Seven former students were honored May 19 at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Alumni Awards ceremony at the Shirley and Joe Swinbank ’74 AgriLife Center in College Station.
The awards recognize graduates who have distinguished themselves with unique contributions to agriculture and life sciences, public service and their communities.
The Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award recognizes former students who have graduated within the last 15 years and made exceptional contributions in their career, public service and volunteer activities. Award recipients were Christopher Boyer ’06 ’08, Ph.D.; Lauren Elsworth Cornell ’09, Ph.D.; and Keya Mukherjee ’18, Ph.D.
The Outstanding Alumni Award recognizes graduates whose leadership, integrity and character have advanced agriculture, natural resources, life sciences or related areas. The award honored Larry Boleman ’68 ’76, Ph.D.; Robert Easter ’70 ’72, Ph.D.; State Rep. James “Greg” Bonnen ’88, M.D.; and Martha McLeod ’89.
“Our graduates are the quickest way for us to make the biggest impact on society,” said Jeffrey W. Savell, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences. “When they go out into the world, their reach is limitless. I am proud to celebrate our outstanding former students’ successes.”
Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award
— Christopher Boyer ’06 ’08, Ph.D. Born and raised in Lubbock, Boyer graduated from Texas
A&M with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness in 2006 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 2008. After completing his doctorate at Oklahoma State University, he became an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, UT.
Currently a UT AgResearch Faculty Fellow and professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Boyer focuses his research on farm business management decisions that help livestock and crop producers maximize profits and manage risk.
Boyer works with multidisciplinary teams to develop practical solutions to real-world questions. Research topics have included forage production and grazing management; reproduction management of beef herds; valuation of cattle; crop insurance policy analysis; and economics of cotton, corn and soybean production. This work has included analyzing field trial experimental data as well as collecting data through producer surveys.
In the classroom, Boyer has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on statistical analysis of real-world agricultural questions. He has also taught farm business management and rural real estate appraisal. Boyer has co-directed the Herbert College of Agriculture Farm Credit Scholars Program, a student scholarship program that prepares future leaders in agriculture.
Boyer has authored or co-authored 91 refereed journal articles and helped secure over $11 million during his career. His work has been featured in Crop & Soils, Farm Press, BEEF and Progressive Forage magazines.
Early in his career, Boyer received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Southern Agricultural Economics Association. His other awards have included the Southern Agricultural Economics Association Distinguished Professional Contribution Award, the Alpha Gamma Rho Outstanding UT Personnel Award, the UT AgResearch T.J. Whatley Distinguished Young Scientist Award and the Herbert College of Agriculture Glynn and Lynda Newton Entrepreneurial Development Award.
— Lauren Elsworth Cornell ’09, Ph.D. Cornell has achieved remarkable success as a scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. She graduated magna cum laude from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in genetics, followed by a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a doctorate in translational science in a joint program from the University of Texas at San Antonio and at Austin.
Cornell is a senior scientist for the U.S. Air Force at the 59th Medical Wing Science and Technology Division, investigating genetic and mental resilience for active-duty service members. She is in a competitive fellowship with the NASA STAR Program, where NASA teaches investigators how to design experiments in space. In 2021, she was a crew member of Campaign 6 Mission 1 for the HERA Mars Analog at NASA Johnson Space Center.
As an entrepreneur, Cornell is a co-founder and CEO of NovoThelium, a company that developed a patented tissue-engineered matrix for post-mastectomy nipple reconstruction. NovoThelium has received 22 business competition awards, been recognized by the Small Business Administration, and received international awards for its groundbreaking work in women’s health care.
Throughout her multifaceted career, Cornell has remained involved with the Texas A&M Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics as a speaker and mentor to students who pursue their own dreams in scientific, research and entrepreneurial careers.
Cornell has received over 30 awards and recognitions in business, science and philanthropy. For her work with NovoThelium, she received funding from the Texas A&M New Ventures competition. She was honored with the Association of Former Students 12 Under 12 Young Alumni Spotlight award in 2021 and selected as a role model by San Antonio Woman magazine.
— Keya Mukherjee ’18, Ph.D. As a food safety specialist with the Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, of the United Nations, Mukherjee performs essential work that impacts food security, public health and economic development internationally. Her work helps ensure global food supplies are safe for consumption, which affects international trade in food commodities. She also ensures that millions of people in conflict zones and climate disaster areas around the world get food aid that is safe to eat, thereby preventing other humanitarian disasters.
Mukherjee brings international experts together in a joint committee between FAO and the World Health Organization to assess risks to human health from the various contaminants found in food. The results of these discussions influence food safety standards by governments across the globe.
Mukherjee earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Texas A&M in 2018. She discovered and characterized a novel pathway in gram-negative bacteria that can break down specific rare sugars in the human gut. She received several awards for this work in identifying a previously unrecognized metabolic pathway and enzyme function.
Mukherjee attributes her career trajectory to securing the Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy program, ANRP, internship with FAO through the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She has mentored subsequent ANRP interns, and her contributions were recognized by the Association of Former Students through a 12 Under 12 Young Alumni Spotlight in 2021.
Outstanding Alumni Award
— Larry Boleman ’68 ’76, Ph.D. Boleman began his 54-year career as a student worker for the Texas A&M University Beef Center. After graduating in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, he served as a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agent in Brazos and Taylor counties. After earning his doctorate in animal science from Texas A&M, he served as an AgriLife Extension area beef cattle and livestock specialist, state beef cattle specialist, associate animal science department head and in several senior administrator roles for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the university. Upon his retirement, he was awarded the title of associate vice chancellor emeritus.
Boleman taught over 1 million Texas A&M students, Texas 4-H and FFA students, and Texas agriculture producers and landowners. He judged over 1,000 state and national beef cattle shows and coached national championship livestock judging teams.
As a founder of the nationally acclaimed Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, he helped improve the operations of more than 60,000 cattle producers over the past 25 years. The annual three-day conference is now the largest-attended beef cattle educational program in the world.
Boleman is also a long-time member of the Texas A&M System Chancellor’s Century Council and the College of Agriculture Development Council. His family established scholarship endowments in the Department of Animal Science.
Boleman has donated his time and expertise to numerous organizations outside of Texas A&M. He judged cattle and served as a superintendent of youth competitive events at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for over 50 years, and he is a lifetime member of the San Antonio Livestock Show.
— Robert Easter ’70 ’72, Ph.D. Easter earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education at Texas A&M in 1970, followed by a master’s degree in animal nutrition in 1972. After earning a doctorate in swine nutrition and production from the University of Illinois in 1976, Easter joined the University of Illinois Animal Science Department. For the next 25 years, he taught pork production to undergraduates and nutrition research techniques to graduate students and conducted research in swine nutrition.
During his 40-year career at the University of Illinois, Easter served as head of the Department of Animal Sciences; dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; interim chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus; and president of the University of Illinois System. In 2019, he received an honorary doctorate from Iowa State University.
Easter served for 20 years as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the U.S. Agency for International Development Board on International Food and Agricultural Development.
Since retirement, he has served as a board member of Agrible Inc. and on the First Farm Credit Services board. Currently, he is an adviser to the Serra Ventures Agricultural Fund and Sivananthan Labs and serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations as well as the advisory board for the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications at Texas A&M.
— State Rep. James “Greg” Bonnen ’88, M.D. Bonnen’s impressive accomplishments as a neurosurgeon, legislator and medical volunteer have impacted the lives of Texans and many others worldwide.
Bonnen graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Texas A&M in 1988. He completed medical school and residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Bonnen founded the Texas Brain and Spine Center, and in 2003 he co-founded the Houston Physicians’ Hospital. He serves as president of the board of directors for the Medical Strategic Network, a faith-based coalition of health care professionals who serve those in need in some of the world’s poorest countries. He has worked for numerous other church and charitable organizations, donating his time and skills as a doctor to overseas missions in Haiti, Cuba and the Philippines.
Bonnen is a Texas House of Representatives member representing District 24. He chairs the House Appropriations Committee and has served as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher and Public Education and as a member of the Insurance Committee. His other committee service has addressed many other issues, including energy resources, health and human services, mental health, criminal justice, coastal barrier systems and border security.
As a state representative, Bonnen has supported agriculture-related initiatives such as funding for research and extension efforts in water conservation; protecting crops and livestock from insect-transmitted diseases; developing heat and drought-tolerant crops; nutrition research; cotton, wool and mohair research; disaster assessment and recovery; and control strategies for feral hogs.
— Martha McLeod ’89. Growing up on a ranch, McLeod learned early to value wildlife and natural resource education, conservation and stewardship. In 1989, she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M. She received her teacher certification in elementary education with a specialization in science from West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M University, and began a 30-year career teaching second through sixth grades, focusing on all aspects of agriculture, natural resources and life sciences.
At the Fulton Learning Center in Rockport, McLeod created multiple outdoor classrooms and habitats where students grow their own vegetables, collect eggs and observe wildlife daily. As a result, the campus has the distinction of being named a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and an official Texas Wildscape by Texas Parks and Wildlife. McLeod also established youth birdwatching and junior docent programs at the Aquarium at Rockport Harbor.
Her passion for teaching children the importance of soil, water and habitat conservation has been recognized with numerous state and national awards. She was honored at the White House as the top elementary science teacher from Texas by the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She was also selected by the Texas Academy of Science as the Texas Teacher of the Year in Science, inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, named the Sea World Parks and Entertainment Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year, and received the National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.