Fowlers to be honored at UGA

ATHENS -- Newton County couple Rob and Jean Fowler will be honored Friday by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. They will receive the college's Medallion of Honor at the college's fall commencement ceremony. The award is given periodically in recognition of service to the college and the agricultural industry in Georgia.

According to a press release issued by the college, the Fowlers have traveled the globe promoting the college's Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system while supporting the college's domestic and international outreach missions.

"Jean and Rob Fowler have been tireless advocates for our work and invaluable ambassadors of our programs, especially in Central America," said Dean J. Scott Angle.

Rob Fowler, a retired president of Main Street Bank in Covington, helped arrange the first endowed 4-H agent's position in UGA history, also believed to be the first endowed agent position in the country. In 2007 he worked with BB&T Bank to create a $1.2 million endowment to continuously fund the 4-H agent's position in Jasper County.

Over the years the couple has hosted several international students from South America, Central America and Asia at their farm in Newton County. These students have been able to complete graduate work and undergraduate internships with the college while living with the Fowlers.

Apart from their work with young people, the couple was integral in implementing use of UGA's distance diagnostic system in Central America, where it is helping curb pest problems on farms and in exports.

The Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system is an Internet-based system by which farmers and field agents can communicate with university experts using digital images and samples to diagnose problems with soil, plants, animals and insects. The DDDI program is part of the college's Center for Internet Imaging and Database Systems.

In 2006 Rob Fowler secured $100,000 to fund the international distance diagnostic pilot program in Honduras. Success in Honduras led to a federal grant that extended use of the distance diagnostic system throughout Central America.

Jean Fowler, a former Jasper County extension agent, worked to popularize the system among county agents in Georgia and then went on to set up the system in Central America. In 2003 she used the system to link children in a Jasper County 4-H Club to a group of school children in Honduras.

Currently, the couple is volunteering to help set up a DDDI system in Haiti.

Jean Fowler said she believes that impoverished countries, like Honduras and Haiti, may also be able to put the system to use to connect doctors to their patients in outlying areas or to specialists in other countries.

"I believe the DDDI system is the answer to affordable health care for the world," she said.