MEET THE TEAM
The Diverse Corn Belt project draws on the skills and energy of dozens of researchers across the Corn Belt. Meet our team.
Linda Prokopy (PI) is an interdisciplinary social scientist, Department Head and Professor in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture department at Purdue University and is the Project Director of the Diverse Corn Belt project. Her research focuses on diversifying our agricultural landscape to be more sustainable for the environment, for farmers, and for communities. Linda has three children who keep her busy outside of work and is actively engaged in her community. In her “spare” time, Linda loves to read and hike in the woods.
Emily Usher is a natural resource social scientist working at Purdue University as the Project Manager for the Diverse Corn Belt project. Originally from the Midwest, Emily values the environmental, economic and social opportunities our natural environment provides. Understanding the balance between these three components drives her research interests in motivators and barriers to practice adoption, public policy development, and community engagement. Outside of work, Emily likes to garden and spend time with her family, friends, and dog.
Dr. Aaron Thompson is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Purdue University whose work emphasizes the power of place-based planning to support community land use, recreation, and conservation decision-making. Integral to his teaching and research is an applied landscape planning approach that incorporates social-ecological science into the design process to create landscape transformations capable of balancing the needs of human and natural systems. He is currently working on projects building geodesign tools to support forest conservation planning, developing innovative community capacity approaches that respond to the challenge of water quality management in the Great Lakes basin, and providing design and research support to sustainable development projects enhancing the future of the Midwestern landscape.
University of Illinois
Dr. Andrew Margenot is a soil scientist at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As a co-PI on #DCB, he works on biogeochemical indicators of agroecosystem function across a range of diversified management practices, with particular emphasis on organic matter cycling.
Dr. Ariana Torres’ research at Purdue University focuses on the decision-making processes of specialty crop farmers, along with the economic feasibility of technologies used by industry stakeholders. Her expertise includes the economic modeling of adoption of new technologies, the development of decision-making tools for specialty crop growers, and the economic impact of growers’ decision-making processes. Her research provides relevant research-based information to her extension program, Horticulture Business (www.hort.purdue.edu/hortbusiness), to provide trainings and publications to farmers, business owners, Extension personnel, and policymakers.
Illinois State University
Aslihan Spaulding is a Professor of Agribusiness and Food Industry Management in the Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University. Spaulding received a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics, a master’s in Economics, and a master’s in Agricultural Economics from the University of Kentucky and a Bachelor’s in Economics from Bogazici University in Turkey. She joined Illinois State University in 2003 and has served many roles in the Department of Agriculture, including as the graduate program coordinator and the study abroad coordinator. Most recently, she was elected to serve on the board of directors of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. Her research interests include survey methodology, farmer and consumer behavior, strategic agribusiness sales, and new product development management.
USDA-Economic Research Service
Dr. Benjamin Gramig is a research agricultural economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (ERS), where he conducts applied research at the interface between agriculture and the environment. The majority of Ben’s research is motivated by science-based decision-making and public policy and is often interdisciplinary in nature. He has a strong interest in the economics of water quality, climate change, ecosystem services, and economic management of spatial-dynamic processes in the environment.
Callie North is the Communications and Events Director at the Conservation Technology Information Center. A 2012 graduate of Purdue University, Callie graduated with a degree in Animal Science and Agribusiness. A huge ‘ag-vocate’, she dedicates her professional and personal life to agriculture and enjoys promoting agriculture and conservation as much as she can. In her free time, Callie and her family can be found at pig shows across the country.
Camila Ulloa is a master’s student in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University. She is part of the Markets team for the Diverse Corn Belt Project. Her study focuses on looking for ways to accelerate market growth throughout the agricultural value chain. An important component of her research is to understand the drivers and obstacles behind the adoption of diverse systems. Camila enjoys spending time with her family and friends.
Christine Elliott is an incoming entomology Ph.D. student at Purdue University. Her master’s research at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa centered on conservation and population ecology of a federally listed endangered Hawaiian moth. As she joins the Kaplan Insect Ecology Lab and the DCB project, Christine is excited to broaden her conservation efforts by investigating the impact of farming system diversification on insect biodiversity and ecosystem function.
University of Minnesota
Dr. David Mulla is the Larson Chair and professor for Soil & Water Resources in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate at the University of Minnesota and director of the Precision Agriculture Center. Dr. Mulla received a Ph.D. degree in Agronomy from Purdue University with emphasis in soil physics. Dr. Mulla’s research emphasizes precision conservation, land management and water quality interactions, ecosystem services, and foodshed modeling.
Dr. Liz Maynard is an Extension specialist and clinical engagement professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University. She serves as co-lead for extension efforts on the Diverse Corn Belt project. Her other applied research and extension work focuses on vegetable production in field and high tunnels. Away from office and fields she loves playing flute in the community band and with the local contra-dance band, the Hoosier Recruits.
University of Illinois
Dr. Emily Heaton joined the Crop Sciences department at the University of Illinois as Professor of Regenerative Agriculture in 2021 after twelve years at Iowa State University, where she remains an Affiliate Professor in the Dept. of Agronomy. Her research investigates the growth and productivity of perennial C4 grasses so we can manage them for multiple ecosystem services, especially biomass provision. As Feedstock Production Theme Leader for the Center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) she advances CABBI’s generation of fundamental plant science for production of high-yielding, resilient grass crops that produces oils in their stems. As director of the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, Dr. Heaton connects researchers and stakeholders to advance knowledge and practices that return value to people and the land. Her family owns and operates Caveny Farm near Monticello, IL where they graze cattle, sheep, and heritage poultry for local sale; the farm serves as inspiration and proving ground for their ideas and collaborations.
Ian Kaplan is a professor in the Department of Entomology at Purdue University. His lab conducts research on the ecology and management of insects in agricultural landscapes, focusing on pests and beneficial species involved in provisioning ecosystem services (e.g., biocontrol, pollination). For the DCB project, he will be investigating how variation in cropping system diversity affects the composition and function of insect communities on farms.
Iowa State University
J. Arbuckle Iowa State University J. Arbuckle is professor and extension rural sociologist at Iowa State University. His research and extension efforts focus on improving the environmental and social performance of agricultural systems His primary areas of interest are drivers of farmer and agricultural stakeholder soil and water conservation behaviors, especially related to climate change adaptation and mitigation. He is director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers.
University of Minnesota
Jason Hill is Professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota. He also serves as a Resident Fellow of the University’s Institute on the Environment. His research focuses on the consequences of food, energy, agriculture, and natural resources from a life-cycle perspective. Dr. Hill has testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees on the environmental effects of transportation biofuels. His work has been published in the journals Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He recently served on the National Research Council’s Committee on the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Increasing Biofuels Production and on the United States Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board’s Biogenic Carbon Advisory Panel. Dr. Hill received his AB in Biology from Harvard College and his PhD in Plant Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota.
Katherine Pivaral is a master’s student in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture department at Purdue University. Her research focuses on making emerging markets more economically and environmentally sustainable. She has international experience working with sustainable agriculture, rural development, and youth empowerment. Katherine is from Guatemala; she loves traveling and learning about different cultures around the world.
University of Iowa
Dr. Keith Schilling is the State Geologist of Iowa and Director of the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa. Dr. Schilling is also a research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Iowa Department of Earth and Environmental Science and at Iowa State University Department of Natural Resources Ecology and Management. He received an MS degree in Water Resources from Iowa State University and a PhD degree in Geology from the University of Iowa. His research has focused on a variety of water-related issues in Iowa, including groundwater flow and quality, surface and groundwater interaction, nonpoint source pollution, and watershed and floodplain processes.
The Nature Conservancy
Kris Johnson is the Director of the North America Agriculture Program of The Nature Conservancy. In this position he leads national strategies working with public and private partners to increase adoption of regenerative agricultural practices in crop systems and grazing lands. He currently serves as vice chair of the board for the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium and is a board member of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. In prior roles with the Nature Conservancy Kris provided strategic leadership and scientific expertise for conservation work in agriculture and freshwater, most recently as deputy director of agriculture in North America. He received a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and an MS and PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota. Kris was a Fulbright Scholar, a MacArthur Scholar, and a Senior Fellow in Sustainable Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota.
USDA Forest Service
Dr. Floress is a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service. She studies and models how social factors impact and are impacted by natural resources planning, management, conservation, and restoration across public and private lands. Her interests range from understanding individual property owner conservation behaviors—particularly with regard to family forest owners, agricultural producers, and urban residents—to collaborative cross-boundary landscape scale conservation. She has multiple current research projects in these areas.
Dr. Matthew Streeter
University of Iowa
Matthew Streeter is an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Iowa’s Iowa Geological Survey. He is a soil scientist specializing in anthropogenic soil morphology, soil health, water quality, and soil and groundwater relationships. Matthew is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the U of I where he teaches Soil Genesis and Geomorphology. He is a licensed well driller and operates the IGS drilling rig, which is used for geologic mapping and shallow groundwater monitoring and also manages the IGS soil and sediment laboratory.
University of Minnesota
Dr. Natalie Hunt is a teaching assistant professor in Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Her research involves modeling environmental impacts of conventional and alternative agricultural systems, and her teaching explores sustainable food systems, natural resources consumption, and sustainable systems management; all with an emphasis on quantitative and sustainability literacy. Outside the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her family, biking, swimming, gardening, and cooking.
The Nature Conservancy
Paige Frautschy is the Agriculture Program Director for the Iowa chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as well as the Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota chapters. She works closely with the farming and conservation communities on sustainability initiatives that build soil health on farms, improve water quality, and climate resilience in Iowa and beyond. Paige oversees the 4R Plus program in Iowa and the diverse coalition of organizations that provide guidance to the program. Paige studied biology and ethics at the University of Northern Iowa and received her MS in agroecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked on her in-laws’ beef and grain farm in southwest Wisconsin and is a Certified Crop Advisor. Paige’s involvement in the food and ag sector comes full circle as her and her husband own several restaurants located in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Washington.
Phil Gassman is an environmental scientist whose research experience has focused on supporting the integration of environmental, economic and other models to assess policy scenario impacts for watersheds and other regions, and testing of field- and watershed-scale models. He will be working on the application and integration of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) ecohydrological model within the overall modeling system being developed for the Diverse Corn Belt project. These simulation research efforts will include analyzing cropping systems, management practices, hydrologic responses, and water quality impacts in selected Corn Belt watersheds.
Dr. Rebecca Traldi joined the DCB team in July 2022, when she started as a postdoc in Purdue University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Rebecca is an environmental social scientist. She completed her PhD in Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she studied the impact of voluntary sustainability programs. Rebecca supports DCB’s efforts to understand farmer perspectives regarding agricultural diversification by conducting farmer surveys and focus groups. Rebecca previously worked with the World Wildlife Fund for eight years, where she focused on agricultural supply chain sustainability, corporate engagement, and plastic pollution. She also has experience researching farm livelihoods and payment for environmental services programs with the World Agroforestry Center in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ryan Heiniger is Executive Director of the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC).He worked for Ducks Unlimited for 15 years, then created and led the Precision Ag and Conservation Solutions Program for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Prior to joining CTIC, Ryan served as director of America’s Conservation Ag Movement (ACAM) with Farm Journal’s sustainability division. He earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Iowa State University. Ryan and his wife Nikki are raising their son and daughter as 5th generation family farmers along the banks of the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa.
Montana State University
Dr. Sarah P. Church is an assistant professor in Geography and Planning in the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, where she runs the People Places Water Lab. Dr. Church has expertise in stakeholder engagement surrounding watershed management and decision-making processes related to climate adaptation. The People Places Water Lab has funded research that looks at human dimensions of water resources across urban and working landscapes. Their research seeks to understand how to build inclusive planning and decision-making processes that advance social and ecological goals and contribute to the adaptive capacity of people and communities.
Dr. Sarah LaRose is an assistant professor of Agricultural Education in the Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication department at Purdue University. She holds a joint appointment between the College of Agriculture and College of Education, working as an agricultural teacher educator, preparing the next generation of high school and middle school Agriculture CTE teachers. Currently, she is exploring the development of preservice teachers’ instructional planning and conducting research related to laboratory teaching spaces. Outside of work, Sarah loves to garden, draw, and paint, travel, and cook and bake.
The Nature Conservancy
Seth Harden, Upper Wabash River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy, grew up in central Indiana and received his bachelor’s degree of Forestry in 2010 from Purdue University. While at Purdue he focused his studies on natural resource management and environmental policy. Seth completed his MS in Public Affairs, with a concentration in environmental policy analysis, from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI in 2019. Previous experience includes employment with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Indiana Farm Bureau Incorporated. Seth lives with his wife and children in Westfield, IN, which they consider their home and base for adventures across the country and globe.
Dr. Armstrong is an Environmental Soil Scientist and Associate professor in the Department of Agronomy at Purdue University. His research program investigates the agronomic, environmental, and economic impacts of current and emerging regenerative agricultural practices that reduce nutrient and soil loss and promote carbon farming in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Dr. Armstrong’s research is executed on multiple scales ranging from the soil microbiome to the evaluation of conservation practices on field and watershed scales. Annually, his applied research program advances the knowledge of the agricultural and farming community on cropping systems management that facilitates nutrient loss reduction, nutrient cycling, and competitive crop productivity.
Steve Hallett is a member if the ed team who is interested in promoting small farm sustainability in the Corn Belt. He is also engaged in developing a better understanding of diversity issues in agriculture. He is a professor of horticulture at Purdue University.
Steve Werblow has worked with the Conservation Technology Information Center in various capacities since the early ‘90s, helping promote conservation practices across the country. A graduate of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Steve is an award-winning writer and photographer, and self-described “soil hugger.” He is based in Ashland, Oregon, and has covered agricultural stories on six continents for a wide range of farm magazines.
Dr. Yichao Rui is an Assistant Professor in Agroecology at Purdue University. He utilizes an integrated systems approach to study the nexus of soil, crops, water, microbiomes, and their inter-relationships that underpin agroecosystem performance and services to identify opportunities and actionable steps for ecological and meaningful transformation of cropping systems in the Midwest and around the world. Yichao holds Ph.D. degrees in Microbial Ecology and Soil Science from Chinese Academy of Sciences and Griffith University (Australia). Before joining Purdue, he worked at the University of Western Australia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Rodale Institute on a wide range of projects investigating the impacts of climate change and land use on agroecosystem resilience and its environmental and social outcomes.