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The 5th I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium: 
Today’s Students Preparing to Meet Tomorrow’s Challenges in Epidemiology and Plant Disease Management

© 2007 Plant Management Network.

Forrest W. Nutter, Jr.
Professor, Department of Plant Pathology,
Iowa State University, Ames 50011

Corresponding author: Forrest W. Nutter, Jr.

Nutter, F. W., Jr. 2007. The 5th I. E. Melhus graduate student symposium:  Today’s students preparing to meet tomorrow’s challenges in epidemiology and plant disease management. Online. Plant Health Progress doi:10.1094/PHP-2007-0726-01-PS.

The 5th I.E. Melhus Graduate Symposium

The Irving E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium is a prestigious annual event that takes place as part of the annual meeting of the American Phytopathology Society (APS) and is co-sponsored by the APS Epidemiology Committee and the APS Foundation. The I.E. Melhus symposia feature graduate students competitively chosen to present their thesis research results. Criteria for selection include an evaluation of the significance of the contribution towards improving our understanding of plant pathology, their communication skills, and letters of nomination. 

History of the I.E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium

Every three years since the 1984 APS Annual Meeting, the APS Epidemiology Committee has sponsored a Graduate Student Symposium highlighting the innovative, science-based epidemiological research being conducted by APS graduate student members. In 1999, however, the APS Epidemiology Committee was approached by the APS Foundation with a proposal for the APS Epidemiology Committee to organize the First I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium.  Moreover, the APS Foundation would provide limited travel funds for the five or six graduate students who were chosen to participate in the symposium.  It is highly appropriate that the APS Epidemiology Committee was asked to organize the First I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium in 1999, as Irving E. Melhus was an early pioneer in plant disease epidemiology and had a major influence on the research and graduate training activities of students. Dr. Melhus, a student of L. R. Jones, was the first person to receive a doctorate (1926) in plant pathology from the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Melhus’ early work on late blight of potato led to a disease forecasting service of great importance to potato growers.  Melhus showed that the pathogen responsible for late blight of potato (Phytopthora infestans) overwintered in potato tubers. In addition, Melhus’ early work also was done on root and stalk rots of corn.  I. E. Melhus came to Iowa State College (University) in 1916 as the first full-time plant pathologist and initiated the first intensive experimental research program in plant pathology at Iowa State.  Moreover, Melhus was a pioneer in establishing Iowa’s network of field research stations to further the mission of the University and plant pathology research. Over a period of thirty years, he attracted many outstanding students, including L. W. Durrell, who in 1923 earned the first doctorate in plant pathology from Iowa State College.  In 1946, Dr. Melhus founded the Iowa State College-Guatemala Tropical Research Center for the study of corn improvement. This was the first overseas experimental station operated by a US university and Dr. Melhus led the program from 1946-1953.

Dr. Melhus was not only an outstanding plant disease epidemiologist, but was an inspiring mentor with an engaging personality and a keen sense of humor. I. E. Melhus, a recognized leader in plant pathology, was described by his peers as a grey (late in his career), low-voiced man of infinite dignity. He served as president of APS in 1926 and was elected a Fellow of APS in 1965, the first year this prestigious recognition was given by the Society. 

The I. E. Melhus Student Symposium Fund

The I. E. Melhus Student Symposium Fund was established in Melhus’ honor through generous donations provided to the APS Foundation by Dr. and Mrs. William Paddock, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Goeppinger, and Dr. and Mrs. Jack R. Wallin. The Melhus Fund was established to enhance graduate student professionalism and memorialize this influential plant pathologist (epidemiologist). 

The Symposium Participants

In honor of Melhus’s leadership and professionalism that he exhibited throughout his distinguished career, it is with great respect and pleasure that the following graduate students be recognized for their participation in the 5th I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium that was held during the 97th Meeting of the American Phytopathological Society in Austin, Texas.


Paul Esker received his B.Sc. degree from the University of Wisconsin in genetics and bacteriology in 1998 and his M.Sc. degree in plant pathology from Iowa State University in 2001. Paul was honored as a recipient of a National Science Foundation Vertical Integration of Graduate Research and Education Fellowship to pursue his doctorate at Iowa State University. He completed his Ph.D. with a duo major in both plant pathology and statistics in 2006. His Ph.D. research focused upon the epidemiological factors associated with Stewart’s disease of corn; however, he has also actively participated in collaborative research projects regarding the epidemiology of the Phoma-pyrethrum pathosystem in Tasmania with Sarah Pethvbridges’ laboratory and the papaya yellow crinkle-papaya pathosystems in Northern Territories, Australia with Karen Gibbs’ laboratory. He has been an active participant in APS activities, including serving as the immediate past chair of the Graduate Student Committee, as well as being a committee member of the Epidemiology Committee. His research was well received, as he received 1st place awards for oral presentations at NC-APS divisional meetings (1999 and 2000) and he also participated in the 2nd I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium in 2001 in Salt Lake City, UT. Paul has accepted a faculty position in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin in the area of filed crops pathology.  Article Summary

  Megan Kennelly
Megan Kennelly

Megan M. Kennelly, originally from Madison, Wisconsin, earned her undergraduate degree in botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1999. As an undergraduate, she developed an interest in applied plant pathology while working on diseases of cranberry with Patricia McManus. She then enrolled at Cornell University where she conducted her dissertation research at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in collaboration with Robert C. Seem, David M. Gadoury, and Wayne F. Wilcox, and at the South Australian Research and Development Institute in Loxton, South Australia, with Peter A. Magarey. Megan’s dissertation work involved studies of several key aspects of the biology and epidemiology of grapevine downy mildew, caused by Plasmopara viticola. Megan completed her Ph.D. in 2005. Megan is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at Kansas State University. Article Summary

David Schmale
David Schmale

David Schmale completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University. His major advisor was Gary Bergstrom. David was born and raised in San Diego, California, and attended UC Davis as an undergraduate. At UC Davis, he worked with Thomas Gordon on pitch canker disease. David’s current research interests include aerobiology, the movement and dispersal of fungal plant pathogens, meteorology, plant disease epidemiology, and the population genetic structure of fungal plant pathogens. David has been the first author/co-author on numerous publications and grants focused on the aerobiology of Gibberella zeae. He has taken a variety of leadership roles in APS, including serving as chair of the Graduate Student Committee and the incoming chair of the Crop Loss Assessment and Risk Evaluation Committee. Among his leadership roles, David has served as the chair of the University Assembly at Cornell University, the vice-president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, and the chair of the Graduate Student Association for the Department of Plant Pathology. David is currently on Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Article Summary

Peter Ojiambo

Peter S. Ojiambo, who is a native of Kenya, earned his B.Sc. (agriculture), first class honors, and a M.Sc. (plant pathology) from the University of Nairobi, where he was awarded the Agricultural Cooperation Prize for academic excellence. He was then hired by the International Potato Center at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Office in Nairobi as an assistant potato pathologist to work on potato late blight, a position he held until entering the Ph.D. program at the University of Georgia in fall of 2001. He completed the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in December 2004 under the direction of Harald Scherm. His dissertation resulted in the first epidemiological study of the Septoria-blueberry pathosystem and provides the database necessary to establish guidelines for managing the disease in the southeastern United States. Peter received several awards for his graduate work, including the E. Broadus Browne Award for Outstanding Ph.D. Student Research of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Georgia; the Kenneth Papa Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award in Plant Pathology of the Georgia Association of Plant Pathologists; and a university-wide Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. He is currently working at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria. Article Summary

Mizuho Nita

Mizuho Nita was born in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan , in 1972. He graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale with a B.A. in geography in 1994. He worked in Japan for several years before he joined the Department of Plant Pathology at the Ohio State University in 1999. At OSU, he received a M.S. in 2002 with research on visual assessment of severity of Phomopsis leaf blight, and effects of wetness duration, temperature, and leaflet age on strawberry foliage infection by Phomopsis obscurans. For his Ph.D. project, he studied various aspects of disease epidemiology of Phomopsis leaf and cane spot on grape, including evaluation of a disease prediction model, chemical management strategies, and spatial analyses of disease incidence. He is currently working with Eric de Wolf at Kansas State University. Article Summary

Susan Lambert

Susan Lambert completed her B.S. at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) in 2001. She also studied at the University College of London through the International Exchange Program and was awarded an Ansett Australia Scholarship to assist with travel expenses (2001). Her honors project involved investigating the effects of selected macro- and micro-nutrients on superoxide production by strains of the algae C. marina from both South Australia and Japan. Susan has been employed as a lecturer and tutor for the University Preparation Program (UTAS) at the Cradle Coast campus (2002-2005). Susan completed her Ph.D degree working at the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research and the School of Agriculture (UTAS) investigating the epidemiology of Potato carlavirus S and Potato potexvirus X in Tasmania seed potato. She is also an active member of the Tasmania Virus Strategy Group set up to address virus issues in the Tasmanian potato industry. Susan was awarded a nationally competitive Farrer Memorial Traveling Scholarship (2004) to participate in the IX Plant Virus Epidemiology Symposium in Lima (2005). Susan also received the Tasmanian State Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for 2004, providing additional funds for her Ph.D. studies. Article Summary


As the organizer of the 5th I. E. Melhus Graduate Students Symposium and on behalf of the APS Foundation and APS, I would like to thank the following individuals who served on the ad hoc Committee to select the six students who participated in the 5th I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium. They were: Dr. Don Mathre, APS Foundation; Dr. Kira Bowen and Dr. Gary Munkvold, previous chairs, I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium; and Dr. Katherine Stevenson and Dr. William Turacheck, former symposium participants.