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Plant Pathologist Jimenez-Gasco Earns Excellence in Teaching Award
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 09/13/2021

María del Mar Jimenez-Gasco, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, received this year's Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the American Phytopathological Society. The honor came during the group's annual meeting, Plant Health 2021, held virtually.

The award recognizes an American Phytopathological Society member for excellence in teaching plant pathology. Preference is given to active teachers with responsibility for one or more courses in plant pathology.

Jimenez-Gasco joined Penn State in 2002 as a postdoctoral scholar and became a faculty member in 2005. She achieved the rank of full professor in July.

In 2006, she developed a course, "PPATH 505: Fundamentals of Phytopathology," which teaches critical thinking skills to plant pathology graduate students. Jimenez-Gasco designed this course to review and explore basic principles and new advances in plant pathology using dynamic primary literature.

In course reviews, students have credited the power of combining outside readings with the questions and discussions in class for their development. Students have indicated that Jimenez-Gasco's enthusiasm and willingness to indulge their questions encourages them to explore and develop.

Jimenez-Gasco continues to make a positive impact on all students through her instruction and participation on many committees. She has served on 34 graduate student committees and mentored eight doctoral students, two master's degree students and four postdoctoral scholars who have moved into permanent university positions.

Her mentorship has resulted in numerous students receiving awards from Penn State, prestigious national awards and recognition from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Phytopathological Society. In addition, her students have received international agriculture prizes and have been first author on publications. She excels as a member of the plant pathology graduate faculty by providing outstanding research leadership and mentorship to her students.

A leader in the college's efforts to provide world-class international agricultural training to graduate and undergraduate students, Jimenez-Gasco is the coordinator of plant pathology studies for the International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) dual-title graduate degree program. She has guided 14 students to earn dual-title plant pathology--INTAD degrees.

Jimenez-Gasco also serves as a member of the INTAD graduate faculty, curriculum review committee, and the International Programs Advisory Council, overseeing all international efforts in the college. She also is an active contributor to the program, serving on the development team and teaching the plant pathology section of "INTAD 577: Global Agricultural Systems."

Twice in the last five years, Jimenez-Gasco also co-taught "INTAD 820: International Agriculture and Development," an embedded course that trains students to examine international agricultural development issues through observation of systems, methods and policies while abroad.

As the program coordinator and adviser for the plant pathology minor at Penn State, her influence reaches beyond graduate students. She accelerates the plant pathology careers of undergraduate students by allowing them to explore the discipline and providing them with research opportunities.

The plant pathology minor serves 15 to 20 undergraduate students a year. Jimenez-Gasco also provides vision and leadership for undergraduate students in international agricultural programs through her service on the advisory council for the International Agriculture (INTAG) minor.

Together with Gretchen Kuldau, associate professor, Jimenez-Gasco co-created and co-teaches the highly successful course, "PPEM 120: The Fungal Jungle: A Mycological Safari from Truffles to Slime Molds." Since 2007, more than 35 students enroll each fall to develop a keen awareness of fungi in their lives through lectures and informal class activities.

Jimenez-Gasco and Kuldau recently implemented techniques acquired from attending a national teaching workshop to increase student engagement. Further, they were able to navigate obstacles presented by remote learning during the pandemic while continuing to provide a unique learning experience to students. This course serves as a gateway to the plant pathology and the mushroom science and technology minors, as well as careers in plant pathology.

Jimenez-Gasco, who served the American Phytopathological Society as a senior editor of Plant Disease and associate editor of Phytopathology, received the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educator Award in 2020.

She received her bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences and engineering (crop production specialization) from the School of Agriculture and Forestry (Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos y de Montes), University of Córdoba, in 1997. She earned a doctoral degree in crop protection with a specialization in plant pathology in 2001 from the same university and the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture.


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