Eight former students were honored May 3 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 through outstanding leadership and impacts in their careers and service.

Graphic of Outstanding Alumni and Outstanding Early Career Alumni Awards logo. It is Marron with ATM on the top and the words Texas A&M University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. The bottom half features a medal with the ATM on it and the words Outstanding Alumni Awards and Outstanding Early Career Alumni Awards
The Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences presented its Outstanding Alumni and Outstanding Early Career Alumni Awards during a ceremony on May 3. (Texas A&M AgriLife Graphic)

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 Keefer Patterson ’18 ’20; Myriah Johnson ’11 ’16, Ph.D.; and Matthew Berg ’03 ’06 ’14, 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 Michael Strand ’80 ’85, Ph.D.; Henry “Hank” Dres Jr. ’74; Marcus Hill ’71; Gary Smith ’68, Ph.D.; and T.D. Tanksley Jr. ’46 ’68, Ph.D.

“These awards are among the highest honors given by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” said Jeffrey W. Savell, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences. “They represent our pride in the success of these former students and our gratitude for the positive impacts of their accomplishments and service.”

Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award

Headshot of Keefer Patterson. He is wearing a plaid shirt with a stripped tie and a blue jacket.
Keefer Patterson ’18 ’20 received the Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. (Courtesy photo)
  • Patterson — Before coming to Texas A&M University, Patterson served in the U.S. Air Force, where his duties included providing mission-ready platforms for aerial refueling in Europe. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and journalism and earned a master’s degree in public service and administration from the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. Patterson began a career path in the military as a civilian employee in an internship as a public affairs specialist for Air Force Global Strike Command in Shreveport, Louisiana. His exceptional performance earned him the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, two Civilian Achievement Awards, two Civilian of the Quarter awards and a Civilian of the Year nomination. Currently stationed at Peterson and Schriever Space Force Bases in Colorado Springs, Patterson manages digital publications for various U.S. Space Force missions and was recognized with the U.S. Space Force Public Affairs Communication Excellence award. Beyond his professional endeavors, Patterson donates time to prepare Texas A&M students for careers in public service by mentoring with resume writing and job applications and serving on alumni panels. He also volunteers at the DePelchin Children’s Center in Houston, where his efforts benefit children and families in the foster care system.
Headshot of Myriah Johnson. She is wearing a light colored stripped top and has her left hand on her hip. There are trees and cattle behind her.
Myriah Johnson ’11 ’16, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Johnson — After earning a master’s degree in agricultural economics and a doctorate in animal science from Texas A&M, Johnson became a trailblazer in industry relations and beef sustainability. Johnson joined the Noble Foundation as an economics agricultural consultant, focusing on producer relations. She directed the Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project, collaborating with industry giants like Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, and played a crucial role in validating sustainability tools for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. In 2020, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association hired Johnson as senior director for sustainability research. She led the Beef Checkoff’s sustainability research program and coordinated NCBA’s sustainability program. Johnson now serves as the vice president of corporate sustainability for Farm Credit Services of America/Frontier Farm Credit. She is responsible for developing and implementing sustainability strategies and plans in every area of agriculture, not just beef. Committed to education and mentorship, Johnson is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University.
Headshot of Matthew Berg. He has glasses and is wearing a white collared shirt with a gray jacket
Matthew Berg ’03 ’06 ’14, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Berg — From his studies at Texas A&M to his current role as CEO and principal scientist at Simfero Consultants, Berg has addressed water issues that impact Texas and beyond. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, a master’s degree in rangeland ecology and management and a doctorate in ecosystem science and management. Berg has helped many Texans better understand the research-backed solutions of Texas A&M AgriLife, and his expertise is recognized by many in Texas government. His high-profile work on urban flooding research was featured in the Texas Water Journal and cited in the State Flood Assessment that guided the development of major new flood planning programs. His invited commentary on water-related bills in the Texas Legislature was developed into a webinar promoted by the Texas Water Development Board and viewed by hundreds of water professionals across the state. Berg briefed the Texas delegation to the U.S. Congress on extreme weather and its impacts on Texas water resources and has served on the Texas General Land Office Coastal Resilience Master Plan Technical Advisory Committee. He also shares his expertise through regional and national media outlets, podcasts and public speaking engagements, ensuring that complex water issues are accessible to all Texans.

Outstanding Alumni Award

Headshot of Michael Strand. He is wearing glasses and has on a gray button down collared shirt.
Michael Strand ’80 ’85, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Strand — After earning both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in entomology at Texas A&M, Strand joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later at the University of Georgia. His research broadly impacts several areas of entomology, including insect physiology and immunity, insect behavior, and interactions of microbes and insects. These are all crucial areas bridging agriculture and medicine, with insects as vectors of diseases impacting plants, animals and humans. His research has led to multiple patents. As an educator, Strand has mentored over 80 graduate students and postdoctoral trainees who assumed prominent positions globally. For his pioneering research, transformative mentorship and tireless advocacy for interdisciplinary collaboration, Strand has been recognized with prestigious awards and honors, including election to the National Academy of Sciences.
Headshot of Hank Dres Jr. He is wearing a hose shirt with a red stripped tie and a dark jacket
Henry “Hank” Dres Jr. ’74 received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Dres — After graduating with distinction from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science manufacturing, Dres helped advance the food and beverage manufacturing sectors through his leadership roles in professional organizations such as the Longhorn Institute of Food Technologists, Texas Food Processors Association, Dallas/Fort Worth Dairy Society and the Southwest Meat Association. Dres is an insightful, active Texas A&M Department of Food Science and Technology External Advisory Board member and a frequent guest speaker in both faculty- and student-led events. Dres has conducted countless annual scholarship interviews at Texas A&M and Texas Tech University, awarding nearly $250,000 in scholarships and securing numerous internships and professional opportunities for students. He was recognized by Texas Tech with the Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Award for his distinguished career and is a four-time recipient of the National Institute of Food Technologists Achievement Award.
Headshot of Marcus Hill. He is wearing a blue short with a blue tie and a dark jacket
Marcus Hill ’71 received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Hill — Even before his college career, Hill demonstrated exceptional leadership as Texas State FFA president. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from Texas A&M, he embarked on a distinguished career spanning over five decades in the insurance industry. At Ag Workers Insurance, Hill’s leadership as vice president, president and chairman of the board fueled exponential growth for the company. Through initiatives like the Ag Workers intern program, he mentored young professionals, nurturing their careers in law, banking, ranching and public policy. Hill actively contributes to programs like the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership, TALL, program and the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, where he serves on committees and advisory boards. In the College, he helped establish several scholarship endowments, connected sponsors with events and served on multiple selection committees for the Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Internship Program. He champions programs like the State Fair of Texas Youth Educational Activities Committee, providing leadership training and advocacy opportunities for FFA, 4-H and FCCLA members.
Headshot of Gary Smith. He has on glasses and is wearing a blue shirt with a dark and tan patterned tie and a dark colored jacket.
Gary Smith ’68, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Smith — Throughout his career, Smith’s pioneering research has significantly influenced the beef industry, beef producers and beef products. Since earning his doctorate in meat science and muscle biology at Texas A&M, he has developed expertise spanning diverse areas, including meat yield and quality grading, tenderness, palatability and traceability, ensuring the continual advancement and sustainability of the beef industry. His early work helped modernize U.S. Department of Agriculture grading standards that govern today’s beef industry. As a mentor and teacher, Smith has nurtured the talent and fostered excellence in countless students, including three current faculty members at Texas A&M. Smith’s exemplary contributions have been recognized worldwide, earning him more than 40 prestigious awards and honors, including Distinguished Alumni Awards from multiple institutions, induction into the U.S. Meat Industry Hall of Fame and induction into the International Stockmen’s Hall of Fame.
Headshot of T.D. Tanksley Jr. He is wearing a light colored short with a brown and blue stripped tie and a brown jacket.
T.D. Tanksley Jr. ’46 ’68, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Courtesy photo)
  • Tanksley, posthumously awarded — Tanksley left an indelible mark on animal science through his multifaceted career in academia, research and service. His swine production and nutrition expertise influenced regional practices and earned international recognition. After serving as a bomber pilot in World War II, he graduated in 1947 from the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Texas A&M University, as valedictorian, with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education. He was a vocational agriculture teacher and a county agent and returned to Texas A&M, earning a doctorate in biochemistry and nutrition. He led the swine research and teaching program in the Department of Animal Science, along with responsibilities with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Tanksley was named Professor Emeritus, Animal Science, when he retired in 1985. He judged many county, state and national swine shows and pioneered the development of the meat-type hog. He was inducted into the Texas Pork Producers Association Hall of Honor and received the industry’s Distinguished Service Award. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo recognized him for his 50 continuous years as an exhibitor, 4-H and FFA adviser, and superintendent of the Market Swine and the 4-H and FFA Livestock Judging contests.
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