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Ex-Illinois professor to lead Tennessee’s ag department
Tennessee Correspondent

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee’s newest Volunteer may have come from Gator country, but he was a Fighting Illini before moving to Gainesville, Fla., in 1997.

Any livestock owner not from the South or invested in SEC championships may be puzzled by all the sports names, but they are probably familiar with the benefits of Dr. Joseph DiPietro’s contributions to agriculture.

DiPietro, who took over as vice president of the UT Institute of Agriculture in February, started his career about 30 years ago at the University of Illinois in Champaign as a researcher and professor. Primarily a veterinarian, he earned an additional master’s degree in pathobiology in 1980, with a focus in parasitology, including study of parasitic worms.

A thick apothecary jar filled with yellowish fluid and dozens of coils of pale, plump dead worms graces a shelf in DiPietro’s office. This is memento of an old research project into parascaris equorum, a parasite that infects young horses between 2-18 months of age. The parasite migrates through the lungs and liver; DiPietro’s research focused on killing the worm in development and saving the horse. “I owe a debt I can never repay,” he said of his many years in Illinois, first as a student, then researcher, teacher and, eventually, associate dean of research for Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1997, he was hired as dean of the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I raised him,” joked Dr. Victor “Ted” Valli, professor with UT’s veterinary diagnostic lab. “The man is tremendously competent and well-suited for the job.”

Valli, who was DiPietro’s dean of research, said besides being knowledgeable about veterinary medicine and agriculture, UT’s newest vice president knows how to work with legislators at the state and federal levels. Valli believes DiPietro will boost UT’s ag funding because he knows which research projects to champion and how to explain their value to lawmakers who control the purse strings.

DiPietro explained he enjoys working for land-grant universities because they directly benefit farmers and producers. He said he felt most rewarded as a researcher when he was able to draw on his research to answer a producer’s question that would save their horses.

“They’re actually the ‘candy’ and the victory in these research sciences,” he said.

Besides horse owners, DiPietro’s research has benefited those who raise cattle and swine. While in Illinois, he conducted trials for the FDA on new drugs’ effectiveness against parasites in large animals. But he said he has experience working with those who conduct plant research, including crop development. He was the assistant director of Illinois’ ag experiment station; and his wife, Deb, is a retired environmental educator with a concentration in natural sciences.

“If someone had told me when I got out of vet school I’d be in this position, I would’ve told them they were ‘out to lunch,’” DiPietro said of being in administration. “There are a few people in academics who, from the first day, have their eye on these positions, but a lot of them come by it like I did” through various career twists and turns. Someone else who “came by” the same position was Dr. Jack Britt, UT’s executive vice president. He, too, started in research administration in North Carolina and was recently promoted from the job DiPietro now holds (Buddy Mitchell, associate VP for development, had the position on an interim basis between Britt and DiPietro).

The two met in 1992 and Britt recommended DiPietro for this position.

This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.