Feb. 21, 2014

Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2014

Lynda M. Ciuffetti, PhD '83 

“Make sure you approach your studies in a way that you are the one making the decisions for your future and not a lack of success in your studies that makes the decisions for you.”

Lynda Ciuffetti
Photo provided
In her role as deputy marshal of commencement exercises at Oregon State University, Lynda Ciuffetti leads the undergraduates into Reser Stadium.

This article is the second in a series highlighting the 2014 recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society, and have exhibited high potential for professional growth.

The 11 honorees are John Becherer, Lynda M. Ciuffetti, Johann (Joe) R. Garwood, Anetra L. Harbor, Carl C. Kincaid, Donald J. Leopold, Maurício Antônio Lopes, Nicholas L. Rozzi, S. Richard Tolman, Geoffrey C. Waldbieser and Carla N. Yerkes. They will receive their awards Friday, March 7, during a public reception and convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.

Lynda Ciuffetti, PhD ’83, has been the head of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University since 2008.

The long-term goal of her research is a complete molecular description of factors that account for the ability of microorganisms to cause plant disease. Specifically, her lab is investigating the molecular mechanisms in the Pyrenophora tritici-repentis—wheat interaction. But throughout her career, Ciuffetti has also excelled as a teacher.

She has received no fewer than 10 awards for teaching undergraduate cellular and molecular biology courses. In 1996 Ciuffetti received a National Science Foundation CAREER award, which supports research and novel educational activities. She was named a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society in 2011 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012.

“Her talent for teaching and her dedication to students were immediately evident at Oregon State,” said her nominator, Peter Goldsbrough, head of the Purdue Department of Botany and Plant Pathology.

“She has served as a member of 30 graduate committees and established and directed a mentoring program for graduate teaching assistants for the past 20 years,” Goldsbrough said. “She has served as major professor for five graduate students, mentored nine postdoctoral fellows, and supervised research experiences for 29 undergraduates. Her passion for science, her infectious enthusiasm for research and the excellence of her research group are well known and recognized at Oregon State.”

Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? Dr. Larry D. Dunkle, my PhD adviser. Larry recently retired and we participated in his retirement celebration. I hope he knows from comments made at that event what a profound impact he has had on my life. I will say that none of us accomplish what we accomplish alone. We do what we do because of the influence and help of others. Larry instilled in me the necessity to always produce and publish quality data, and I have tried to do this throughout my career. I have also tried to nurture and instill this focus to those I have had the privilege to mentor over the years.

What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I am most looking forward to the interactions with those I have not had the opportunity to see over the past years. I am also looking forward to seeing the changes in Botany and Plant Pathology, Lilly Hall, and the overall general changes on campus.

Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? The chair of the Biological Sciences Department at Michigan Technological University, where I received my master’s degree, suggested it would be a good fit for me and encouraged me to consider applying to the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology for my PhD.

Where was your favorite place on campus to study? In our office or lab.

What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? The camaraderie with the graduate students and the faculty. I still look fondly upon the many friendships made and the wonderful interactions.

Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? I guess there is always room for improvement, but I worked very hard to do well in my classes and to excel in my research.

What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? I don’t recall any particular class being the most difficult. As a PhD student, one takes their course work very seriously, and you anticipate a rigorous curriculum. I do, however, recall with great admiration two courses: plant pathology taught by Dr. John Tuite and plant virology taught by Drs. Richard Lister and Andy Jackson. The reason I mention these two classes is that both had Saturday labs, and these labs lasted most of the day. It seems strange that I would look fondly on those Saturday labs, but the interactions, discussions and camaraderie during those lab sessions was very special and critical, I believe, to our development as scientists.

What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? Dr. E. B. Williams provided the following quote: “Illegitimi non carborundum.” When I realized what this mock-Latin aphorism referred to, I really had to smile. Over the years, I have often recalled the incident when E. B. was sitting in the media room having his coffee and he made that statement just prior to me going into my PhD defense. I still smile at his wisdom!

What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? A piece of advice I give to all individuals in our lab is a piece of wisdom from Dr. Barbara McClintock. I always encourage them to develop a feel for their organism, to spend the time necessary to observe and know the organism that they are studying.

To the thousands of undergraduate students and also the graduate students I have taught over the years, the most valuable piece of advice I have given is to make sure they approach their studies in a way that they are the ones making the decisions for their futures and not a lack of success in their studies that makes the decisions for them.

Coming next: Johann (Joe) Garwood, BS '78

Read about other 2014 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.


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