As she grew up in rural Arkansas, Kati Migliaccio’s interest in agricultural engineering came naturally. She liked math, science and problem solving, so she wanted an engineering career, but not one that confined her to an office or lab.
“I wanted a career that involved engineering, with an outdoor component,” said Migliaccio, who was recently named chair of the agricultural and biological engineering department at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “My professional interests were focused on landscapes and not just from an office cube perspective. The desire to be an engineer of outdoor systems and my interest in water conservation led me to agricultural engineering.”
In her new role, Migliaccio envisions faculty soaring to new heights in their efforts to ensure an ample supply of safe food around the world while preserving water and energy.
Migliaccio was named to lead the department by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“Dr. Migliaccio’s wealth of success in teaching, research and Extension brought her to the top of a list of highly qualified candidates for this critical position,” Payne said. “I’m confident Dr. Migliaccio can guide faculty to help solve issues ranging from feeding the hungry to conserving water.”
Migliaccio said she is honored by the appointment.
“I am excited to get started as chair,” Migliaccio said. “The department has a long, established reputation and internationally recognized faculty who provide a foundation for unlimited innovation.”
Migliaccio starts Aug. 1 and replaces Dorota Haman, who recently retired as chair. Rafael Muñoz-Carpena, also a professor in the agricultural and biological engineering department, served as interim chair after Haman retired.
Migliaccio earned her Ph.D. in biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas. She received her master’s in biosystems and agricultural engineering from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s in agricultural engineering from Texas A&M. She specializes in water conservation, hydrology, and irrigation in agricultural, natural, and urban systems.
Migliaccio sees many strengths on which the department can build:
- Award-winning faculty and graduate students.
- The Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer, the most widely used global crop-modeling system.
- Two undergraduate minors — precision agriculture and packaging science — that reflect faculty expertise.
- Home to the Biological Systems Modeling Graduate Certificate, which showcases the biological modeling strengths of the department.
- A combination of two undergraduate degree programs: Agricultural operations management in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and biological engineering in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.
- Strong international presence with activities in Costa Rica, Brazil, Kenya, Vietnam, Netherlands, Mozambique and South Africa, among other nations.
- Several faculty fellows of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and international recognized researchers.
- Collaborations with the UF Water Institute, UF Climate Institute as well as multidisciplinary UF/IFAS centers such as the Center for Landscape Ecology and Conservation, Program for Resource Efficient Communities and the Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture.
Migliaccio sees some areas where she can help the department improve.
“I will facilitate growth and development of the department’s curriculum, considering work force needs and new innovations in the discipline,” she said. For example, she would like to see more education in new technology to position graduates to be successful in the work force.
Long term, she’d like faculty to continue to serve as leaders in their disciplines, to have established and coordinated relationships with industry partners and to increase undergraduate enrollment.
“This point in history, in particular, needs the expertise of agricultural and biological engineers to contribute — through innovation — solutions for issues facing us locally as well as globally, such as water scarcity, food security, climate change, energy sustainability and more,” Migliaccio said.