A host of University of Minnesota Extension faculty, educators and staff were honored with the 2021 Dean’s Distinguished Awards, along with two Distinguished Friends of Extension. The awards were presented Oct. 6-7 by Extension Dean Bev Durgan during Extension’s annual conference, which took place virtually this year.
Honors went to:
Friend of Extension
Minnesota Corn is a tremendous partner that engages across the breadth of Extension. The Corn Growers Association and its partner, the Research and Promotion Council, have invested more than $1 million this year in Extension research and education programs that range from soil fertility and crop diagnostics, to 4-H agricultural programs, to helping beginning farmers and women in agriculture. In addition, Minnesota Corn’s leadership and members give their time as volunteers in Extension’s 4-H, agriculture, environmental and community leadership programs.
Friend of Extension
Robert Jones is chancellor of Illinois’ flagship land-grant university and vice president in the University of Illinois system, and recently was elected to the board of trustees for the National 4-H Council. During his distinguished 34-year career at the University of Minnesota, he held several faculty and administrative positions, culminating as senior vice president for system academic administration where he directed several units including Extension and the offices of public engagement and equity, diversity and inclusion. He also led efforts to establish the Urban Research and Outreach Center in north Minneapolis — the first of its kind in the nation — that opened in 2009 and was named in his honor in 2015. As a 4-H alum and in his faculty and administrative roles at the University of Minnesota, he has been a strong supporter and friend to Extension.
Marcia I. Endres
Campus-based faculty award
Extension Dairy Specialist Marcia Endres fully integrates her Extension educational programming with her research program, which examines how various housing and management systems can influence the health, welfare and performance of dairy cattle. She has taken a controversial issue — animal comfort/welfare — and created a national trend that can be attributed to her programs and leadership. She also conducts research and education on precision dairy technologies. As the leader of the U of M Dairy team for almost all of her 20-year career at the U, she is a leader in bringing people and issues together productively and efficiently. Endres also is well known for her work to organize and present at numerous dairy industry events, both locally and nationally.
Field-based faculty award
Neil Linscheid’s exceptional contributions to Extension include his much-needed talent in uncovering new opportunities in the community development field, and creating action. His work has included helping rural Minnesota communities attract and retain diverse new residents as well as welcoming entire new communities, capped off with the 2020 Rural Equity Summit that focused on uplifting the stories of community stakeholders spearheading equity work in their own rural neighborhoods. He also has collaborated with communities on workshops that help them retain local retail stores. Some educators work to understand an issue so they can expertly discuss it, but to truly make a difference someone needs to be an initiator who creates momentum toward a solution. Linscheid truly takes actions to make a difference.
Regional director team
Outstanding leadership award
Regional directors have a critical role to building key relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Regional directors manage day to day functions in Extension’s 15 regional offices and they maintain relationships with county partners including commissioners, county Extension committees and administrators. Over the past two years, the directors’ internal and external roles have been significantly changed through the new function-based system for regional support staff as well as navigating the challenges of COVID-19, remote (and now flexible) work arrangements, and ensuring that Extension programming remained visible to and valued by county partners. Currently, they are negotiating the 2022-2024 Memoranda of Agreement with counties, and thanks to their work throughout the pandemic, some counties are increasing their investments and exploring new partnerships with Extension. The regional director team is talented, innovative and willing to step up to meet the challenges that face Extension each day.
Team members: Cecilia Amadou, Keri Cavitt, Bonnie Christiansen, Lisa Dierks, Susanne Hinrichs, Lisa Loegering, Tammy McCulloch, Kathy Schwantes, D. Craig Taylor, Lori Vicich
In his more than three decades of service to the University of Minnesota and Extension, Craig Hassel has developed a unique ability to engage with diverse communities, develop an understanding of their worldview and establish an active framework for cross-cultural engagement. He has bridged the role of bench scientist in the area of diet cholesterol to creating spaces in which academic knowledge is understood as an expression and product of its culture of origin. From there, health and nutrition science can bridge respectfully with knowledge from other cultures in generative and creative ways. Hassel is a thought leader in promoting culturally relevant education and programs, and he supports Extension staff as they navigate the complex challenges of working in a dominant culture institution.
2021 Minnesota State Fair 4-H Team
The Minnesota State Fair is a chance for 4-H’ers to showcase the knowledge and skills they've gained throughout the year, and to continue their learning. After a year without an in-person state showcase, the Extension Center for Youth Development was committed to safely bringing together 4-H’ers at the fair. The team had to navigate a changing public health situation, public safety concerns and a labor shortage, but through almost a year of planning and collaboration with state partners, the 2021 Minnesota State Fair 4-H Team flexed, adjusted and stepped up to ensure each 4-H member and their family had the best possible experience. Under the leadership of Amber Greeley, director of state and county fair programs, each area of the state fair team — housing, food service, nursing, exhibits, technology, registration, livestock — rose to the challenge at hand, problem-solved and moved forward in a very challenging year.
The team includes: Extension Center for Youth Development’s Amber Greeley, director of state and county fairs; Sharon Davis, director of animal science; Jennifer Skuza, associate dean and state 4-H director; Becky Harrington, director of operations and systems; Todd Mehrkens, academic technologist; Jacquie Lonning, director of civic engagement and leadership; Kirstin Delp, State Arts-In director; Karen Nelson, executive office and administrative specialist. State Fair 4-H Unit Heads Corey Schuler, nursing; Sandy Ducharme, exhibits; Kevin Hard, food service; Dede Hard, food service; Sean Boll, housing; Lucie Goede, facilities; Kristine Schechinger, livestock; Kate Holland, registration. Minnesota State Fair’s Jill Nathe, deputy general manager; Marie LeFebvre, competition manager
Program staff award
Jan Jackola’s organizational skills and commitment to her role make her an invaluable and sought-after member of the Leadership and Civic Engagement team. Jan’s skills and reliability are only the beginning of her value to the team. She uses visioning skills to help assess coordination and management of multiple county programs; she selflessly assists newer educators in navigating the system and enthusiastically manages LCE online offerings. She also has been instrumental in developing alumni volunteer relationships and county-level fundraising. Jackola shares her skills willingly and goes above and beyond to contribute to the success of the team.
Campus support staff award
Amy Gregoria has worked with the Extension Center for Youth Development since 2000, providing support to multiple campus units and faculty. Her title and responsibilities have evolved, and her outstanding professionalism and administrative skills have laid the foundation for her fruitful career. Gregoria is an early adopter of organizational change and has leveraged technology to increase her effectiveness. She ensures that educators and youth development leaders have complete, accurate data for reporting and decision-making. Gregoria also supports internal and external communications, which have been essential during the challenging times of 2020 and 2021. She has been flexible and positive, and it is a pleasure to have her as a colleague.
Field support staff award
Diane Lambrecht is a reliable and proactive colleague who supports regional and county-based Extension educators and has recently transitioned into an effective colleague in the financial, field leadership and 4-H program regional support staff functions. Lambrecht has excelled at providing top-notch customer service to 4-H families through enrollment, event registration, and state and national activities. Her colleagues know she is professional and empathetic to situations, while adhering to statewide policies. During the pandemic, Lambrecht quickly pivoted in her work assignments and shifted the YOUth and U Conference to a virtual learning environment, ensuring all materials were available to presenters, attendees and that the session recordings were posted online. Extension is a better organization because of Lambrecht and the superior work she supports as a Farmington Regional Office team member.
Nutrition educator award
In her 15 years working with Extension’s health and nutrition programs, specifically SNAP-Ed*, Nimo Yusuf has tirelessly served the East African communities and other SNAP-eligible groups to increase their health and wellness in culturally meaningful ways. She has expanded Extension’s reach and developed a consistently positive reputation in the Somali community. She relates well to all ages and has taught a variety of groups, including elders in public housing, parents and youth in schools. When COVID-19 hit, Yusuf pivoted to provide what her community needed, using WhatsApp technology. Without her presence, hundreds of Somalis in Minnesota would not have learned the skills they have to eat and live healthy on a budget in the U.S. She goes the extra mile for her community’s health and wellbeing, for Extension, and for the U of M.
*Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education
Extension Human Resources
Staff team award
The HR team is a small, well-established group who handle everything from posting jobs, payroll, implementing leaves and processing new hires to retirements. They each know their roles, and carefully manage the processes of many personnel and payroll actions. Last year brought significant challenges to the team as they prepared for the retirement of their longtime HR director, and the search for a new director. When COVID-19 hit, the team quickly adjusted to working remotely and continued to perform their regular functions to ensure employees were paid and other HR requests were processed. The team worked extremely hard to adhere to the University’s State of Emergency and all its complexities including ever-evolving pay and leave policies. They stepped up to every challenge, leaned into each new task thrown at them and rose to the occasion.
Team members: Lisa Brownstein, Lucy Lu, Nancee Easter, Tiffany McMillan and Margaret Yzaguirre (not pictured).
Racial Equity and Diversity Task Force
The Racial Equity and Diversity Task Force was charged in September 2020 with assessing the state of Extension’s diversity, equity and inclusion and providing recommendations to make Extension more welcoming, equitable and inclusive. This dedicated group of Extension faculty and staff spent many hours working toward these important goals. Extension appreciates and recognizes the team’s work in this critical area.
The team includes: Carol Cardona and Craig Hassel, Extension specialists; Hibaq Dualeh, Dana Trickey, Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson, Jennifer Garbow, Shirley Nordrum and Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educators; Craig Taylor, regional director; Ren Olive, program associate; Lisa Wong and Sharmyn Phipps, SNAP-Ed regional coordinators.