Thomas A. Evans received his B.S. degree in botany with highest honors from Cal Poly, Pomona (1974), a M.S. degree in botany from Cal Poly, Pomona (1977) and a Ph.D. degree in Botany and Plant Pathology from Michigan State University (1985). Upon graduation, he accepted a position as a research plant pathologist at the University of Delaware and was promoted to assistant professor, associate professor and professor in 2007 in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
Tom is known nationally and internationally as a leader in vegetable plant pathology and food security and for his passionate delivery of plant health programs in developing countries. He also teaches hundreds of students annually in his undergraduate and graduate courses in plant pathology. Evans currently teaches a popular course for non-majors “People and Plants: Feast or Famine,” as well as Introductory Plant Pathology, Current Concepts in Plant Health, and Advanced Plant Pathology. Evans has also taught Diagnostic Plant Pathology and Plant Virology. He consistently receives excellent teaching evaluations with comments noting Tom’s passion and knowledge, his ability to explain concepts in simple terms and his availability to meet students outside of class. Tom served APS as a member of its Teaching Committee for 10 years, serving as chair in 2000. Tom has directed or codirected 16 M.S. and Ph.D. students and served on 25 additional graduate student committees.
In 1990 Tom, Gail Schuman and Frank Tainter envisioned and developed the first multimedia platform for teaching plant pathology, entitled A Plant Disease Laser Disk Resource (published by APS PRESS), which included approximately 20,000 images of plant diseases and pathogens, a searchable database and an image glossary. Tom was an early leader in plant pathology outreach to K-12 classrooms and for five years he led a group of plant pathologists providing workshops on plant health for science teachers throughout Delaware. Evans developed the first study abroad program in the College and has directed 10 programs in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands while teaching “Plants of Ecuador and the Galapagos” and “People and Plants: Feast or Famine” to approximately 200 undergraduate students. Tom has also directed research programs in Egypt and Morocco and served as plant health advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture in Morocco for many years.
Tom’s research focus has been on viral, fungal and oomycete diseases affecting Delaware vegetable crops and virus diseases of any crop. Over the past 15 years his research group has focused the majority of its efforts on the management of downy mildew of lima bean, which threatens the Delaware vegetable processing industry. This work has included the characterization of races of the causal agent, Phytophthora phaseoli, a better understanding of the etiology of the disease, the development of better predictive models and resistance to the prevalent races of the pathogen. Recently, P. capsici has become a significant problem to lima bean growers in Delaware and Maryland and Tom and his research group have begun to characterize isolates and to screen lima bean germplasm for resistance. This work has been supported by an USDA-NIFA Small Crops Research Initiative grants program. Tom’s publications include more than 75 research articles in refereed journals and numerous extension publications.
Tom has had a long standing commitment to international food security. In 1992, Tom led a group of researchers funded by USAID to work on virus identification, elimination and micropropagation of tuber crops important to the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Andes. Over the last 22 years, Tom has frequently returned to Ecuador for research collaborations and to lead plant virology workshops. Tom currently collaborates in Ecuador with colleagues at the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito on Phytophthora palmivora and was the first to report P. palmivora as the causal agent of bud rot in hearts of palm or palmito (Bactris gasipaes) in coastal Ecuador.
Over the past 10 years Tom has followed his passion for international service in food security by leading a team of volunteers with a mixture of expertise in plant pathology, entomology, horticulture and agricultural engineering to solve vegetable production problems in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic with funding from USAID-Partners of the Americas. In 2010, Tom received President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award from the Bureau of Food Security for his thousands of hours of service to USAID’s Feed the Future Program.
Tom has worked for many years on the spread of Rose Rosette Disease, caused by the Rose Rosette Emaravirus, in multiflora rose and cultivated roses in the mid-Atlantic region. Tom played a pivotal role as the scientific advisor for the first National Summit on Rose Rosette Disease held in Newark, Delaware in 2013 leading to funding of a multistate USDA-NIFA SCRI proposal in 2014. Evans has secured research grants totaling more than $6 million over his career.
Tom’s professional service includes serving as panel chair for numerous governmental agencies including USAID and USDA’s Office of Science and Quality Review. Within the APS Potomac Division, Tom has served on all committees and as Vice-President, President and Councilor; receiving its Distinguished Service Award in 2006. He has served APS as a member of the Office of International Programs and chair of its Library Support Program for seven years. He has served as an associate editor for the International Journal of Plant Disease and two terms as a senior editor for the APS Education Center. On APS Council, Tom served as a member of the Financial Advisory Committee and chair of the Ad-hoc committee for A Vision for APS International Programs. Tom served on APS’s Ad hoc committee for its proposal to host the International Congress of Plant Pathology in 2018 and served as APS Councilor to the International Society for Plant Pathology for two terms. Tom served as the Treasurer for ISPP for 5 years and currently serves as a Vice-President of ISPP and as the APS Organizing Chair for the International Congress of Plant Pathology 2018 in Boston.
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