun graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in crop science and in 2009 with a master’s degree in agricultural engineering.

His time at CAES allowed him to explore many leadership opportunities, but the most impactful was the summer that Chammoun spent in Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office as a Congressional Agriculture Fellow.

His time in the nation’s capital helped Chammoun decide to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served from 2009 to 2014, attending officer training school and deploying to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

When he returned home, Chammoun took a training position with Monsanto that allowed him to work with UGA Extension weed control expert Stanley Culpepper. Together they created the farmer training regimen required for the company’s Georgia rollout of its dicamba herbicide.

Sara Webb Hughes, agricultural education teacher at Oglethorpe County Middle School

Hughes, who graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and in 2003 with a master’s degree in agricultural education, has a proven track record for growing successful programs from the ground up.

She started her career at Madison County Middle School, then taught at Athens Christian School and currently works at Oglethorpe County Middle School. At each of these schools, she started the agricultural education program from scratch.

Hughes has won several awards over the years for her accomplishments, but most recently she was selected as the Teacher of the Year, 2017-2018, for Oglethorpe County Middle School.

For more information about the CAES Alumni Association, visit

Sadie Lackey is a student writer for the CAES Office of Communications and Creative Services.

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