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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Area Director's Office
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On this page:

  • ARS Mission & Vision
  • Meet the Directors
  • Staff

Midwest Area Links:

ARS Mission & Vision

Vision: Leading America towards a better future through agricultural research and information 

Mission: ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to:

  • ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products
  • assess the nutritional needs of Americans
  • sustain a competitive agricultural economy
  • enhance the natural resource base and the environment
  • provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole


Meet the Directors

JL Willett, Acting Director

/ARSUserFiles/50000000/dr willett_1 (00000003).JPG  Dr. Willett was selected as Associate Director for the Midwest Area in January of 2012. As part of his duties, he serves as the Area Ethics Officer and Deciding Official on personnel matters. He also has the lead responsibility for OSQR and New Scientist orientation and development within our office.

Dr. Willett joined ARS in 1992 as a Chemical Engineer. In 1995, he became Research Leader of the Plant Polymer Research Unit at NCAUR and served in that position until his appointment as the MWA Assistant Area Director on November 22, 2009. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, and he is an inventor on 11 U.S. Patents. He has served as Secretary, Vice-President, and President of the Bio-Environmental Polymer Society (1999-2001). He has also served on several details within ARS including Acting Associate Director of the MWA, NPA, and MSA, as well as a special assignment with the Office of National Programs. He completed his SES Candidate Development Program in 2011. 

Dr. Willett received his BS in Textile Chemistry from North Carolina State University in 1981, followed by a Ph.D. in Metallurgy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1988. After receiving his Ph.D., he became Manager of Research for Agri-Tech Industries, a start-up company developing starch-based biodegradable materials using technology licensed from the National Center of Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, IL. In 1988, he co-founded Fully Compounded Plastics and developed the technology base for the company's starch-based materials.

Alberto Pantoja, Associate Director

/ARSUserFiles/50000000/Update Summer 2017 photos, pdf, and video/dr pantoja_2.jpg  Dr. Alberto Pantoja was selected as Midwest Area Associate Director in July of 2015. He has the lead responsibility for RPES,  incoming agreements, employee relations, ARS-115 Publication Approval, and animal welfare within the MWA director's office. He is internationally recognized for developing practical approaches for the biological control of insect pests. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles in scientific literature and 75 lay articles for growers and crop protection specialists. Dr. Pantoja's research has been recognized by the Gamma Sigma Delta-Honor Society of Agriculture, the Florida Entomological Society, the Puerto Rican Society for Agricultural Sciences, and the Puerto Rico College of Agronomists.

Dr. Alberto Pantoja received a B.S. degree in Agronomy and Soils from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus in 1978, and he initiated his career as Pesticides Inspector and Pesticides Liaison Officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture (1978 - 1980). He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Agronomy and Entomology from Louisiana State University in 1982 and 1985, respectively. He subsequently (1986-1989) worked as an entomologist for the Puerto Rico Agricultural Experiment Station.

In 1989, he joined the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in Cali, Colombia, where he occupied the position of Research Fellow and then Chief Rice Entomologist. He trained entomologists from 15 countries in the region and developed area-wide integrated pest management programs for rice in Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Pantoja led a multidisciplinary and international team of scientists to publish the first book on integrated pest management devoted to rice management in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 In 1993, he returned to the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, where he progressed through the ranks to Full Professor, Department Head, Deputy Director for Research, and Associate Dean for Research. At the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Pantoja led research on the biological control of insect pests of rice, coffee, vegetables, and tropical fruits. He became well known as a scientific leader in pest control and a host of a regular radio program to educate farmers on the application of effective technologies for sustainable agriculture production.

He joined ARS in 2003 as a Research Leader and Location Coordinator for the newly-formed Subarctic Agricultural Research Unit (SARU) in Fairbanks, Alaska. Dr. Pantoja led the SARU through a period of significant growth, hiring scientists and developing new programs in integrated pest management, fisheries byproduct utilization, and germplasm preservation. He developed a productive program with national and international collaborations in the area of high-latitude agriculture. While at SARU, he was elected as President of the Circumpolar Agricultural Association and served in the Advisory Board for Alaska's Division of Agriculture.

In 2011, Dr. Pantoja joined the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office in Santiago, Chile as Crop Production and Protection Officer (CPPO) for South America. In 2012, he was appointed CPPO for Latin America and the Caribbean. From 2013 to 2015, he served as Regional Coordinator for one of FAOs five strategic objectives, seeking to increase the Productivity and Sustainability of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was instrumental in the development and implementation of new emergency response programs and initiatives to promote long-term agricultural sustainability and food security in a broad region challenged with the increasing climate variability, newly emerging insect and disease pressures, and provisions of  effective technologies to subsistence farmers in remote and isolated regions. From 2014 to 2015, he completed a five months detail in Asuncion, Paraguay as Technical Officer in charge of the FAO-Paraguay office.   




Last Modified: 7/20/2017
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