It is said that if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. For Alfredo Martinez-Espinoza, this has come true through his work as a plant pathologist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. His passion and hard work have been recognized with the American Phytopathological Society’s (APS) 2021 Excellence in Extension award.

The award recognizes an APS member who has made outstanding contributions by creating, developing or implementing extension-related programs or materials or has provided significant leadership in an area of extension of plant pathology.

“I was ecstatic when I got the call from the APS President,” said Martinez-Espinoza. “I couldn’t believe it. There are so many deserving people who put their soul into their work; I am honored and humbled to be selected.”

David Buntin, interim assistant provost and campus director for the UGA Griffin campus, was delighted to learn of the award presented to Martinez-Espinoza.

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Alfredo Martinez-Espinoza and his work,” said Buntin. “His hard work and dedication to plant pathology extension is well known on the UGA Griffin campus and we are thrilled he is now being recognized by the APS. We congratulate Dr. Martinez-Espinoza and are glad to have someone of his caliber at UGA-Griffin.”

Martinez-Espinoza — a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) — has been at UGA-Griffin since 2002. His work focuses on disease management in turfgrass—sod production, golf courses, sports fields, professional landscapes and lawn care—as well as small grains and nonlegume forages. In addition, he coteaches an undergraduate course about turfgrass pest management and a graduate laboratory on Diagnosis and Management of Plant Disease. 

Harald Scherm, head of the Department of Plant Pathology, praised Martinez-Espinoza and the exemplary work that earned him the award from the APS.

“Alfredo is a key member of the UGA turf and small grains teams and a trusted resource to Extension agents and industry practitioners alike,” said Scherm. “His innovative use of technology as part of his outreach program, his devotion to reaching underserved clientele, and his tireless service to his industries and professional societies make him highly deserving of this prestigious award.”

While he enjoys all aspects of his job, Martinez-Espinoza’s heart is in Extension. He loves being able to work one-on-one with people and see the fruits of his labor.

“The best thing is getting to help somebody and providing solutions that impinge in their very livelihood,” said Martinez-Espinoza. “I have the privilege to serve our stakeholders and provide expertise and it is very rewarding. With Extension, I not only get to work for people, but I get to work with them. In many cases I learn more, and that helps me later with someone else.”

With so much work put into Extension over the years, it is hard for him to pick his favorite project. However, he is most proud of the work he has done with the Hispanic community throughout the state. Martinez-Espinoza grew up in Viesca Coahuila, a small town in northern Mexico. Being both bilingual and bicultural has given him a way to communicate with the often-underserved group that is regarded as the backbone of the agricultural community.

His program, which includes the formation of Georgia’s Hispanic Specialists Group, has been recognized not only throughout the state, but also nationally and internationally. It serves as a model for delivering science-based information to workers, while maintaining highly effective, face-to-face contact throughout the Extension system. The group has developed Spanish versions of statewide training programs and materials that cover important topics, such as integrated pest management and safety in the workplace.

“For me, it was like a calling, a need,” Martinez-Espinoza said of his work with the community. “As time goes by, more people get involved and it helps with the diversity of the state. I am just glad I was able to help not only the Hispanic community, but also the industry as a whole through equipping the workforce with information on safety at the workplace, on IPM, on increasing productivity and professionalization, which in turn helps their bottom line.”

Additionally, he and his collaborators have received six grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has enabled them to train 2,000 Hispanic landscape and tree workers on safety measures. Martinez-Espinoza’s impact, through educational activities and diversity efforts, reaches not only the U.S., but also Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Spain through collaborations with organizations in those countries. He was recognized in 2009 for these outstanding efforts with the D. W. Brooks Diversity Award from CAES.

Acknowledging the accolades he has received and the work he has done, Martinez-Espinoza credited those who have helped him along the way.

“You cannot do it alone. A lot of people support you from your training in school, to your program, your department, college, and the university as a whole. Not to mention your colleagues, collaborators and clients who seek out our help. It is a privilege to serve the community. And for me, it is fun. If you really like what you do, it does not even feel like a job. I am just grateful to have that opportunity.”