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Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Distinguished Awards


The UF/IFAS Agricultural and Biological Engineering department honors our alumni and friends who work to further enhance our discipline and industry. Please join us in congratulating our Distinguished Achievement, Service, and Alumni Award recipients. Use the filter links above to read more about each award and honoree.

Distinguished Alumni

Recipients of the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award are ABE alumnus or alumna (undergraduate or graduate) who have excelled in his or her chosen field or have performed outstanding service for the profession. Below are the current and previous recipients of the Distinguished Alumni award, separated by year.

2024 Recipients

Melissa Germain

A headshot of 2024 Distinguished Alumni recipient Melissa Germain

Co-founder and CEO, The Illuminate Group (non-academia)

Melissa Germain graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Packaging Science in 2009. In May 2010, she earned an M.S. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida. Her research focused on developing sustainable packaging and unconventional insulation materials for temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products. Mrs. Germain’s research was conducted at the Cryogenics Laboratory at NASA Kennedy Space Center. She has continued her collaboration with them, including work on critical projects to provide thermal solutions for experiment transportation to and from the International Space Station in partnership with SpaceX.

Mrs. Germain is the co-founder and CEO of The Illuminate Group. Under her leadership, Mrs. Germain has established The Illuminate Group as one of the leaders in applied cold chain management for the food and pharmaceutical industry. Her expertise in temperature-sensitive packaging, perishable food and pharmaceutical transport, eco-friendly packaging, and food retailing has helped The Illuminate Group secure clients from three of Forbes’ top 10 US companies. She holds fourteen patents, has published twelve journal articles, and has received three national awards for her work in green packaging.

Dr. Isaya Kisekka

A headshot of 2024 Distinguished Alumni recipient Isaya Kisekka

Professor and Director, University of California, Davis (academia)

Dr. Kisekka is a Professor of Hydrology and Agricultural Water Management in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources and the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of California Davis. Dr. Kisekka also serves as the Director for the UC Davis Agricultural Water Center of Excellence, where he leads efforts on sustainable groundwater management and irrigated agriculture. He has made significant contributions to optimizing irrigation in both specialty crops and field crops using simulation modeling and data-driven approaches. Furthermore, Dr. Kisekka has also made contributions to microirrigation management under limited water and salinity management.

Currently, his research is focused on sustainable groundwater management in agriculture. Dr. Kisekka has won numerous awards of excellence including the ASABE Netafim Award for Advancements in Microirrigation, Irrigation Association Excellence in Education, Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research Fellow, and a Distinguished Alumni of the University of Florida.

Distinguished Achievement

The ABE Distinguished Achievement Award is given to individuals with exceptional achievements in agricultural and biological engineering, for demonstrated leadership, and for other exemplary accomplishments that merit the special recognition of the department.

2024 Recipient

Dr. Paul Heinemann

A headshot of 2024 Distinguished Achievement recipient Paul Heinemann.

Professor, Penn State University

Dr. Paul Heinemann is a Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, at Penn State. Dr. Heinemann joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor in September 1988. He was promoted to Associate Professor in July 1994 and Full Professor in July 1999. He served as department head from 2010-2021, and now serves as the BioRenewable Systems undergraduate program coordinator. His past responsibilities included leading the Biological Engineering and Agricultural Systems Management undergraduate programs.

Dr. Heinemann is a Fellow of ASABE and served as ASABE president 2022-2023. In addition, he also served on the ASABE Board of Trustees, the ASABE Foundation Board, and as the chair of the Northeast Agricultural and Biological Engineering Conference (NABEC) planning committee.

Distinguished Service Award

This award recognizes an ABE alumnus or alumna who has highly distinguished him or herself through exceptional public service to the state of Florida or the nation at large. Such public service is defined as any of the following: service in elected or appointed public office; service in public or private education at any level; service in any judicial system or law enforcement agency; service in any volunteer agency or entity devoted to any aspect of public welfare.

2024 Recipient

Daniel Rutland, PE

A headshot of 2024 Distinguished Service recipient Dan Rutland.

Senior Water Resources Project Manager

In his role as project manager, Dan provides a variety of stormwater design, watershed planning, groundwater modeling, state water policy development, and environmental permitting. His stormwater design work includes innovative solutions for complicated stormwater routing for large watersheds within restrictive permit environments. Dan has designed many stormwater retention and water quality improvement projects with the cooperation of federal, state, and local permitting agencies. He has utilized his hydrogeologic expertise to analyze complicated groundwater gradient control applications in a robust industrial supply well system. He also developed optimized dewatering plans to reduce environmental impacts.

With over 13 years of experience, he has participated in many large-scale stormwater design and planning efforts aimed at optimizing stormwater system configuration and function. He also developed regional transient groundwater flow models and multiple comprehensive nutrient management plans for large environmentally sensitive operations. Additionally, Dan provided detailed engineering design calculations, construction plans, analysis reports, and cost estimates for multi-million dollar capital improvement projects. Dan holds a both B.S. and M.S. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. His focus is on Agricultural Systems and Land and Water Resources, which he obtained from the University of Florida.

Outstanding Young Alumnus/Alumna

Recipients of the Outstanding Young Alumnus/Alumna Awards are ABE alumnus/alumna (undergraduate or graduate) who have excelled in his or her chosen field or must have performed outstanding service for the profession.

2024 Recipients

Dr. Hao Gan

2024 Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient Hao Gan.

Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee

Hao Gan is an assistant professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee. Gan’s research focuses on developing sensing and robotic systems for various crop and animal production systems. His most recent research projects are related to computer vision and low-power sensing of animal health and welfare conditions. These projects include imaging-based and audio-based poultry lameness and welfare behavior detection, as well as cattle body condition scoring and respiration rate detection. Gan teaches electronics classes and mentors senior design projects in his department. He was recently awarded the 2022 T.J. Whatley Distinguished Young Scientist Award, and the 2023 W.F. & Golda Moss Outstanding Teaching Award, both by the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Natalie Nelson

A headshot of 2024 Outstanding Young Alumnus Natalie Nelson

Associate Professor and University Faculty Scholar, North Carolina State University

Natalie Nelson holds a PhD and BS from the University of Florida in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Her focus concentrated on Interdisciplinary Hydrologic Sciences. Dr. Nelson is an Associate Professor and University Faculty Scholar in the Biological & Agricultural Engineering Department. She is also a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Geospatial Analytics at North Carolina State University. Furthermore, Natalie is a Goodnight Early Career Innovator, Early Career Research Fellow, and NSF CAREER Award recipient.