Anoka grad wins outstanding professor award

Dr. Brian Steffenson, 1976 graduate of Anoka High School and currently a professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota, recently won a 2014 Council of Graduate Students Outstanding Faculty Award.

Established in 2010, the award gives graduate students an opportunity to recognize contributions of faculty members who go above and beyond in their work with graduate students, said Louise Hamer, Council of Graduate Students administrator. It is the only award in which graduate students nominate and select faculty members as winners, she said.

University of Minnesota graduate students recently awarded Brian Steffenson the 2014 Council of Graduate Students Outstanding Faculty Award. Steffenson is a professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota and is a 1976 graduate of Anoka High School. Here, the professor poses with graduate student Matthew Haas after receiving the award May 12.

University of Minnesota graduate students recently awarded Brian Steffenson the 2014 Council of Graduate Students Outstanding Faculty Award. Steffenson is a professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota and is a 1976 graduate of Anoka High School. Here, the professor poses with graduate student Matthew Haas after receiving the award May 12.

And that means something special to Steffenson.

“When you get that sort of honor from graduate students, it’s particularly gratifying,” he said.

After earning his high school diploma from Anoka, Steffenson graduated in 1980 from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in plant health technology, then in 1983 earned a master’s degree, completing research on the resistance of barley to stem rust.

Steffenson then studied in Australia as a research associate with a focus on vegetable pathology and rust resistance in wheat.

In 1984, he started a Ph.D. degree program in plant pathology at the University of California-Davis and completed his doctoral dissertation on the epidemiology of net blotch and leaf scald of barley in 1988.

Steffenson then accepted an assistant professorship at North Dakota State University with research responsibilities on foliar and head diseases of barley.

In 2000, Steffenson joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota as the Lieberman-Okinow Endowed Chairman of Cereal Disease Research and was promoted to professor in 2004.

Steffenson’s main research interests are in disease resistance of wild cereal species, virulence and molecular diversity of fungal pathogens, and host-parasite genetics.

The professor is the director of the Stakman-Borlaug Cereal Rust Center and plays a key role in the university’s work on Ug99, the wheat stem rust strain currently affecting cereal crops in Africa and the Middle East.

Steffenson’s work on Ug99 is an attempt to halt the spread of that strain – a strain that had been controlled for 60 years until a 1999 resurgence in Uganda.

About his Ug99 work the professor said, “The spread could cause a great deal of havoc, so we’re working to find new genes for resistance to the disease.”

Steffenson received his Council of Graduate Students Outstanding Faculty Award during a May 12 ceremony in the Best Buy Theater at Northrop auditorium.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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