Skip to main content

Illinois Extension celebrates outstanding programs, staff

URBANA, Ill. – Across the state, local University of Illinois Extension staff members help families, businesses, and communities identify local issues and potential solutions to those issues. Extension professionals use research-based knowledge and translate that knowledge into actions and strategies that are understandable, actionable, and locally relevant.

Several staff were recently honored at the organization’s Annual Conference held virtually in November.

Extension’s foundation is centered on its member living in the communities they serve so they can best understand local issues, local cultures, and community interests. This strong local tie has allowed Extension staff to build trusted relationships with the people they serve.

Extension was established with the passing of the Smith Lever Act in 1914 to extend the knowledge of the university so that all people may have the opportunity to enrich their lives regardless of their ability to attend formal higher education. Popular programs of Illinois Extension include 4-H, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Money Mentors, Local Government Education, Pesticide Education Program, and SNAP-Education.

The Extension Worker’s Creed, written in 1922 by W.A. Lloyd, speaks to the attitude and spirit of Extension staff: “I believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions; in their ability and power to enlarge their lives and plan for the happiness of those they love.”

A list of the recent award-winning staff and programs that best embody the goals of Illinois Extension include:

Excellence in Diversity Award: Nancy Kuhajda, program coordinator for the Will County Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, and Master Composter programs.

Kuhajda coordinates the Go Green Garden Club, a partnership with four local agencies that serve the population of adults with disabilities. Participants learned basic gardening skills which they took home, increasing their intake of fresh garden vegetables.

Innovation Team Award: Illinois Pesticide Safety Education Program:Travis Cleveland, plant pathology specialist; Matt Gill, application technology specialist; Sarah Hughson, entomology specialist; Jean Miles, PSEP program administrator; Maria Turner, integrated pest management specialist; and Michelle Wiesbrook, weed science specialist.

The PSEP team develops and administers education content for the states, 32,000 licensed commercial and private pesticide applicators. In partnership with the Illinois Department of Agriculture Bureau of Environmental Programs, PSEP annually trains more than 12,500 at its in-person clinics. In response to COVID-19 protocols, the team rapidly created and transitioned to online training courses and remotely proctored certification exams for commercial and private pesticide applicators in Illinois. More than 7000 people took one of the seven online training courses and 12,000 exam attempts were administered I the 19 certification areas.

Mentoring Award: Aaron Dufelmeier, county director serving Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties.

“Aaron understands the role of a good mentor is not to give someone the answer; rather to listen, ask questions, and guide them through the decision-making process,” his nominee states. “His infectious optimism and deep pride for Extension set a powerful example for all.”

Individual Excellence in Extension Awards Recognizing Programming and Leadership: Durriyyah Kemp, social and emotional learning and STEM educator for Cook County; and Susan Sloop, 4-H youth develop educator in Clark, Crawford and Edgar counties.

Durriyyah Kemp empowers teachers, youth, organizations, partners, and colleagues, developing and delivering professional development on a local, state, and national level. From her nomination: “Durriyyah’s ability to maneuver well independently or as a part of a team is evident in the many projects she develops and co-develops.”

Susan Sloop collaborates with campus faculty, state 4-H staff, and local stakeholders to develop and deliver research-based educational programs in both virtual and traditional learning environments.

Interdisciplinary Unit Team in Excellence Award: Jamita Brown, 4-H youth development educator; and Victoria Klimkiewicz, SNAP-Ed community worker; both serving Grundy, Kankakee, and Wil counties.

Brown and Klimkiewicz provided programming to underserved families in Joliet. In cooperation with the G.W. Buck Boys and Girls Club, youth improved their health, increasing exercise and choosing healthy foods with the Healthy Habits & Healthy Kids program.

Office Support Excellence Award: Jean Miles, PSEP program facilitator; and Dianne Glozier, office support associate in Lake County.

Miles manages more than 12,000 participants of the PSEP program at in-person and online training courses. Glozier has provided efficient, courteous, and professional leadership to colleagues, partners, and stakeholders for 20 years.

Program Evaluation Excellence Award: Extension International Committee, Earl Allen, county director serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties: Gemini Bhalsod, horticulture educator in Cook County; Bruce Black, horticulture educator serving Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties; Grant McCarty, horticulture educators serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties; Margarita Teran, integrated health disparities assistant dean; and Karen Winter-Nelson, evaluation specialist.

The International Committee revitalized the 2015 The International Experience Survey that measures impact of international Extension programs, interest in international program, and language proficiency of Extension staff.

Program Support Excellence Award: Mary Nelson, Whiteside County ag and natural resources program coordinator; and Elisha Hughes, Montgomery County 4-H program coordinator.

Nelson provides creative programming to Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, innovating during the pandemic to continue to enhance programming. Hughes’ innovative programming included the development of science-based home kits for 4-H members, youth mental health programming, and virtual family cooking classes.

Program Area Team Excellence: Extension’s Nutrition and Wellness Team: Kristin Bogdonas, education serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark counties; Susan Glassman, educator serving Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall, and Putnam counties; Caitlin Mellendorf, educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt counties; Lisa Peterson, educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties; Diane Reinhold, educator serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties; Jenna Smith, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties; and Mary Liz Wright, serving Clark, Crawford, and Edgar counties.

The team’s Fill Your Pantry food preservation series reached more than 1.8 million contacts, with 1,000 participants sharing how the workshops taught new skills and improved their food safety processes. The team was also recognized by their national association.

Patricia J. Buchanan Extension Award for Professional Development: Chelsey Byers, family life educator serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties.

Byers received a $500 award to attend the American Society on Aging Conference. Her programming centers on health and wellness across the lifespan for both individuals and families, including stress management, brain health, healthy aging, intergenerational relations, adult caregiving, and family communication. 

Five-Year Service Awards

  • Michele Aavang
  • Gina Adams
  • Jean Anderson
  • Sara Attig
  • Laquitsha Bejoile-Hayes
  • Tammy Bene
  • Amanda Christenson
  • Michelle Cox
  • Christopher Evans
  • Katharine Girone
  • Ramona Girtman
  • Norma Gonzalez
  • Laura Holland
  • Miriam Hungerford
  • Della Jacobs
  • April Knoblett
  • Jennifer Kvamme
  • Nanette Long
  • Mari Lopez
  • Sarah Luce
  • Kathy Miller
  • Krystal Pruden
  • Shauna Sargent
  • Tiana Shorter
  • Emily Steele
  • Kaitlyn Streitmatter
  • Erica Turner
  • Dorothy Welbourne
  • Toni Kay Wright

10-Year Service Awards

  • Carla Blue
  • Beverly Branz
  • Terri Cagle
  • Amy Chow
  • Tracy Fowler-Pestle
  • Holly Froning
  • Amy Funk
  • Bobbie Lewis-Sibley
  • Amy McCarty
  • Janet Moody
  • Alisa Nash
  • Yolanda Nation
  • Monica Reid
  • Mary Sheridan
  • Sarah Zack

15-Year Service Awards

  • Veronica Aranda
  • Rosa Borjon
  • Amanda Cole
  • Dustin Fritsche
  • Jody Johnson
  • Carolinn McKillip
  • Rhonda Mueller
  • Susan Odum
  • Carla Pinaire
  • Margaret Schneemann

20-Year Service Awards

  • Deborah Boley
  • Tamera Crest
  • Marcia Cruse
  • Nicole Groezinger
  • Maria Gutierrez
  • Monika Hammerschmidt
  • April Littig
  • Sheri Merry
  • Constance Niemann
  • Laura Payne
  • Judith Schmidt
  • Dawn Weinberg

25-Year Service Awards

  • Judy Bingman
  • Janice Ewing
  • Cynthia Kinate
  • Patricia Logan
  • Kathryn Sweedler
  • Vickie Taylor

SOURCE: Amanda Taylor, Assistant Director, Extension Field Operations; and Donna Bosch, Office Administrator
WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Extension Marketing and Communication Manager

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.