IA award ‘a reflection of the success of my students in the industry’ says 2023 winner

Irrigation Today caught up with Aavudai Anandhi to ask what winning the 2023 Excellence in Education means to her.

The 2023 Excellence in Education Award was presented to Aavudai Anandhi, PhD, PE, of Florida A&M University. The award recognizes an outstanding educator who teaches irrigation, water management or water conservation and has a commitment to elevating the level of education and promoting the field of irrigation as a viable and sustainable career to students.  

Anandhi is an associate professor specializing in irrigation and water management and has made numerous contributions to the development of irrigation-related coursework and certificate programs. When she joined Florida A&M, a historically Black university, she began transforming the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups, developing an irrigation and water management training program from the ground up with limited resources. 

Irrigation Today caught up with Anandhi to ask what winning the award means to her. 

Irrigation Today: You’ve been instrumental in developing irrigation and water management programs, particularly focusing on underrepresented groups. What does winning the Excellence in Education Award mean to you in terms of highlighting the importance of these areas and acknowledging your innovative teaching techniques and commitment to natural resource conservation? 

Aavudai Anandhi: I am honored and humbled by the award. Winning the award is an acknowledgment that: 1. the innovative teaching techniques are embraced by my students, colleagues, collaborators and peers, 2. there is a diverse team of supporters behind the success (administrators, industry, state and federal agencies, mentors, friends, family), and 3. I am moving in the right direction. The award is encouraging, and it motivates me to continue my work in NRC. I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge the role of Biological Systems Engineering program at the college of agriculture and food sciences in Florida A&M University for contributing to solutions. 

Irrigation Today: With the honor of being the only certified professional engineer in the Florida A&M University Biological Systems Engineering program and having built the program from the ground up, how do you see this award as a reflection of the impact you’ve made on your students and the broader community, especially minority farmers in the region and globally? 

Aavudai Anandhi: Yes, currently, I am the only certified professional engineer in the biological systems engineering program at FAMU. However, the program has been around for more than 20+ years and my predecessors and colleagues have laid a foundation with a history of contributions. For example, the program produced four of six African American Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservation engineers in its 87+ year history. Eleven African American BSE graduates have earned Ph.D. degrees. Eight of 11 earned their Ph.D. degrees in science or engineering fields (three science Ph.D.s and five engineering Ph.D.s). Eight of 11 are African American women. It is an honor to be a part of the BSE program’s history. 

I see this award as a reflection of the success of my students in the industry, academia as well and state and federal agencies. It reflects the BSE program’s motto, “We teach students, not courses.” The bigger impact of the award is it will continue to increase awareness among 1. Current/future students and the broader community of the good work carried out in the program in natural resource conservation engineering by the dedicated team of faculty and staff. 2. Minority farmers in the region and globally of the good work carried out by the dedicated team at Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station. 

Irrigation & Lighting: As the Excellence in Education Award recognizes those promoting irrigation as a viable and sustainable career, can you share your thoughts on how this award will further inspire and motivate you and others in the industry to strive for higher standards and continue to work towards making our environment a better place to live in? 

Aavudai Anandhi: Irrigation plays an important role in natural resource conservation. It means natural resource conservation is very important and, in the context of food-water-energy nexus, is one of the most complex sustainability challenges our world faces.  NRC’s importance is connected to almost all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) more specifically SDG 2, SDG 6 and SDG 7. The sustainability challenges in NRC are complex and multifaceted in nature. It motivates decision-making and problem-solving to address these challenges and attain these goals, which can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. It means, that when we are seeking to effect change, diverse perspectives enhance both the understanding of the problem as well as the quality of the solution. 

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