Muenchrath award winner: Rebecca Vittetoe

August 6, 2019

Rebecca Vittetoe, 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. 

Rebecca presented “Comparing the effect of cropping sequences, planting date, and seed treatment on seedling diseases of corn caused by Phythium species.” Her major professors are Dr. Alison Robertson and Dr. Mark Westgate. Her committee included Dr. Daren Mueller and Dr. Andy Lenssen.

Phythium species (spp.) are one of the major pathogens known to cause seedling diseases in corn in Iowa. Fungicide seed treatments can help provide protection for a window of time. Not all fungicide seed treatment active ingredients are effective against Phythium. Active ingredients that specifically target Phythium include metalaxyl, mefenoxam, ethaboxam, and picarbutrazox. Trials were established in 2017 and 2018 to examine the effect environmental conditions at planting, seed treatments, and previous crop residues (corn (Zea mays L.), soybean (Glycine max  L.), and winter rye (Secale cereal L.) have on early corn stand establishment, plant vigor (2018 only), seedling diseases caused by Pythium spp., stalk rot severity, final stand, barren plants (2018 only), and grain yield. 

The trials demonstrated the impact previous crop residues and planting date have on plant stands, plant vigor, root rot severity, stalk rot severity, final stands, barren plants, and grain yield.

The way her project was set up posed some challenges for Rebecca.

"When doing research projects with diseases, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature to provide favorable conditions for the disease to actually occur. Sometimes you get that and sometimes you don’t. This can be frustrating, but it’s also the real world," said Rebecca.

But the work was worth it. Rebecca successfully defended and earned her Masters degree.

"Receiving this award is very humbling and is a huge honor to say the least. I had a whole team behind me supporting me along my journey of obtaining my Masters, and I cannot thank my family, friends, major professor Dr. Alison Robertson, committee members, and co-workers for all of their support," said Rebecca.

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.