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Names in the News

Jordan joins UCCE as forestry and natural resources advisor 

Christian Jordan

Christian Jordan joined UCCE on March 18 as a forestry and natural resources advisor for Shasta Siskiyou, and Trinity counties. He will work to advance forest resilience and sustainable management on private and public lands, with a focus on conifer forest resource management and sustainable natural resources.  

In 2020, Jordan completed a Master of Forestry at UC Berkeley, with an emphasis on forest resilience in the context of increasingly severe wildfires. Prior to joining UC ANR, he worked in the private sector in defensible space and home hardening, installing residential exterior sprinkler systems for ember defense. 

Jordan brings a diverse educational and work background to the position. In 2014, he earned a bachelor's degree in geography from UC Berkeley, writing a thesis on future climate and viticulture in Napa and Sonoma counties. Upon graduating, he worked in the wine industry before returning to natural resources. 

Jordan is based at the UCCE office in Redding and can be reached at

French joins NPI scientist to evaluate school meals 

Caitlin French

Caitlin French joined UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute on March 1 as an assistant project scientist. With her experience and expertise in evaluating the impacts of nutrition programs – such as produce prescriptions and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – French will be supporting the evaluation of California's Universal School Meals Program.

“I am looking forward to using my research skills and nutrition knowledge in an applied setting to help inform policies and see the impact of our work in a concrete way,” she said. “It feels good to know I am helping to answer research questions that are important for our communities and policymakers.”

French's primary research interest is in informing policies and programs that aim to achieve equity in access to healthy foods and environments and to reduce diet-related chronic diseases.

“Food is a fundamental human right and core component of achieving health and quality of life, yet our society is plagued by inequities that block so many people from achieving secure access to nutritious, culturally relevant food,” she explained. “Through my work in clinical and community settings, I am able to see how these injustices affect people's lives and health, and this inspires me to contribute to research to understand what policies and programs help break cycles of poverty and work towards a more equitable society.”

After earning her bachelor's degree in international studies (with emphases in political science and literature) from UC San Diego, French served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras supporting a program working to improve food security for families.

“This was a very influential experience that inspired me to go back to school and gain more knowledge and skills so that I could better contribute to the work of supporting food security and nutrition for all,” she said.

French attained her Ph.D. in nutritional biology with an emphasis in global nutrition from UC Davis. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley in the Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology Department, where she will finish up in June before moving to full-time at NPI.

French is based at UC Office of the President in Oakland and can be reached at

Camarena joins Statewide Programs & REC Operations 

Damaris Camarena

Damaris Camarena joined UC ANR on Feb. 26 as a financial analyst with Statewide Programs & Research and Extension Center Operations. 

She will be assisting units with analytical support, budgeting, financial reporting needs and account management concerns. Camarena has been working with Strategic Communications, the Innovation Office and UC Environmental Stewards. She advises on best practices for travel, purchasing, accounts payable and policies as well as managing and balancing staffing lists. She also has been working on the Local Farm and Food Innovation grant.

Prior to joining UC ANR, Camarena worked at UC Davis Health, but also has experience at UC Davis campus and UCSF.

“My career path started as a student assistant and I have worked my way up over the years in operations, finance, contracts and grants,” Camarena said. “I have a B.S in managerial economics from UC Davis and my emphasis was agribusiness so I'm excited to be part of ANR!”

Camarena is based at the UC ANR building in Davis and can be reached at

Kaweesi to study sorghum resiliency at KARE  

Tadeo Kaweesi

Tadeo Kaweesi joined UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as an assistant project scientist on Feb. 2. Based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, he analyzes sorghum resiliency, particularly to drought and heat conditions. In his role, Kaweesi will also support the research efforts of Jackie Atim, UCCE specialist in abiotic stress, by screening the adaptability and demonstrating the multiple uses and benefits of sorghum including food, drink and energy production.

Prior to coming to UC ANR, Kaweesi worked as a plant breeder for the National Crops Resources Research Institute in his homeland of Uganda, primarily focused on cassava. 

“I spent most of my time solving challenges that affect cassava, especially the devastating cassava brown streak disease (CBSD),” said Kaweesi.

He earned a Ph.D. from a joint program hosted by Cornell University and the University of Greenwich. From Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Kaweesi earned a master's degree in crop science and breeding as well as a bachelor's degree in agriculture. 

While in graduate school, Kaweesi investigated cassava's resistance and tolerance to CBSD by selecting parental genotypes for breeding and screening for genes. During his Ph.D. program, Kaweesi shifted his research to the vector that transmits the virus and identifying gene targets for the management of the vector in affected regions. His dissertation focused on identifying critical and essential gene targets that could be used to manage whiteflies, an insect known to infect and devastate the cassava crop in sub-Saharan Africa.

Looking ahead, Kaweesi is excited about working with data that Atim collected over several years, which will inform how his research should progress.

“I am learning a lot of things from the dataset, and I believe we can achieve quite a lot,” Kaweesi said. He also looks forward to collaborations that will aid in his sorghum research.

Kaweesi can be reached at

Mokwunye named area IPM entomology advisor 

Idong Mokwunye

Idongesit Mokwunye joined UCCE on Jan. 3 as an area integrated pest management entomology advisor.

She will be studying insect pests of economic importance affecting tree fruit and nut crops, such as pistachio, almond, walnut, table grapes and stone fruit. Major pests include navel orangeworm, mealybug, carpophilus beetle, mites and scale insects. 

Prior to joining UC ANR, Mokwunye worked as a nut crop entomologist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria for over 15 years and headed its Crop Protection Division. 

“My journey into entomology as a career started when I was posted to the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria for the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corp,” Mokwunye said.

“I was really fascinated at the diversity and economic importance of the insect species (both beneficial and pests) on agricultural crops and natural landscapes generally,” she said. “The hands-on lab experiments and field activities were exciting, engaging and inspiring. I was actively involved in setting up experiments, data collection, data entry and informal discussions on research projects. I was seeing the insect world in an entirely different perspective.” 

She already held a bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

“The then-head of the department observed my interest and encouraged me to get a master's degree,” said Mokwunye, who then earned a master's degree in entomology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. “During the course of the second degree, I got a job in the same institute and today the rest is history.”

Mokwunye holds a Ph.D. in entomology from the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria. Her research interests include integrated pest management, chemical ecology, extension entomology and economic entomology. She has worked on the population dynamics of the cashew stem girdler as it correlates with weather parameters, its damage potential, semiochemical interactions and chemical control of insect pests.

She has served as a resource person engaging stakeholders in outreach activities and facilitating training programs on good agricultural practices. In addition to publishing more than 25 research articles, she is a fellow of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, Orange Knowledge Program of the Netherlands Government, and Scientific Exchanges Program of the USDA.  

“I am delighted to be here as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and I hope to bring my expertise and experience in pest management to bear,” she said. “I plan to connect and engage meaningfully with my clientele in order to understand their needs, priorities and perspectives regarding pest management issues. I will also collaborate with UC colleagues and other partners to conduct demand-driven, applied research and innovative extension programs on IPM that will meet the needs of the growers in line with UC ANR culture and values. Generally, I want to play my part towards achieving healthy food systems, environments, communities and Californians.”  

Mokwunye is based at Kearney Research and Extension Center and can be reached at (559) 807-0257 and She is on Facebook and LinkedIn.

UCCE water advisor Garza hopes to foster ‘spirit of shared responsibility' 

Laura Garza

Laura Elisa Garza Díaz joined UC ANR on Jan. 3 as the UC Cooperative Extension water quality, quantity and climate change advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, focusing on how intensified droughts, floods, wildfires and other climate impacts affect water supply and quality.

She aims to address Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirements and enhance local water resilience in collaboration with farmers and natural resource managers, local government water agencies, water districts and other key stakeholders.

In addition to guiding policymakers in creating comprehensive water-resiliency plans covering development, storage, alternative sources and conservation, Garza – who is fluent in Spanish – will share water research with a diverse range of communities.

“I aim to empower local stakeholders by providing them with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the complex landscape of water quality, quantity and climate change,” she explained. “My goal is to foster a spirit of shared water responsibility, and ensure that water management practices consider the needs of all – for a more just and inclusive environment for everyone.” 

Originally from Monterrey, Mexico (“the city of the mountains,” as she puts it), Garza earned her bachelor's degree from Tecnológico de Monterrey. After completing an Erasmus Mundus joint master's degree program in applied ecology, Garza worked as a specialist with the Water Center for Latin America and the Caribbean.

While pursuing her Ph.D. at UC Davis, she served as a scientific advisor for Pronatura Noroeste, an environmental protection organization, and started the Women in Science Interview Sessions at the Permanent Forum of Binational Waters, where she volunteered. It is an initiative to interview women who have worked or researched water topics in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin. 

After obtaining her Ph.D. in hydrologic sciences from UC Davis, Garza worked as a project manager for the Washington Water Trust in Washington. 

At every step of her journey, Garza has been motivated by a deep passion for safeguarding water resources and fostering resilient ecosystems and communities.

“I find inspiration in the intersection of science, community engagement and sustainable water management,” she said. “The opportunity to contribute to the well-being of local communities and the environment drives my commitment to addressing water challenges in a changing climate.”

Based at the UCCE office in Ukiah, Garza can be reached at and (707) 463-4495. She is also on LinkedIn:

Murray joins 4-H as access, equity and belonging academic coordinator  

Kait Murray

Kait Murray (she/they) joined UC ANR as the 4-H access, equity and belonging academic coordinator on Jan. 1.

She will be providing leadership and support to 4-H professionals throughout the state to increase the engagement and participation of unserved and underserved youth and adult audiences in all delivery modes of the 4-H Youth Development Program.

Murray completed a Ph.D. in Science and Agricultural Education at UC Davis. Prior to joining 4-H, she led the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center's research and outreach for queer and trans graduate students. Her background in academic peer advising and mentoring includes work with UC Davis Student Housing, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, and the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.  

Murray is based at the UC ANR building in Davis and can be reached at

Pastrana joins UCCE as plant pathology advisor 

Ana Pastrana

Ana Pastrana joined UCCE on Jan. 16 as a plant pathology advisor serving Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties. 

In her role, Pastrana will collaborate with pest control advisers and support growers with disease management. In addition to identifying high priority concerns, she will conduct research and develop educational content that addresses growers' needs.

Before moving to Southern California, Pastrana worked as a research scientist on plant pathology at the University of Seville, Spain, and at Vineland Research and Innovation Center in Canada. Previously, she completed a postdoctoral assignment in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis in the Thomas Gordon Lab, where she specialized in soilborne diseases affecting strawberries and blackberries.

While attending the University of Seville, Pastrana earned master's and bachelor's degrees in biology. At Investigación y Formación Agraria, Pesquera, Alimentaria y de la Producción Ecológica, a government institution in Spain, she earned a Ph.D. and completed her dissertation on strawberry diseases.

“At that time, Europe banned methyl bromide and other soil disinfectants. Strawberries rely on these disinfectants so plenty of soilborne diseases emerged,” Pastrana said. 

Originally from Seville, Spain, Pastrana said that her small hometown is surrounded by plum and citrus trees. Her mother, like many others, worked in the agricultural industry and Pastrana wondered how plant life works, inspiring her to study biology.

As a Ph.D. student, Pastrana didn't know she would pursue plant pathology specifically because she was open to studying diseases in general whether it be humans, animals or plants. 

“Plant pathologists are like doctors. Not everyone is happy to work with us because it usually means that there is some sickness involved,” said Pastrana. “But if growers work with pathologists from the beginning, we can focus on preventative care and helping to protect plants from getting sick.” 

Pastrana is based at the UCCE office in Holtville and can be reached at

Posted on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 at 2:22 PM

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