A Message From the Dean - November 2019

The Berta family, Olive Center staff and Dean Helene Dillard celebrate the dedication of a renovated lab in the Sprocket Building on November 15.
The Berta family, Olive Center staff and Dean Helene Dillard celebrate the dedication of a renovated lab in the Sprocket Building on November 15. (Photo by John Stumbos)

Gratitude for the CA&ES family

November is one of my favorite months. The softer light of day, colorful displays of fall foliage and the sound of migrating waterfowl overhead always make me pause and reflect on the many reasons to feel grateful.

I asked around the office to see what some of my colleagues are thankful for this season. Many said they feel fortunate to be in great jobs they find inspiring, supported by enthusiastic staff and surrounded by passionate students with sharp, inquisitive minds. A common thread is the connectedness virtually everyone I spoke with feels to this place, UC Davis, and to this college in particular. 

If there’s one word that captures that sentiment, it would have to be “family.” Not surprisingly, everyone feels blessed to have their immediate family and friends, but what impressed me is how much this notion of family extends throughout the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to students, staff, faculty and alumni alike. 

I got a vivid illustration of this recently from a very loyal alumni family. Firmin Berta is a 1957 plant sciences graduate of UC Davis, and a demonstrative champion of the work we do. He came back to campus November 15 with members of his family, including daughter Mary, a 2004 UC Davis alumna, to help us formally dedicate the Berta Family Lab in the Sprocket Building. 

Firmin and his late brother Irvin provided us with the resources to renovate a laboratory and greatly expand the UC Davis Olive Center’s research capabilities, as well as to support graduate students. Their generosity has allowed the Olive Center to continue in the tradition of the Department of Food Science and Technology, among the top food science programs in the nation. Thanks to the leadership of Executive Director Dan Flynn, the world-renowned Olive Center, in just over a decade, has become the gold standard for olive research that is helping address production issues and raise consumer awareness. 

The Olive Center team also includes Research Director Selina Wang, a specialist in Cooperative Extension, who has accelerated the center’s output thanks to support from the Berta Family. Assistant Director Shirley Li performs research and administrative duties such as leading and assisting undergraduate and graduate students on research projects, establishing lab protocols, coordinating center events and short courses, and managing the sales of center products. Lauren Crawford, who received her Ph.D. this year, published a paper on the most important processing issue facing the California table olive industry. Hilary Green, who passed her qualifying exam this year to allow her to be a Ph.D. candidate in the lab, has used her support from the Berta family to publish a paper that outlines a faster, better and cheaper method to identify olive oil adulteration.

Firmin shared during the dedication that whenever he has reached out to us he has been greeted with respectful, professional and engaging scientists who are more than happy to share the latest research and information on a number of subjects—whether it’s the health of bees, switchgrass production (a hardy perennial with biofuel potential), or the issues facing California’s olive industry. He said this is what gives UC Davis its “character” and makes the university so special to him. 

Many thanks to the Berta family and to all those who support UC Davis research and programs in our efforts to make the world a better place. For us, it’s not so much a job as it is a calling, and that’s something for which we are truly grateful. If you’re reading this, then you, too, are a member of our extended CA&ES family. I don’t imagine you’ll have to look too hard to find additional examples of that special character that defines our work and community. With heartfelt gratitude, I send best wishes to you and your family.

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