Ronald Pegg wakes up students with coffee, antioxidant research

By for CAES News

Whether he’s chasing coffee “from bean to cup” in Costa Rica or pinpointing the phenolic antioxidant constituents in Georgia pecans, University of Georgia food scientist Ronald Pegg has a passion for inspiring an investigative spirit in his students.

That zeal for inspiring discovery has earned him one of five UGA Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorships this year.

“Our 2019 Meigs Professors represent a range of fields, but they share a commitment to engaging students and challenging them to apply their knowledge in creative and meaningful ways,” said Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Libby V. Morris, whose office sponsors the award. “They are exemplary educators at a university with a national reputation for offering students extraordinary learning experiences.”

The UGA Meigs professorships were established to underscore the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, the value placed on the learning experiences of students, and the centrality of instruction to the university’s mission. The award includes a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000.

Pegg currently serves as a professor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology.

“I attempt to instill in my students the desire for lifelong learning and the realization that the knowledge base of their profession is not static — rather, it is dynamic,” Pegg said. “I get no greater joy than when one of my students is conducting an experiment and I all of a sudden see a light switch on.”

Pegg’s career has been defined by his enthusiasm toward his students and his unique teaching style. His main goal has always been to provide a balance of engaging lectures and hands-on laboratory activities so that his students can explore the key concepts of understanding the makeup of food and how its constituents can be analyzed.

In addition to providing his students hands-on experiences in the lab, Pegg launched a Thanksgiving break study-abroad program at UGA’s Costa Rica campus in Monteverde. The course, “Coffee (el Grano de Oro): From Bean to Cup,” lets students trace one of America’s favorite beverages from the farm to the coffee processor and provides them with a firsthand look into the production behind the perfect cup of coffee.

Working as coach and advisor to UGA’s food science College Bowl Team, Pegg works to mentor students while they’re in Athens, and many students still seek his advice long after they have left the university.

"I can confidently testify that no other professor has had such a profound impact on my academic and professional development,” said Taylor Lee, a UGA graduate and current employee at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, California, who majored in both food science and chemistry.

In recognition of his commitment, his students have voted him Outstanding Undergraduate Faculty or Graduate Faculty of the Year six times in recent years. In 2013, Pegg won the UGA Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in recognition of his work incorporating research themes into his undergraduate curriculum. He is the first faculty member in his department to win the honor.

"For more than a decade, Dr. Pegg has been able to maintain the same enthusiasm for teaching that he had when he started at UGA," said Josef Broder, CAES associate dean of academic affairs. "That excitement is contagious and inspires a sense of curiosity in his students that never really leaves them. His work is one reason why food science graduates from the University of Georgia are sought-after by industry leaders and research institutions the world over."  

Pegg primarily investigates food constituents and how the human body might use them in collaboration with Phillip Greenspan of the UGA College of Pharmacy. This requires the isolation and characterization of bioactive compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiglycation properties. Some of Pegg’s most notable work has involved isolating these compounds from Georgia commodities like peanuts, pecans, peaches and blackberries.

His research has resulted in 165 publications and more than $2.7 million in extramural and intramural teaching and research grants.

“It is especially commendable that he is incorporating his research interests in the classroom and laboratory and receiving grant funding for improving not only his own teaching but also that in his field,” said Jean Martin-Williams, associate dean of UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to creating a collaborative environment at UGA, Pegg has built strong relationships with researchers around the world and has presented as a visiting lecturer at Gdansk University of Technology in Poland and Bern University in Switzerland.

For more information about the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology, visit foodscience.caes.uga.edu.

In addition to Pegg, other 2019 Meigs Professors include:

  • Lonnie T. Brown Jr., A. Gus Cleveland Distinguished Chair of Legal Ethics and Professionalism in the School of Law;
  • George Contini, professor of theatre and film studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Gary T. Green, professor and assistant dean for academic affairs in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; and
  • Shelley E. Zuraw, associate professor of art in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

For more information about the Meigs professorships, visit provost.uga.edu.

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