A host of University of Minnesota Extension faculty, educators and staff were honored with the 2023 Dean’s Distinguished Awards, along with a Distinguished Friend of Extension. The awards were presented on Sept. 27 by Extension Dean Bev Durgan.
Honors went to:
Distinguished Friend of Extension
Kent Thiesse’s support for Extension spans many decades, all the way back to his days as a 4-H’er participating on livestock judging teams in the 1960s. He earned his college degrees at the U of M and became a county Extension agent in western and southern Minnesota, where he became known for his public speaking and agricultural advocacy talents.
During the 1980s farm crisis, while Thiesse was an Extension educator, he became involved in farm management education. That led to his career in agricultural banking; today, Thiesse is senior vice president and chief ag loan officer for MinnStar Bank in Lake Crystal, Minnesota.
Thiesse has been a strong supporter of Extension throughout his career. He has been deeply involved in 4-H livestock judging and emceeing State Fair beef events, and has helped raise large amounts of scholarship funding for 4-H’ers. He appears frequently in the news media, writing weekly columns and appearing in radio interviews, often citing Extension as the research source that informs his expertise. Since 1988, he has coordinated educational forums at Farmfest, always ensuring that Extension faculty and staff have an opportunity to contribute.
Thiesse is active in a number of agricultural and banking organizations, and he is a longtime member of his local school board. He is an avid Minnesota sports fan and credits his family, including his wife Liz and their children and grandchildren, for supporting his work.
Lee Johnston, Swine Specialist
Distinguished Faculty Award
Lee Johnston is a progressive leader whose Extension research and educational programming focus on four main areas: improving swine production expertise of producers and professionals; delivering national pork quality assurance and transportation quality assurance training; use of renewable energy in swine production systems; and improving ag literacy of non-farm citizens.
In his 35-year career with Extension, Johnston has exhibited excellence in developing timely, innovative and research-based Extension programming, as well as advising and mentoring graduate students and colleagues. He has published over 140 journal articles, six book chapters, 32 Extension publications, 35 popular press articles, and has been invited to present nationally and internationally more than 50 times. As a leader and engaged participant in his department, Extension and community, he truly is an outstanding faculty member.
Heidi Roop, Climate Scientist
Distinguished Outstanding Leadership Award
In just three years, Heidi Roop has established the University’s signature Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) as a national model for coordinated climate Extension programming.
In her time in Extension she has orchestrated a clear sense of need and a critical university role, developed a suite of highly useful and accessible supporting resources for climate adaptation, and recruited an exceptional research and Extension team. Roop has cultivated a statewide network of supportive stakeholders that includes the agricultural sector, natural resources managers, tribal leaders, architects and engineers, public health and emergency managers. She has led the development of an MCAP programming strategy and secured a historic investment of resources to help these diverse stakeholders prepare for Minnesota’s changing climate.
As a result of her exceptional leadership, Roop has propelled the evolution of MCAP from a small group of leaders from the University of Minnesota, local, state and federal governments, and private partners into a signature Extension program.
Lisa Hinz, Extension educator, leadership and civic engagement
Distinguished Extension Educator Award
During her 25-plus year career with Extension, Lisa Hinz has become a sought-after educator. She contributes to regional, statewide, and national leadership and civic engagement programming that emphasizes transformational change and supporting people as they put their learning into action.
Her programming reaches beyond leadership and facilitation into the natural resources, tourism and economic development, and inclusion and equity realms. She is a meticulous program planner, thoughtful contributor to scholarship, and an outstanding teacher. Hinz has generously mentored multiple colleagues throughout her career, and she has made numerous impactful contributions to equity and inclusion efforts, including national leadership of the “Coming Together for Racial Understanding” dialogue series. From Extension teaching and program leadership, to scholarship and community engagement, Hinz's dedication to excellence, inclusion, and collaboration provides ongoing inspiration for her colleagues.
Natalie Hoidal, Extension food systems educator, local foods and vegetable crops
Distinguished Diversity Award
Natalie Hoidal champions programs and projects that engage farmers from all walks of life as a member of the food systems team in the Department of Agricultural and Natural Resources Systems. She intentionally brings Extension education to new and more diverse audiences. Her collaborative approach to research helps growers feel more invested in university research and that their voices are being heard.
Hoidal shares her work with colleagues so that they can benefit from this research, and she tailors her educational programming to the needs of each audience. Whether they are farmers from East Africa, Hmong healers, urban farmers or farmers who want to change their practices to adapt to climate change, she uses research and Extension education to deeply engage with these new audiences.
Northeast Region Anti-Racism Collective leadership
Distinguished Diversity Team Award
Through regular conversation and learning, the Northeast Region Anti-Racism Collective leadership team in the Department of Youth Development contributes to a department-wide goal of increased cultural competency. The group’s meetings focus on shared learning and development around anti-racism in youth development practice. In addition to monthly Zoom sessions, the team provides deeper training and development at in-person retreats held twice per year. The group began meeting in 2020 and has expanded its impact since then, with anti-racism learning communities now working in all five Youth Development regions. This group’s model also contributed to the Department of Youth Development Diversity Equity Inclusion and Accessibility staff development roadmap.
Team members are:
The leadership group includes Courtney Johnson, Katie Ecklund and Tracey Anderson, Sarah Odendahl, Hailey Eidenshink and Jan Derdowski.
Minnesota Statewide Food Shelf Survey partners
Distinguished Team Award
The Minnesota Statewide Food Shelf Survey originated in 2017 as part of a multi-sector effort to assess and improve food access for individuals and families using emergency food services. The survey offers insight into food shelf shoppers’ experiences related to food availability, food shelf use, and the foods most important to food-insecure families. In 2023, these partners worked together for more than a year to better understand the state’s post-pandemic landscape of food shelves, food distribution, and food security. The impact of this work for Minnesota families was immediate, through policy and program changes that improved access to healthy food access and respect for shoppers.
Team members are:
The team is led by Extension staff members Susie West, Hyunjun Kim, Emily Becher (now with MDH), Mary Marczak, Janice Rasmussen, Beth Labenz, Samantha Barron and Susan Roedl, and includes partners in the College of Education and Human Development as well as the state health and human services departments, food shelves and food banks across the state and the Foundation for Essential Needs, a nonprofit working on hunger relief in Minnesota.