At age 16, Lynn Bailey represented her home state of South Carolina in a nationwide 4-H competition for her research on nutrition and healthy dieting.
About 50 years later, Bailey, now a UF food science and human nutrition professor, is still reeling in awards for her studies on nutrition, vitamins and diets.
Bailey was named this year's UF Teacher Scholar of the Year, UF's highest award for faculty. To Bailey, the award is a lifetime achievement and a lesson in humility because she knows the caliber of those she was chosen over, she said.
Bailey said her 4-H experiences are what motivated her to become a college professor and make nutrition, specifically a vitamin called folate, which can prevent birth defects, the focus of her life's work.
Bailey has been teaching for 30 years at UF. She also collaborates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Peking University Health Science Center and a research group at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to study nutrition in Northern China.
Consumption of folate is low in that area because of limited foods rich in folic acid, such as fruits and vegetables. Deficiency leads to increased numbers of children born with spina bifida, a disease that causes paralysis and brain damage.
Bailey said her favorite part of her job is incorporating her real-life research in China to support her classroom lessons at UF, she said.
"I'm a better teacher because of my research," she said.
Bailey was joined by her husband, Gary Rodrick, also a professor in the department, and her 86-year-old mother from South Carolina at a Thursday awards ceremony at Emerson Alumni Hall.
In addition to receiving a gold medallion framed in a glass case and a plaque describing her honor, Bailey also received $5,000 that she hasn't decided how to spend.
"I haven't gotten beyond just enjoying the moment," she said. "IFAS is very proud of this award."
Jimmy Cheek, senior vice president of IFAS, said in a telephone interview that he has known Bailey for more than 30 years.
"It couldn't have happened to a more competent faculty member and a nicer person," Cheek said.