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Agronomy, chemical engineering professors earn Commerce Bank and W.T. Kemper Foundation Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award

Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 

MANHATTAN — P.V. Vara Prasad, professor of agronomy, and Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research and Tim Taylor chair in chemical engineering, are Kansas State University's newest Commerce Bank and W.T. Kemper Foundation Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award winners.

The award honors Prasad and Rezac for their outstanding scholarly achievements and contributions to graduate education at Kansas State University. Each professor receives a $2,500 honorarium. The awards are supported by the William T. Kemper Foundation and the Commerce Bancshares Foundation, and are coordinated through the Kansas State University Foundation and the university president's office.

"Commerce Bank and the William T. Kemper Foundation are proud to continue a more than 20-year tradition of collaborating with Kansas State University to promote excellent instruction with the Commerce Bank and W.T. Kemper Foundation Distinguished Graduate Faculty Awards," said Tom Giller, community bank president of Commerce Bank, Manhattan. "It is a joy to honor these exceptional graduate faculty members who excel in research, teaching and mentoring K-State students."

Prasad and Rezac will be recognized at the Graduate School commencement ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, in Bramlage Coliseum. They each also will present a lecture on their research to the campus community during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Prasad researches how crop plants respond and adapt to changes in the environment and is developing ways to help farmers understand and overcome environmental stresses that can affect crop production. He has received more than $62 million in research funding from several agencies such as the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission, Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Wheat Alliance, Kansas Crop Improvement Association, U.S. Department for Agriculture, Ogallala Aquifer Program and U.S. Agency for International Development. Prasad has published more than 130 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and been a reviewer for more than 35 different international journals. He is an active member of American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Association of Advancement of Science and International Society for Agricultural Meteorology. Prasad has mentored or advised more than 60 graduate students and 40 research scholars.

Prasad also is the director of the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, funded by the USAID, and the director of the Great Plains Sorghum Improvement and Utilization Center at Kansas State University. He received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University in India and his doctorate from the University of Reading in the U.K. He completed his postdoctoral appointment at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Early Career Award in 2009 and the Outstanding Research Award in 2012 from Gamma Sigma Delta, an agriculture honor society; the Outstanding Agricultural Scientist in 2013 from the Association of Agricultural Scientists of Indian Origin; International Educator Award from Kansas State University; American Society of Agronomy fellow in 2014; and Crop Science Society of America fellow in 2015.

Rezac researches the production of alternative and sustainable fuels, chemically resistant and thermally stable organic membranes for separation, and hybrid reactor-separator systems. She holds multiple patents, has authored more than 80 publications in diverse fields and technical journals, and presented more than 200 papers at national and international meetings. She has received research funding from multiple sources including the National Science Foundation, USDA, Department of Energy, American Chemical Society and Environmental Protection Agency. She has served on numerous policy-making groups, including as a director of the Council for Chemical Research and of the Separations Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Rezac has mentored or advised more than 55 undergraduate and 35 graduate students. Additionally, she served as the principle investigator on federally-funded projects that provided research training and financial support 35 additional doctoral students and 50 additional undergraduates.

Rezac received her Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Kansas State University and her Master of Science and doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She worked for the Phillips Petroleum Co. before beginning her academic career. Rezac has been recognized as a national leader of research and education. She began her academic career at the Georgia Institute of Technology and joined Kansas State University in 2002. While at Georgia Tech, she was recognized as Teacher of the Year and was the recipient of the inaugural College of Engineering Cutting-Edge Research Award. She has received the College of Engineering Frankenhoff Research Award and departmental and college outstanding teaching awards. She has helped plan the future of chemical engineering as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She serves as former president of the North American Membrane Society.


Vara Prasad

Mary Rezac


Commerce Bank and W.T. Kemper Foundation Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award



Vara Prasad, professor of agronomy


Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research and Tim Taylor chair in chemical engineering

Written by

Stephanie Jacques