Dr. R. Michael Akers, Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Professor of Dairy Science, Dairy Science Graduate Studies Chair and former Department Head, retired on September 1, 2018 after almost 37 years of service with Virginia Tech.
Akers grew up in southwest Virginia and was active in 4-H. He completed both his B.S. (1974, Biology) and M.S. (1976, Dairy Science - Physiology) at Virginia Tech under the guidance of Dr. Bill Heald. He earned a Ph.D. (1980, Dairy Science - Physiology) at Michigan State University with Dr. Alan Tucker. He came to Virginia Tech in 1981, after working as a research physiologist at UDSA, Beltsville. He was appointed full Professor in 1992 and was named Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Professor in 1996.
After more than two decades of teaching and research, Dr. Akers became head of the Department of Dairy Science in 2004 while maintaining his research program. The Virginia Tech Department of Dairy Science, which has always enjoyed an excellent reputation, reorganized and expanded in faculty and resources under his leadership. He led the Virginia Tech Dairy Science Department for twelve years, stepping down in 2016 to devote the remainder of his career to his research program. His research efforts have emphasized endocrine and growth factor regulation of mammary development and mammary function. His work focused on identification of local tissue elements that regulate mammary cell proliferation and the role of insulin-like growth factor axis molecules and extracellular matrix proteins on heifer mammary development. He also worked extensively with colleagues to identify bovine mammary stem cells and determine how they are impacted by nutrition and the endocrine system.
He worked with several long-term collaborators both in the U.S. and internationally, exchanging graduate students, sharing research projects, and publishing manuscripts jointly. The graduates of his research program occupy a variety of respected academic and industry positions.
He authored or co-authored more than 160 full refereed scientific papers and 165 abstracts. In 2002 he completed a book, Lactation and the Mammary Gland, published by Iowa State Press. In 2008 he and Dr. Mike Denbow published “Anatomy and Physiology of Domestic Animals”, Blackwell Press. He has received three ADSA research awards: Agway Young Scientist, Borden Award, and Pharmacia & Upjohn Physiology and the Growth and Development Award from the ASAS. He also received the Alumni Award for Research Excellence from Virginia Tech in 2000. In 2006 he was named a Fellow by ADSA.
Dr. Akers resides in Blacksburg with his wife of 48 years, Cathy, who retired from the office of John White, College of Agriculture Associate Dean of Academic Programs. The couple plans to split their time between Blacksburg and their beloved lake.