Guiltinan, Maximova receive the 2019 Kopp International Achievement Award

April 02, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology, and Siela Maximova, research professor of plant biotechnology, both in the College of Agricultural Sciences, are the recipients of Penn State's 2019 W. LaMarr Kopp International Achievement Award.

Established in 1995, the award recognizes faculty and staff members who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the international mission of the University. It is named for the late deputy vice president for international programs.

Penn State cacao expert Mark Guiltinan

Mark Guiltinan, co-director of Penn State's endowed cocoa research program, talks with Peace Corps volunteer Kyle King at the Santa Marta boot camp.

IMAGE: David Pacchioli, Penn State

Guiltinan and Maximova co-direct the Endowed Program for the Molecular Biology of Cacao at Penn State, established by the American Cocoa Research Institute in 1986. Their main research is focused on generating new knowledge and technologies for improvement of the cacao crop and product quality. For more than 20 years as a team, Guiltinan and Maximova have been responsible for a number of international projects with global impact on agriculture.

Siela Maximova

Siela Maximova, professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.

IMAGE: Penn State

As main participants in the Cacao for Peace project, a large multi-institutional project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and U.S. Agency for International Development, Maximova and Guiltinan direct the activities of a interdisciplinary Penn State team of faculty and graduate students conducting research on cacao genetics, soil sciences, rural sociology, and agricultural extension and education.  As part of Cacao for Peace, they have also conducted training of farmer and Peace Corps volunteers in Colombia, and have organized Cochran and Borlaug Fellowships for young professionals. The overall goal of Cacao for Peace is to contribute to political stabilization, job creation and rural economic development in Colombia, by increasing productivity and quality of cacao and development of climate-smart production systems.


Also funded by USDA-Foreign Agricultural Service, Maximova and Guiltinan lead an international collaborative project to implement key research, capacity building and educational activities that will further promote the development of the fine flavor cacao and chocolate industry in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. The project fosters multidisciplinary, collaborative research among variety of academic and industry partners and includes visiting scientist program that pairs Penn State researchers with international experts.

Through a project funded by the National Science Foundation, Guiltinan and Maximova lead an international partnership that explores genes regulating plant immunity in long-generation plants involving collaborators at Penn State, the University of Minnesota, USDA-Agriculture Research Service  in Beltsville Maryland, The Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education (CATIE) in Costa Rica and at CNRA, the national cacao research center in Ivory Coast West Africa.

They direct a project that’s funded by Mondelez International to explore the genomics and metabolomics of high-value traits of cacao with a long term goal to enable precision breeding of new varieties. This work involves Penn State faculty and students from plant sciences, biology and food sciences departments and collaborates with the Center for Cacao Research at the University of West Indies, Trinidad.

In 2018, with support from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Guiltinan and Maximova founded the Cacao and Chocolate Research Network at Penn State, which includes more than 30 faculty and graduate students spanning four colleges. The members of the network delve into areas such as the history, health benefits, production, propagation, international development, improvement and flavor of the cacao crop, and has opened new interdisciplinary collaborations between its members.

“Mark and Siela have made an impact on the world through their research on cacao, a crop that is grown on some of the poorest regions on Earth,” a nominator said. “They have also made an impact on the Penn State community of students and scholars working under their direction. Few can match their energy, drive and commitment to internationalization at Penn State.”


Last Updated April 02, 2019