Meet the Author: Laura Tiu

Meet the Author: Laura Tiu


Laura Tiu, UF/IFAS Marine Science Agent

Laura Tiu is the Marine Science Sea Grant Agent with the University of Florida Extension Service in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Raised in Sioux City, Iowa, she left the cornfields of the Midwest to pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist, following in the footsteps of the infamous Jacques Cousteau.  Living in the Philippines for four years was the educational experience of a lifetime, with adventures to the tops of mountains to the depths of the sea.  She was fortunate to work on the very first marine preserve in the Philippines on Apo Island, which has since evolved into a scuba diver paradise.


Coming back stateside, her first professional job was as a fish breeder on a tropical fish farm in Plant City, Florida.  This is where her passion for aquaculture was born.  After a brief stint at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, Laura left for Mississippi State University where she earned a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology, focusing on fisheries and aquaculture.  Her thesis explored the impact of largemouth bass maternal size on survival of fry.  Not one to follow a straight path, Laura joined the staff at Kentucky State University Aquaculture Program where she spent the next eight years doing fish nutrition work on multiple species including catfish, trout, hybrid striped bass, hybrid bluegill, paddlefish and freshwater prawn. This experience gave her a great appreciation and understanding how research can help grow the burgeoning aquaculture industry.


With a desire to do Extension work and a goal to continue her graduate work, Laura spent the next 18 years at The Ohio State University where she earned her Ph.D. in Extension Education while serving as Director of the Aquaculture Extension Program.  She was responsible for supporting the development of a sustainable aquaculture industry in Ohio and throughout the Midwest.  During her tenure, the number of aquaculture operations in Ohio increased from 30 to over 200, with many of the startups graduating from her Aquaculture Boot Camp program.

Harvesting catfish from the aquaponics system.

Circling back to her passion for marine science, Laura joined the University of Florida Sea Grant program in 2015.  Her current programs include natural resource and environmental education and aquaculture.  She provides programming in natural resource stewardship through the Florida Master Naturalist Program and Panhandle Outdoor Live, which offers interpretive, and now virtual, environmental education.  She loves to educate clients about the awesome natural resources in the Panhandle including the farm ponds, numerous springs, creeks, rivers, estuaries, beaches, offshore reefs, and the coastal dune lakes of Walton County.  She spends a good part of her summer helping with the 4-H marine camps at Camp Timpoochee in Niceville, FL. Her aquaculture passion remains strong through her work with a growing aquaponics community in the state.


Laura lives with her retired husband in DeFuniak Springs, FL where they enjoy fishing, kayaking, swimming and exploring the great natural resource areas in the Panhandle.  She loves to play tour guide when her two grown sons, family and friends come to visit.  “I just love to show off the natural beauty of our area and help others better understand what they can do to help protect our environment.”

Sunset on Okaloosa Island.

Meet the Author: Erik Lovestrand

Meet the Author: Erik Lovestrand

Erik works as the UF/IFAS Franklin County Extension Director and as a Regional Specialized Agent for the Florida Sea Grant program in Northwest Florida. His Extension office is located in the historic fishing village of Apalachicola. Due to the small-town, rural nature of Franklin County, he is the only Extension Agent and provides a wide diversity of expertise on topics ranging from home horticulture and gardening to 4-H youth development, natural resources, and invasive species issues.

Growing up in what used to be a rural environment in Central Florida, Erik spent his free time roaming the woods and waters around his home near Apopka. Back then, once school was out for the summer, parents could just turn the kids loose to explore. After receiving his first 5-speed bike, he could be anywhere within a five-mile radius of the house. After high school, Erik worked (not so diligently) to cram a two-year A.A. degree into five years at a local junior college. When he decided to get serious about the future, he moved to Gainesville with his wife Terri and completed a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology in the normal two years; then on to Purdue University for a M.S. in Wildlife.

Coming to work for Extension was the result of a late-career change for Erik but his jobs leading up to this were a great training ground for a well-rounded County Agent. Erik worked for five years after college with the former Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC now FFWCC) as a regional Education Specialist and then as the statewide Nongame Education Program Coordinator. Then, on to a brief 23-year stint at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve as the Education Program Coordinator. This put him in the right place at the right time when the opportunity came to join the UF/IFAS Extension team in the Northwest District. His Extension programs focus on supporting the seafood industry, coastal resource stewardship, and a nice mix of “whatever folks need. The diversity of the job is what keeps it interesting,” says Lovestrand.

Erik Lovestrand teaching

Erik teaching about horseshoe crab at Ecology Field Day in Jefferson County.

With their three kids grown and on their own, things have not slowed down much. Terri runs a home day-care and manages a girl’s travel volleyball club. There are four grandkids in the picture now too. Erik enjoys the home garden, spring turkey season and annual hunting adventures on St. Vincent Island. When he retires, he says he will get back to his hobby of making custom knives, something that has gone dormant since he began this job for some odd reason. “I’ve been very fortunate indeed, to have had the career opportunities that bring me to this place,” says Lovestrand. “The NW Extension District is a great place to work!”

Meet the Author: In Memory of Shep Eubanks

Meet the Author: In Memory of Shep Eubanks

This bio of our friend Shep Eubanks was prepared by Dr. Pete Vergot; Northwest District Extension Director.

Mr. Shepard “Shep” Eubanks, County Extension Director and Extension Agent IV

Shep Eubanks
Gadsden County Extension Director

In 1982 Shepard “Shep” Eubanks began working for the University of Florida as a student in Animal Science where he completed his bachelor’s degree in Animal Science in 1985 and then completed a master’s degree in Animal Science at the University of Florida in 1988. After graduation he started his first position with the University of Florida IFAS Extension as the Livestock Extension Agent I for Columbia County. During this time, Shep cultivated his knowledge and experience of working with farmers and ranchers and introduced his knowledge and love for natural resources and the outdoors. In 1993 Shep was promoted to Extension Agent II with Permanent Status and began his new position in Holmes County Florida as the County Extension Director and Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent where he continued to develop his skills of consulting with farmers, ranchers, and homeowners and a new audience of local county officials. As the County Extension Director, Shep was instrumental in moving from a small three-room office in the Holmes County courthouse to a recently renovated Agricultural Center and Extension office in Bonifay, Florida. Shep hired and worked with a staff of Extension Agents and support staff.  In 1997, Shep was promoted to Extension Agent III and in 2003 he was promoted to Extension’s highest rank of Extension Agent IV.


Having an opportunity in 2015 Shep moved “home” to Gadsden County, with his
wonderful wife Genea and their two grown sons, John and Justin, to become the University of Florida IFAS County Extension Director and Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent for Gadsden County. Shep worked with farmers, ranchers, and large landowners and homeowners, assisting them in all areas of agriculture and natural resources providing educational programming leadership and individual consultations to all Gadsden County residents. As the County Extension Director, Shep provided leadership for other Extension Agents and support staff. Shep worked with the former County Extension Director Dr. Henry Grant, along with the Gadsden County Commissioners and leadership, to continue to secure funding and build a new Gadsden County Agricultural Center and convert the older building into the Inman Livestock Pavilion.


Shepard “Shep” Eubanks will always be remembered as a kind and thoughtful person, willing to help and assist everyone that he met. Shep was a mentor to many younger Extension Agents and a friend to all Extension Agents across the Florida Panhandle and the State of Florida.

Meet the Author: Sheila Dunning

Meet the Author: Sheila Dunning

Sheila Dunning is the Commercial Horticulture Agent with the University of Florida Extension Service in Okaloosa County. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Horticulture and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Education and Communication from the University of Florida, as well as, several industry certifications including International Society of Arboriculture Arborist, Associate Certified Entomologist, and Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association Landscape Contractor. Her background is in the nursery industry; of which she was employed for twenty-two years before joining Extension over eighteen years ago.
Sheila’s programs for Green Industry professionals include Best Management Practices; pesticide applicator certification; and environmentally friendly landscaping design, installation and maintenance. In addition, she provides programming in natural resource stewardship through the Florida Master Naturalist Program.
Born in rural Wisconsin, she spent her early childhood as the son and hunting dog that her father never had, going on hunting, trapping and forest adventures. After moving to Brevard County, FL in 1976, Sheila’s interests turned to cultivating plants and rehabilitating local wildlife by working at a local 40-acre wholesale nursery and tending to the many wounded animals that roamed her parents’ home. She never knew what kind of creature she might find in her bed.
Married to an Air Force mechanic, Sheila spent 14 years traveling the world as a military wife, having two children along the way. Playing softball was a family activity, practicing or competing daily for over 22 years. Sheila was the catcher on the Icelandic NATO Forces Woman’s softball team, the European champions from 1986 -1989. She worked in a large greenhouse and florist while overseas, enabling here to learn even more plant material and utilize those Latin night school classes.
Sheila’s vast knowledge of Florida’s natural resources and cultivated plants was sparked early in life and has continued to grow as she settled into Northwest Florida, working at local retail nurseries and completing her education. Working closely with landscapers, pest control operators and government parks crew to keep up-to-date on plant maintenance, water protection and integrated pest management have become her main daily focus. But, she still finds time to introduce her grandchildren to the wonders of nature.

Meet the Author:  Daniel Leonard

Meet the Author: Daniel Leonard

Daniel is the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Director and the Agriculture, Horticulture, and Natural Resources Agent in the county also! Daniel is a fifth generation native northwest Floridian, born and raised near Blountstown on a timber farm. This experience growing up gave him a general love of the outdoors and nature, which he has continued to cultivate in his landscape and the woods and water of the Panhandle.

Daniel has a B.S. in Environmental Horticulture and a M.S. in Agricultural Education and Communications – both from the University of Florida. This combination of these degrees has allowed him to succeed in Extension both in subject matter expertise and in design and delivery of quality educational programs. He began his professional career at Panhandle Growers, Inc (PGI), an ornamental tree farm in Santa Rosa County. During his time there as Production Manager, Daniel learned valuable lessons of leadership, team management, and even a little Spanish. Following his time at PGI, Daniel decided to pursue a career in Extension, first in Walton County as Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator and now back in his home community. His Extension program focuses on providing evidence-based solutions for residents in their home landscapes and vegetable gardens, agricultural producers in their crop fields and pastures, and landowners on their managed woodlands.

Daniel at the Arenal Volcano in the mountains of Costa Rica.

When he’s not in the landscape or out in a field with clients, Daniel prefers to be on the water with his fly rod, in the woods managing his family’s farm for wildlife, or at home meticulously tending his raised bed garden. He and his wife Ali had their first date in a botanical garden and, when not confined due to COVID, enjoy travelling, eating Key Lime Pie for breakfast, and parenting their dogs, El J and Manu.

Meet the Author:  Dr. Pat Williams

Meet the Author: Dr. Pat Williams

Pat is the County Extension Director and the Agriculture/Horticulture/Natural Resources agent for UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County while also serving as the Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator for both Franklin and Wakulla counties.

Meet the Agent_Williams 2020Final

Pat by their outdoor mural at the Extension office.

He earned his doctorate from Texas A&M University in horticulture, a M.S. degree from Kansas State University in horticultural therapy, a B.S. degree in ornamental horticulture/floriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and an A.S. degree in ornamental horticulture from Crafton Hills College.

Over his horticulture career that started at age 13 working for Chrysanthemum Gardens in Crestline, CA, he has resided in 10 different states with a wide range of environmental influences (CA, KS, NJ, ME, NY, WA, TX, KY, TN and FL).  He has held various positions in his career from teaching adults with developmental disabilities in NJ and ME, designing, installing and maintaining landscapes, landscape construction, being a horticultural therapist in New York City, working for the USDA in WA, teaching in a TX federal prison for his Extension appointment, teaching horticulture in a TN high school and was an university horticulture professor for 14 years in KY after teaching at Kansas State University, Washington State University and Texas A&M University as a teaching assistant.  He started with the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in April 2017 as the Sarasota County Residential Horticulture Agent/Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator and transitioned to the Wakulla County Extension office in June 2020.

Kayak POL

Kayaking the Myakka River, FL.

Teaching and greenhouse growing are his professional joys.  Florida is the first state where there has not been a greenhouse to play in and he misses it greatly, however Extension does offer many opportunities to share his passion for plants and outdoors with a new group of learners.  Otherwise Pat grew up on the beaches and ski resort areas of southern CA and still finds solace today relaxing on the beach or kayaking.  He has traveled a bit visiting 49 states with only Hawaii to go.  When indoors he would rather be baking or cooking in the kitchen as his second career choice would have been a chef.  There is usually a yard full of flowers, herbs and vegetables and he is an extremely proud FSU Seminole Dad to Tara, a 2020 graduate.

Pat wears many hats at the Wakulla office and handles topics other than 4-H Youth Development or Family and Consumer Sciences.  Once again he finds himself in a transition adapting to the new horticultural environment of Florida’s panhandle and developing more programs in agriculture and natural resources.  Please feel free to reach out to see how the UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County can be of assistance.