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Photo provided by Clarissa Balbalian, Diagnostic Lab Manager, Mississippi State University

National Plant Diagnostic Network Recognizes Outstanding Service, Lifetime Achievement

The National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) recently recognized several members for outstanding service and lifetime achievement. The NPDN is an internationally respected consortium of plant diagnostic laboratories. It was established in 2002 by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Office of Homeland Security to enhance agricultural biosecurity by detecting instances of biological attacks. 

The NPDN contributes to protect plant health and productivity of U.S. agricultural and natural ecosystems by providing early detection and identification of plant pests and diseases. It is supported by NIFA and the collective efforts of many agencies and individuals representing Land-grant Universities, federal agencies, state departments of agriculture and other stakeholders. 

2022 Outstanding Service Award

Clarissa Balbalian
Diagnostic Lab Manager, Mississippi State University

Clarissa Balbalian edits the NPDN Communicator, the premier electronic newsletter of the National Plant Diagnostic Network. Balbalian, along with Meg Williamson (recently retired from Clemson University), revised the Communicator to its current engaging format, ensuring that the articles published in the Communicator are well written, carefully edited and are relevant to the membership. As a result, The Communicator has become a respected news vehicle of the NPDN. 

Aside from the organizational skills it takes to produce a quality newsletter, Balbalian also puts a lot of creativity and thought into each issue and strives continually to improve the newsletter. An example of this is the new Puzzler section. Another feature that Balbalian has incorporated into the Communicator includes personal profiles of retiring diagnosticians or other members of the NPDN. She feels it is important to acknowledge people who have been a part of NPDN’s history and to share information about the careers of people leaving the organization with the younger generation, who are just starting their careers. Balbalian brings a lot of heart and energy to all her NPDN activities. She is fun to work with, thorough, organized, has a lot of good ideas and inspires others to contribute their own ideas.

2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

Karen Rane
Director, Plant Diagnostic Lab, University of Maryland

Karen Rane has been the director of the University of Maryland’s Plant Diagnostic Lab since 2008. Prior to that she was the codirector of Purdue’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory. Before moving to Maryland, Rane played an active role in the North Central Plant Diagnostic Network, which still considers her an honorary member despite her being active in the Northeast Plant Diagnostic Network. When the NPDN national meeting was held in Washington D.C., Rane was instrumental in scouting out local options for hotels, workshops and tours. Several NPDN committees have benefited from her involvement, including the Proficiency and National Data Committees, where Rane actively participates in detailed taxonomy-based discussions, always working to ensure accuracy and consistency in diagnostic data. Rane’s relationships and practical experience with growers and commercial clients are impressive. Since the beginning, NPDN has benefited from Rane’s practical experience and advice, whether it was in developing training tools, setting priorities or mentoring new diagnosticians.

Tom Creswell
Director, Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab, Purdue University

Tom Creswell is a shining example of an exemplary diagnostician. Creswell’s diagnostic career began in 1987 at North Carolina State University where he served as director of the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic. This was well before the NPDN was established. In 2008 he moved to Indiana to take on the role of director of Purdue’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab. Creswell has patiently and diligently served on several NPDN committees, including the National Data Committee, and the former Diagnostics and Plant Diagnostic Information System Change Management committees. His amazing knowledge of plant pathology, his desire to share and teach others and his continued passion for diagnostics is unique. Creswell has been an unofficial mentor to so many new diagnosticians where he leads by example in sharing diagnostic tricks, new finds, constructive thinking and showing the ultimate patience in sticky situations. 

Karen Snover-Clift
Former NEPDN Associate Director, Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Cornell University

Karen Snover-Clift is recognized for 20 years of service to the NPDN, the majority of which was as Northeast Plant Diagnostic Network associate director. As part of the leadership team from the beginning of the NPDN in 2002, Snover-Clift helped shape the network, ensuring the project represented and served diagnosticians. Early on, she recognized the need for an accreditation system and, with colleagues in USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), spearheaded the STAR-D accreditation system. She organized dozens of trainings and meetings for her region and the network to increase NPDN diagnostic capacity. The APHIS “Beltsville workshops” are a direct result of her work with our partners each year. As a lab director and diagnostician at Cornell since 1998, Slover-Clift continues to “groundtruth” many of the network’s programs and fosters connections with partners in industry and regulatory agencies. She also makes sure to connect diagnosticians, sharing protocols and information to help us in our day-to-day jobs, and bringing new colleagues into the diagnostic family with the collegial spirit that is part and parcel of being a true diagnostic professional.

Reprinted with permission from the National Plant Diagnostic Network.  Photo provided by Clarissa Balbalian, Diagnostic Lab Manager, Mississippi State University.

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