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Meet our new faculty

Here's a glance at employees who have recently joined the Division of Agriculture. Some of them are new to the Division of Agriculture, others of them have moved into other positions within the Division of Agriculture. 


Man in jacket and tie

Michael Blazier

Michael Blazier is dean for the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and Director of the Arkansas Forest Resources Center.

Blazier comes from Louisiana State University, where he has served for 18 years as a forestry project leader at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station and professor.  He is experienced as a statewide forestry extension specialist and holds dozens of peer-reviewed publications. He holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Louisiana Tech University, as well as a master’s and Ph.D. in forestry fields from Oklahoma State University.

Blazier succeeded Phil Tappe as dean of the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Carla Due

Carla Due

Carla Due currently serves as District Director for 25 Ouachita District counties in Southwest Arkansas. Her previous work experience in Arkansas includes serving 30 years in Miller County in various educational roles including:  4-H agent, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent and Staff Chair and Family & Consumer Science agent. She was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and reared in Haskell, Oklahoma. 

She succeeds Beth Phelps, who retired.

Man with black and gray beard and checked shirt

Kevin Lawson 

Kevin Lawson is director of the Ozark District, supervising the region’s 25 extension offices. Lawson joined the Cooperative Extension Service in 1995 in Monroe County. He’s also worked in Perry, Prairie and White counties and served as staff chair in Faulkner County before being appointed district director. 

Both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the University of Arkansas. Lawson has earned multiple Extension Excellence and Arkansas Association of County Agriculture Agents Awards, as well as a National Association of County Agriculture Agents Distinguished Service Award.

He succeeds Sharon Reynolds, who retired. 

Portrait of Debbie Nistler, with blonde curly hair, dark jacket, red blouse

Debbie Nistler

Debbie Nistler, extension’s new assistant vice president of 4-H and youth development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is a 4-H alumna and proud member of a “4-H family.”

Nistler, who starts on Mayl1, said she is looking forward to connecting with Arkansas 4-H professionals across the state.

“Our 4-H professionals are the lifeblood of the program,” she said. “I cannot wait to share in their enthusiasm. I also look forward to engaging in summer camps and activities and getting excited about the future of Arkansas 4-H.”

As a 4-H alumna, Nistler said she has seen firsthand how the program impacts youth and sets them on a path to success. She was a member from fourth grade through her senior year of high school in Yamhill, Oregon.

man with short hair and glasses, smiling

Hunter Biram 

Hunter D. Biram is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Arkansas and a crop extension economist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Biram grew up in Floral, Arkansas, working on a  family farm with a cow-calf herd, broiler chickens, a greenhouse nursery and a peach orchard. He earned his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University in the 2022 where he gained an appreciation for crop insurance participation impacts on producer behavior and determinants of crop insurance premium rates.

Biram has a strong interest in crop insurance and commodity programs as a risk management strategy for crop producers, and his extension programming focuses on crop risk management using crop insurance. 

Lawson Connor

Lawson Connor 

 A shift in thinking about environmental sustainability on the farm as a long-term risk mitigation factor is taking place in agricultural economics. Lawson Connor, assistant professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness with the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, is working to quantify the economic effects of sustainability practices such as cover crop programs and water conservation tactics. These results could then be translated into economic decision tools for farmers.

Trey Malone portrait

Trey Malone

Trey Malone, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, has spent more than a decade researching agricultural marketing issues and is now focused on developing technology that will help producers in regional food systems compete in a global marketplace. Malone says marketing in a world with endless options requires producers to know more about consumer demand.

Brandon McFaddon portrait

Brandon McFaddon

Brandon McFadden is the new Tyson Endowed Chair in Food Policy Economics in the department of agricultural economics and agribusiness. His work as an agricultural economist focuses on consumer knowledge — and confusion — in emerging markets to estimate consumer demand and what consumers value in those emerging markets. His research provides information that can help farmers, processors and manufacturers.

Woman with short dark hair wearing a dark jacket

Jada Thompson

Jada Thompson, a northwest Arkansas native, is among a small group of agricultural economists who specialize in poultry. She has a long history with the University of Arkansas, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics there. For her bachelor’s degree, Thompson double-majored in poultry science and agricultural economics. She returned to Arkansas as an agricultural economics assistant professor following five years as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

She earned her doctorate in 2016 at Colorado State University. 

Man with dark hair, glasses, green shirt

Randy Forst

Randy Forst, who has served as a county extension agent for 13 years, has been hired as the consumer horticulture educator for extension, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. In his new role, Forst will provide leadership for statewide horticulture programs and coordinate the Arkansas Master Gardeners program, the state’s largest horticulture volunteer and education organization. Forst began the new position Oct. 3.

Forst has a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Design and Urban Horticulture and a Master of Science in General Agriculture, both from the University of Arkansas. Before joining extension, he was a landscape architect in Tennessee.

Hannah Wright-Smith

Hannah Wright-Smith

Hannah Wright-Smith, new extension weed specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, will be keeping an eye on  brush control, forests, forages, turf, horticulture crops, industrial sites and right-of-way.

As part of her duties, Wright-Smith will also conduct research for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture.

Wright-Smith received her Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics with an emphasis in Agribusiness from Mississippi State University. She received her Master of Science in Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, with an emphasis in Weed Science, from the University of Arkansas in 2020. She will receive her Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences, with an emphasis in Weed Science, from the University of Georgia in December 2022. 

Woman with dark shoulder length hair wearing glasses.

Ashlyn Ussery

Ashlyn Ussery is the agriculture and natural resources educator at the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center in Greenfield, Arkansas, where she is working to build an agriculture educational program for youth and adults in the delta region that will be focused predominantly on rice. With the NERREC building still under construction, Ashlyn is working with extension agents and community groups in the delta to not only learn how NERREC can best serve them, but also to begin building educational opportunities for the community now.

Ashlyn is originally from central Arkansas and received a bachelors in Agricultural Business from Southern Arkansas University in 2019. From there, she continued her education at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she received a masters in agriculture extension education with an emphasis in communication and leadership.

This is a new position. 

Les Walz in front of a tree

Les Walz 

For Les Walz, his new position as Agriculture and Natural Resources Livestock and Forages Educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an opportunity to mentor county agents and teach them about these two major production systems and more.

Walz began his new role in May 2022 after working as a Cleveland County extension agent for more than 22 years. He said the most rewarding part of his career as an agent has been helping clients succeed.

This is a new position. 

Portrait of bearded man with dark suit and tie.

Shane Gadberry

After 25 years as an extension livestock specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Shane Gadberry has been appointed resident director of the research station near Batesville.

He succeeds Don Hubbell, who retired. 

Portrait of Maggie Justice

Maggie Justice 

Maggie Justice joins the division as an assistant professor-beef cattle systems in beef cattle husbandry and integrated resource management.

Justice, a native of Springfield, South Carolina, earned her M.S. a Clemson and a Ph.D. at Auburn.

She will provide training and support to county extension agents and will also develop producer outreach programs with an eye to increasing on-farm efficiency and sustainability.

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Brittni Littlejohn

Brittni Littlejohn is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas. Her areas of research interest broadly encompass beef cattle physiology and specifically include reproduction, prenatal programming, and epigenetics. Littlejohn completed her graduate degrees in Physiology of Reproduction at Texas A&M University and completed her postdoctoral training at Mississippi State University prior to joining the faculty ranks.

Dan Quadros

Dan Quadros

Dan Quadros is an assistant professor and extension small ruminant specialist. Quadros received his M.S. and Ph.D. at São Paulo State University. He completed post-doctoral training at the University of Florida and Texas A&M University.  He will provide training and support for extension agents, as well as helping producers in their understanding of small ruminant hubandry and health. He will also provide leadership in small ruminant systems and management within the state and region.

Derico Setyabrata wearing glasses

Derico Setyabrata

Derico Setyabrata's research focuses on identifying flavor compound influences in dry-aged beef that can make lower-value cuts more palatable to consumers. Setyabrata started with the research arm of the Division of Agriculture, the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, in April. His research focuses on identifying flavor compound influences in dry-aged beef that can make lower-value cuts more palatable to consumers. 

Woman with long hair, glasses wearing a royal blue top.

Hunter Goodman 

Hunter Goodman is an assistant professor for Community, Workforce and Economic Development. She focuses on building capacity across the state, particularly in the areas of nonprofit, workforce and community leadership for local development and resiliency. Goodman believes strongly in the power of community, organizations, local leaders, and neighborhoods to create change.

Goodman earned her doctoral degree in leadership studies from the University of Central Arkansas.

Jeantyl Norze

Jeantyl Norze

Jeantyl Norze is an associate professor - organizational accountability and evaluation for the Cooperatuve Extension Service. He earned his DVM degree at the Universidad Agraria de La Habana and his master’s degree and Ph.D. degree at Louisiana Sate University where he worked as a graduate research student, post-doctoral fellow, and adjunct faculty. 

He previously worked for extension services in Nevada and Connecticut. 

Gerson Drescher portrait

Gerson Drescher

Gerson Drescher, assistant professor of soil fertility, is interested in expanding the tools and methods for plant and soil analysis to improve that line of communication.

Nutrient recommendations rely on timely and accurate analysis. “By the time you can visually diagnose a nutrient deficiency, you already compromised your yield potential to some extent,” Drescher said.

Drescher first attended the University of Arkansas in 2017 through an exchange program while working on his doctorate at the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil.

Portrait of Bronc Finch

Bronc Finch

Bronc Finch is an assistant professor and extension soil fertility specialist. Finch's primary focus will be on soil fertility for forage and pasture production. A large portion of Bronc’s research has focused on forage nutrient management and forage cover cropping in winter wheat grazing systems. However, during his graduate studies, Bronc managed trials in various cropping systems. He received his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University. 

Samuel Fernandes

Samuel Fernandes

Samuel Fernandes, an agricultural statistics assistant professor, combines computer science advances with elements of agriculture to help plant breeders, growers and consumers. Fernandes. He will primarily split his research between the departments of crop, soil and environmental sciences and horticulture.

He developed a simulation package called “simplePHENOTYPES” on the statistical program R. The package helps researchers simulate phenotypic observations based on molecular marker data.

Viera portrait

Caio Canella Vieira

Soybean breeder Caio Canella Vieira is building a bridge from the past to the future at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Vieira plans to use advanced genetic tools to speed up the development of new varieties with improvements like yield potential, adaptability in broad environments, and overall resilience to biotic and abiotic stressors.

He did his undergraduate work at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He studied for a year at the University of Minnesota and was a visiting scholar at Purdue University before earning his master’s and a doctorate in plant breeding, genetics, and genomics at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Portrait of Rich Adams, with dark coat, red tie, dark short hair

Rich Adams

Rich Adams builds new statistical algorithms to make sense of the biological data from DNA, RNA, proteins and other complexities of biology.

If the terminology puzzles you, don’t worry. That’s why Adams is here.

Adams recently joined the Agricultural Statistics Laboratory and the department of entomology and plant pathology as an assistant professor of agricultural statistics at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. AAES is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. He also has a teaching appointment in the University of Arkansas’ Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences where he will teach statistics and data science courses.

Portrait of Asia Kud

Asia Kud

Asia Kud, assistant professor of nematology, is probing the mechanisms by which nematodes overcome resistance in plants.

Kud earned a Master of Science degree in biotechnology with a specialization in immunology from Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland. She earned her doctorate in plant science at the University of Idaho, Moscow.

Her master’s thesis work focused on colon cancer research, but she switched to plant sciences for her Ph.D. She worked in molecular nematology as a post-doctoral scientist at the University of Idaho, focusing on nematode pests in potatoes.

At the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station she plans to focus on Arkansas crops, beginning with soybean, corn and cotton.

Rupesh Kariyat

Rupesh Kariyat

Plants naturally equip themselves with defenses against insect herbivores. Understanding how those defenses work can reveal alternative approaches to pest management. Rupesh Kariyat, associate professor of crop entomology with the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, researches the principles of those defenses to find innovative pest management strategies. He will also work with the Cooperative Extension Service and teach courses through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

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Camila Nicolli

Camila Nicolli is an extension plant pathologist responsible for managing rice diseases at the Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart. Developing and validating new technologies for enhancing disease control on those crops is one of my research and extension program's goals. My research projects focus on better understanding the biology, ecology, and epidemiology of economically important pathogens, primarily in rice, to improve disease management in growing fields. My extension efforts focus on generating, evaluating, and disseminating solutions to many disease problems associated with field crops in Arkansas.

Nicolli earned her Ph.D. at Federal University of Lavras in Brazil.

Woman with short dark hair

Leigh Ann Bullington 

Leigh Ann Bullington is a former county extension staff chair who is now an extension Family and Consumer Science instructor who will serve as a mentor for agents. This is a new position. 

Bullington grew up in Marianna, Arkansas. She graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics.

Bullington began her role as educator in October 2021 after working as an FCS agent in Cross County from 2011 to 2015, and then as extension staff chair of Woodruff County.  

man with long gray hair and glasses.

Josh Phelps

Josh Phelps is an associate professor with the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at the Cooperative Extension Service. Phelps works in the areas of community and public health nutrition, splitting his time with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), and General Nutrition responsibilities.

EFNEP and SNAP-Ed are two federally funded programs, which differ in target audiences and modes of implementation and evaluation and are delivered through the UADA Cooperative Extension Service via dedicated teams of Extension personnel across the state of Arkansas. Josh has the pleasure of working with the EFNEP and SNAP-Ed teams, as well as other folks to address nutrition education needs in Arkansas. 

Josh earned his MS in Nutritional Sciences and PhD in Human Environmental Sciences with Specialization in Nutritional Sciences from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Woman with short dark hair and a gray jacket wearing glasses.

Kristen Gibson

The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station has appointed Kristen Gibson, professor of food safety and microbiology, director of the Center for Food Safety. As part of her new role, Gibson will take on a small joint appointment with the poultry science department.

Her research focuses on the fate and transport of pathogens within food systems, including food handling and processing. She specializes in investigating human noroviruses and food safety related to fresh produce and retail outlets.

She succeeds Steven Ricke. 

Headshot of Scott LaFontaine

Scott Lafontaine

Scott Lafontaine, assistant professor in food chemistry, joined the department of food science at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas to investigate the chemical components that impart desirable smells, tastes and mouthfeels to drinks and foods.

Lafontaine earned bachelor’s degrees in molecular biology and chemistry in 2011 at Kean University in New Jersey. He earned a master’s degree in biotechnology at Kean in 2012 and another master’s degree in chemistry at Oregon State University in 2015. He earned a Ph.D. in food science at Oregon State in 2018.


Portrait of Anthony Bowden

Anthony Bowden

Anthony Bowden, is assistant professor - extension ornamentals specialist. The Jacksonville, Alabama, native earned his BS in agronomy and crop science from Auburn, remaining there to earn an MS in ornamental horticulture. He earned his Ph.D. in ornamental horticulture from Mississippi State. He's responsible for establishing a research and extension program to address the unique needs of the state's commercial ornamental hort industry.


Portrait of Wendell Hutchens

Wendell Hutchens

Drones and GPS technology are some of the emerging tools in the treatment of turfgrass diseases, and Wendell Hutchens hopes to find the best uses for these technologies in his new role with the turfgrass research program at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

In August, Hutchens joined the experiment station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. He will teach courses through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas and conduct outreach work through the Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service.

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham joined the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science and the Department of Poultry Science as an assistant professor with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture on July 1. Her research will include in vitro and/or in vivo studies with various parasites, including Histomonas meleagridis, Eimeria spp. and Enterococcus cecorum.

Tomi Obe

Tomi Obe

Tomi Obe, new assistant professor with the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science and department of poultry science, is eager to find ways to identify and control foodborne pathogens in the poultry industry.

She received her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in poultry science — all from Mississippi State University.

While at Mississippi State University, Obe said she became interested in improving food safety in poultry and poultry products. Her current research focuses on understanding Salmonella and Campylobacter persistence in poultry production and processing environments.

Obe also has a joint appointment with the food science department, and will contribute to the research conducted by the Center for Food Safety.

Shawna Weimer

Shawna Weimer

A University of Arkansas alumna and Iowa native with academic research and animal industry experience is the new director of the Center for Food Animal Well-Being, a part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Shawna Weimer, Ph.D., os the new director for the Center that provides applied research results to producers and the public on animal health and well-being. She will also be teaching a graduate-level animal welfare course in the spring.

She succeeds Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton.

For other employees, visit our directory