new University of Illinois leadership county directors

Outreach is nothing new to the three most-recent members of the University of Illinois Extension county leadership team. Each county director brings a unique perspective to her role, and all share a desire to serve their local communities in meaningful ways.

Extension’s goal is to improve the lives of individuals and communities by offering practical resources and accessible programs that help people learn and solve problems. County directors shoulder the heavy lifting at the local level, ensuring diverse needs of each community are met with programming and support specific to that community’s needs.

“County directors wear many hats,” says Antonio Franklin, associate director of field operations for Illinois Extension. “They are the backbone of Extension, and we rely heavily on their leadership.”

County directors are responsible for local program management, personnel management, interpersonal effectiveness, organizational leadership and development, fiscal management, and facilities management, Franklin says. Meet the three county directors recently hired.

Pamela Vaughan-Sturgeon

A passion for continuing education, innovation, and educational leadership brings Pamela Vaughan-Sturgeon to her appointment as county director serving Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties. She says she has “come full circle” with Extension.

“I grew up knowing Extension as just a part of life,” Vaughan-Sturgeon says, recalling her mother’s 4-H roots and grandmother’s active involvement with Home Extension.

Vaughan-Sturgeon holds a doctorate in leadership and higher education administration from Indiana State University and a master of science degree in family and consumer science from Eastern Illinois University. Her work focuses on educational inclusiveness and innovation. She previously served as academic dean and executive director at Philadelphia University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

“It’s always been about research-based education for me,” Sturgeon says. “I hope to foster interactive, inclusive connections in our community, across units, and throughout the state.”

With a background in hospitality, conference and workshop development, and online learning innovation, Sturgeon is equipped to do just that. Her list of professional accolades is long, including being the first instructor to offer online course at EIU. She played a significant role in implementing the institution’s online degree programs.  

Sturgeon encourages others to “embrace differences and find ways to make them work for us.” Her base office will be at the Coles County Extension office in Mattoon.

Amy Cope

Within hours of starting her new role, Amy Cope was advised one of the local Extension offices would be required to leave its location. No stranger to solving problems, Cope rolled up her sleeves and made some quick decisions. She serves as county director for St. Clair, Madison, and Monroe counties.

“I grew up on a family farm in Waterloo that produced corn, beans, wheat, and hay,” she says. “My sister and I had active roles on the farm, including working with our cattle, sheep, and other livestock.”

4-H and FFA were big parts of her life, and she recalls making visual arts projects and attending Space Camp in Alabama as highlights of 4-H.

Cope earned both her master's degree in organizational communications and bachelor’s degree in agriculture/agriculture business from Murray State University.

Cope worked in the banking industry and served 10 years with Illinois FBFM Association in Litchfield, providing data-driven decision-making assistance, accounting services, and business analysis for over 110 farm families.

She worked in data analytics and business intelligence at Bunge North America and sales and marketing at Bayer.

A Monroe County native, Cope previously served on the Extension Council for St. Clair, Madison and Monroe Counties and as a 4-H leader. With those experiences, she appreciates differences and understands that each county is unique with changing needs over time.

“We have an opportunity to support commerce and business in all three counties, as well as continue to support the everyday family at the same time,” Cope says. “That could look different for each county."

“More than anything, I want to let the communities determine what they need.” Cope shares.

Cope owns a small farm in rural Waterloo and raises goats, cattle, and alfalfa hay She says she looks forward to expanding Illinois Extension’s offerings to accommodate the needs of the people within the three counties.

Tara Buerster

Edwards County native Tara Buerster joins University of Illinois Extension as county director serving Edwards, Lawrence, Richland, Wabash, and Wayne counties. She brings a rich history of building relationships in an academic environment. Buerster comes to Illinois Extension from Illinois Eastern Community College (IECC) where she served as director of human resources for the multi-district college. Buerster looks forward to increasing awareness of Extension programs within her communities.

“We have a strong and well-supported 4-H program in all five counties,” Buerster says. “My goal is to maintain that momentum while helping the community lean into all programs Extension has to offer.”

Buerster graduated from University of Southern Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in science, after attending Wabash Valley College, one of four colleges within the IECC system. Beginning her professional life at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Ind., she returned to IECC in 2000 as a student recruiter and culminated her 20-year career as director of human resources.

She serves as a regional peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, the accrediting entity for universities and community colleges. As co-chair of IECC’s accreditation process, Buerster’s assurance argument was instrumental in securing the college’s continued accreditation.

Buerster earned her master’s in education in human resource development from University of Illinois in 2012. She will base her operations at the Edwards County Extension office in Albion. Buerster looks forward to bringing more of Extension’s research-based outreach to her community and doing what she does best, build relationships and create connections.

She and husband, Jayare, are parents to daughters Haley and Jacey, both members of Illinois 4-H and involved in showing livestock; and daughter Sydney, pediatric ICU nurse in Kalamazoo, Mich.

WRITER: Liz Smith, Media Communications Coordinator