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​2021 Excellence in Teaching

​This award recognizes an APS member for excellence in teaching plant pathology. Preference will be given to active teachers with responsibility for one or more courses in plant pathology.

María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco was born in Logroño (Rioja, Spain) and grew up in Córdoba, Spain, where she earned a B.S. degree in agricultural sciences and engineering (specialization crop production) from the School of Agriculture and Forestry (Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos y de Montes), University of Córdoba, in 1997. She earned a Ph.D. degree in crop protection with a specialization in plant pathology in 2001 from the same university and the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (IAS-CSIC). In 2002, she joined Penn State first as a postdoctoral associate and then as faculty in 2005. Currently, she is an associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM).

Jiménez-Gasco has been transforming students into scientists since 2006 through the foundational graduate course Fundamentals of Phytopathology (PPATH 505), which she developed. Since then, in this course she has taught critical thinking skills to every Ph.D. student (and many M.S. students) in the Plant Pathology Graduate Program at Penn State. She explicitly designed this course to review and explore basic principles and new advances in plant pathology using the dynamic primary literature. She uses the Socratic method to develop an innate curiosity in students and strengthen their exploration skills, which accelerates their maturation into scientists who actively seek information to fill their gaps in understanding. The students comment each year in their reviews on the power of combining the outside readings with the questions and explorations in class for their development. For example, a student wrote in 2019, “Dr. Jiménez Gasco engages with her students and pushes them to think beyond the disease triangle to question broader implications in a crop's supply chain." According to student evaluations over the past five years, little in this class needs to change, and it is Jiménez-Gasco's enthusiasm and willingness to indulge the questions of students that encourages them to explore and develop. As a consequence of the relationships she builds with students in this course, she is asked to and does serve on a large number of student committees. To date she has served in 34 graduate student committees. She positively impacts every student who comes through the PPEM Plant Pathology Graduate Program.

As for the students in Jiménez-Gasco's research program, to date she has successfully mentored eight Ph.D. and two M.S. students to completion and four postdoctoral scholars to permanent university positions and, currently, is co-mentoring one postdoctoral scholar, one Ph.D. student, and two M.S. students. Jiménez-Gasco's mentorship led her students to receive numerous prestigious national awards and recognition from APS (Storkan-Hanes-McCaslin Foundation, I.E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium award, first place in student paper competitions, and travel grants), the NSF, and the USDA, in addition to competitive awards from various programs at PSU, including several international agriculture prizes for her students and first-authored publications. She excels as a member of the Plant Pathology Graduate faculty by providing outstanding research leadership and mentorship to her students.

Jiménez -Gasco is a leader in the College of Agricultural Sciences' efforts to provide world-class international agricultural training to graduate and undergraduate students. Serving as the coordinator of the Plant Pathology International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) Dual Title Degree Program, she has shepherded 14 students to earn dual-title plant pathology–INTAD degrees. Additionally, she 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 of Agricultural Sciences. She is also an active contributor to the program, serving on the development team and teaching the plant pathology section of INTAD 577, Global Agricultural Systems, each year. Twice in the last five years, Jiménez -Gasco also cotaught the embedded course INTAD 820, International Agriculture and Development, which trains students to examine international agricultural development issues through observation of systems, methods, and policies while abroad. Her dedication to the program is apparent, because both of these courses are well beyond her teaching load.

Jiménez-Gasco's influence on undergraduate students is as extensive as her impact on graduate students. It is through her role as the program coordinator and adviser for the plant pathology minor at Penn State that she accelerates the plant pathology careers of students exploring our discipline, including providing them with research opportunities. She is the primary adviser and administrative lead for this degree program, which serves 15 to 20 undergraduate students a year. Similar to her graduate role, she provides vision and leadership for international agricultural programs for undergraduate students through service on the International Agriculture (INTAG) Minor Advisory Council.

Jiménez-Gasco, together with Dr. Gretchen Kuldau, cocreated and co-instructs the highly successful PPEM 120, The Fungal Jungle: A Mycological Safari from Truffles to Slime Molds. Since 2007, the 30–40 students who enroll each fall develop a keen awareness of fungi in their lives through lectures and informal class activities. Jiménez-Gasco and her co-instructor continuously search for effective ways to inspire the Millennial and post-Millennial student generations and adapt the course to meet their educational needs. They recently implemented significant and creative changes to the course to increase student engagement using techniques acquired from attending a national teaching workshop. Even prior to this change, the course was named one of “the top 10 interesting undergraduate courses to take" at Penn State by the electronic journal Onward State, and the changes were recently highlighted in Penn State News. This course serves as a gateway to the plant pathology and mushroom science and technology minors and careers in plant pathology.

Jiménez-Gasco has served APS as a senior editor of Plant Disease and associate editor of Phytopathology. She received the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Educator Award in 2020. “Regardless of the years I have been teaching, I will continue to explore ways to improve students' learning experiences with passion, enthusiasm, understanding the evolution of student needs and adapting to them. It is the most rewarding aspect of my work."