Barriball wins Muencrath Award

July 20, 2021

Spencer Barriball, student in our MS Agronomy distance masters program recently won the Muenchrath award. Named after Deborah Muenchrath the award is giving to the student with the most outstanding creative component. It is available to a student who has distinguished themselves academically, creatively and professionally. 

Spencer presented Growth, development, and forage quality of Intermediate wheatgrass when grown for Kernza® perennial grain production. His major professor is Andy Lenssen. Kernza is being developed for perennial grain agriculture at the Land Institute, where Barriball currently works as the research technician for perennial legumes. The project is part of a larger effort to develop intercropping of a grain and legume species, namely alfalfa. 

At The Land Institute, Barriball provides field, greenhouse, and lab technical services in the perennial grain legume breeding program. The team specializes in small plot research developing and improving perennial legumes that have potential utility in the grain industry.

"I chose the ISU MS Agronomy program while in transition from North Dakota to Kansas," said Barriball. "My previous education and profession was in horticultural crops and the distance program provided a way to learn about conventional agriculture and complete a Master's degree while also being able to work full time."

Juggling school, work, and personal life was challenging yet extremely rewarding.

"I was lucky enough to have an employer and family support system that encouraged me throughout the process," said Barriball. "Since I enrolled in the program in 2016, my wife and I have been blessed with the addition of 3 kids. Without the great support system I had in place, I would not have been able to complete my goals."



About Deborah Muenchrath

Dr. Deborah Muenchrath was an Assistant Professor in the Agronomy Department. Teaching was her passion. Her teaching expertise was recognized with an ISU Foundation Early Achievement in Teaching Award. Deb was also named a Wakonse Teaching Fellow. She was part of the team that developed courses for the award-winning MS in Agronomy distance education degree program, including Crop Growth and Development (Agron 501) Crop Improvement (Agron 511) and Crop Management and Ecology (Agron 531). She taught Agron 501 and Agron 531. Deb designed these internet courses to actively engage students in course content and enhance professional skills.

Deb’s undergraduate courses expanded student understanding of international perspectives. With Dr. Russ Mullen she developed and taught World Agronomic Systems (Agron 446). Students examined an array of agricultural systems and their environmental political economic and socio-cultural influences. Deb also lead a team of ISU faculty in teaching Global Seminar: Environment and Sustainable Food Systems (Agron 497x). This innovative course was taught interactively with several universities around the world; students analyzed and debated issues using internet and satellite videoconferencing. Teaching, learning, and interacting, with students gave Deb much joy and satisfaction.

Deb thoroughly enjoyed research. Her research was on maize diversity, ecophysiology, and adaptations to abiotic stress, with an emphasis on maize genetic resources of North America. She also studied the structure and function of traditional agroecosystems. Her research focused on maize cultivars native to the arid and semiarid American Southwest and their associated agroecosystems. Maize has at least a 4000-year history in the Southwest. To develop a fuller understanding of these time-tested cultivars and production systems, Deb often collaborated with anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists, soil scientists, and Native American groups. Interdisciplinary research was the most stimulating and productive.

Deb was an advocate for women in science and academia. She served on the University Committee on Women, and was co-author of an influential report on the status of women in the College of Agriculture. Deb often participated in events and projects to promote interest in science by youth, especially girls. With colleagues at the ISU Program for Women in Science & Engineering, she wrote hands-on science and math activity manuals for youth and leader guides. These are used by Girl Scouts 4-H and other groups.

Outdoors is where Deb felt happiest: walking the beach and in the woods, hiking in mountains and canyons, skiing, bicycling, sitting by a stream, gardening and working in a corn field. Her indoor pastimes were music, reading, and doing needlework. She loved to travel, exploring diverse environments, cultures, and foods with her husband, Jon Sandor. Of all the things she did, her most worthwhile endeavor was raising her children, Joe and Catherine.

Deb’s life was cut short by ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, on July 10, 2006.