Dave Rizzo
Dave Rizzo, plant pathology professor

A Passionate Student Advocate

Plant Pathology Professor Dave Rizzo earns national recognition

Plant pathology professor Dave Rizzo, the driving force behind a number of innovative student education programs at UC Davis, is being honored for his outstanding work in improving the undergraduate experience.

Rizzo and nine other academics have been named Outstanding First-Year Student Advocates by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, a clearinghouse at the University of South Carolina for educational best practices. Rizzo and others will be recognized at the organization’s annual conference in San Antonio this coming February.

Nominated for the award by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May and CA&ES Dean Helene Dillard, they described him as “a passionate advocate for students, a gifted instructor and a campus leader in curriculum development.”

A faculty member for more than 22 years, Rizzo has been at the forefront of developing new programs for first-year students. One of the most impactful efforts is the Career Discovery Program, a partnership between CA&ES and the UC Davis Internship and Career Center, which has inspired students to explore career paths with the help of graduate student mentors since its inception in 2006. Academic programs such as the Career Discovery Groups are particularly helpful to first-generation and under-represented students in obtaining skills for academic success and in creating a sense of belonging on campus.

“We can always count on Professor Rizzo to be available to meet with students and parents during summer orientation,” Dillard said. “It is easy to identify Professor Rizzo in a crowd, as he will be the one with a large group of students surrounding him and asking him questions about the majors he supervises as well as about the overall UC Davis experience.”

Rizzo also led expansion of the Science and Society (SAS) program, which is a collection of general education courses designed to offer students the opportunity to discover the connections that link the biological, physical and social sciences with societal and cultural issues. More than 2,500 students, including a significant number of freshmen and incoming transfer students, enroll in SAS courses each year.

Plant pathology colleague Tom Gordon noted that Rizzo’s interest in education, coupled with his scholarly work on plant-microbe interactions, led to the establishment of the new global disease biology major—a “herculean effort” that involves faculty and administrators from several disciplines. The major has proven to be immensely popular, attracting more than 300 students in just three years.

Rizzo was recognized nationally in 2012 for his excellence in teaching by the American Mycological Society. In 2017, he was awarded the campus’ highest teaching honor—the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

“Dave volunteers in just about every first-year academic enrichment program we have on campus,” said Carolyn Thomas, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education. “When he sees opportunities to support student success that stretch beyond these programs, he creates new programs. It’s fantastic to see him recognized for his tireless work to make UC Davis a campus where first-year students thrive.”

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