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Michigan Ag News Headlines
Extension Staff Members Receive Meritorious Service Awards
Michigan Ag Connection - 10/15/2020

Sara Lewis, Shari Spoelman, Tina Conkin, Jeannine Schweihofer, Lindsey Pung-Terry, Toni Van Bergen and Cindy Hudson were honored with Meritorious Service Awards during the annual Fall Extension Conference held virtually.

The Meritorious Service Award honors individuals who have supported the mission, program, and professional staff of MSU Extension in an outstanding manner. Nominees must possess the highest standards of integrity and character to positively reflect and enhance the reputation of MSU Extension.

This state award is designed to pay tribute to the many staff members in our system who, over time, have shown support for the mission, program and professional staff of MSU Extension.

Lewis receives 4-H Program Coordinator Meritorious Service Award.

As 4-H program coordinator in Monroe County, Lewis oversees one of the largest 4-H programs in the state. For a period, the Monroe County Extension office was significantly short-staffed. Because of this shortage, Sara took on additional duties including handling office operations and carrying out the duties of a second 4-H program coordinator during a three-month vacancy. One of the biggest matters Sara undertook was the Volunteer Selection Process, which included completing the spreadsheet, interviewing potential volunteers, and completing background checks.

She was appointed to serve on the Michigan 4-H Foundation Finance Committee while also serving as the treasurer for the Michigan Association of Extension 4-H Youth Staff.

She secured Directions Credit Union as a collaborative partner on financial literacy training and as a sponsor for the end-of-the-year awards and recognition banquet. She served as a chaperone for the week-long Citizenship Washington Focus leadership program in Washington D.C. She led multiple activities and events with large participation numbers such as the Fitting and Showing Clinic, Superintendent Orientation, the Vintage Market Petting Zoo, and many more.

Sara demonstrates an excellent work ethic and quiet manner in getting things done. She is cooperative, willing to help with any team needs, and has the behind-the-scenes skills to aptly manage paperwork and ensure that the entire office is running smoothly. A natural problem solver, she easily identifies and proposes solutions to any challenges her team faces.

Spoelman received Administrative Leadership Meritorious Service Award.

Spoelman, MSU Extension District 6 director, began her leadership role in 2008 as a county Extension director while also serving as a regional Extension educator. In 2010, she became district coordinator, a title which changed to district director in 2018. She is responsible for administrative oversight of seven counties.

The epitome of a leader, Shari is always willing to take on new opportunities. Her creativity in leadership has led to new and innovative relationships. Her strong ties with Mid-Michigan Community College has become a model partnership across the state.

She served on the committee that developed the Strategic Connections program for staff, which produced the "Expect to Connect" toolkit. She provided statewide and regional conference presentations to stress the importance of strategic connections and engage participants to tell their Extension stories.

As an experienced district director, Shari is a trusted counselor and creative problem-solver. These traits came into play when she chaired the successful North Central Leadership Conference in 2018 at MSU. Though the conference had funding issues, it stayed in budget under her guidance, making a profit to pass on to the next state to host. In 2017, she took leadership of the team created to assist district directors facing a local millage vote for funding of Extension offices. She provided the education that covered guidelines to move forward with legal and strategic initiatives as well as technical assistance to local leaders. She set the standard for creating successful Friends of Extension groups and helped staff members draw clear lines between advocating and educating. Recently, she shepherded Clare and Wexford counties through a successful millage vote.

For her outstanding leadership and excellence in administrative organizational planning, Shari Spoelman is deserving of the Meritorious Service Award.

This award is designed to recognize Extension professionals whose significant accomplishments have resulted in noteworthy administrative performance during 10 or more years of county, regional, state, program, department or national leadership.

Conklin and Schweihofer received Extension Specialist, Supervising Educator Meritorious Service Awards.

Conklin is the food processing specialist for the MSU Product Center. She is associate director of the MSU Product Center and director of the MSU Product Center's Food Processing and Innovation Center (FPIC). Schweihofer is the MSU Extension senior meat quality educator and an adjunct professor in the MSU Department of Animal Science.

Tina and Jeannine were the key leaders and contributors to the development of the MSU Extension Dry Heat Decontamination System for Decontaminating N95 Respirators in response to the need to provide reuse options for personal protection equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic.

As director of the FPIC, Tina initiated the idea of using the center to facilitate the acquisition, distribution, and decontamination of PPE. Subsequently, while walking through the FPIC and considering the possibilities, she mused about whether heat (and the commercial spiral oven) could be used to decontaminate N95 respirators as is sometimes done in the food industry. The idea took root and Jeannine joined the team as the science lead.

The pair tackled issues in developing the system by establishing a process for collecting N95 respirators from users and returning them to the same individual; establishing time and temperature controls to ensure decontamination; ensuring protocols and training to avoid cross-contamination; and testing for biological kill, temperature variability, and fit of the respirator on users after multiple trials. The protocol for the system remains under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review. According to the FDA, the protocol has been a prototype against which other heat treatments are compared in the review process. The two partnered with Sparrow Health Center and MSU College of Engineering professor James Klausner to develop and test the system.

Through their quick thinking, leadership, and ability to jump in quickly on a difficult task, Tina and Jeannine met an important, immediate, and critical need in a unique and creative fashion. Their actions show continued leadership and excellence in program planning and delivery and makes them both worthy recipients of the Meritorious Service Award.

Pung-Terry received Supervising Educator Meritorious Service Award.

Pung-Terry is health and nutrition supervising educator in MSU Extension District 12. She co-created the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--Education Cooking for One curriculum and has led instructor trainings statewide. She led the content development of a new lesson in Detroit Public Television's Pre-School U curriculum called "Eating Well and Being Active." She completed the Great Lakes Leadership Academy Emerging Leaders Program to further enhance her leadership skills. She served on the Work-Life Wellness Committee and her leadership within this group resulted in MSU Extension receiving a Michigan Healthy Worksite Honorable Mention Award from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

She assists with relationships between community nutrition instructors and the South Michigan Food Bank as well as Michigan Fitness Foundation partners to discuss programming efforts. She helps manage the AT&T Cooking Matters grant across several counties and re-established Cooking Matters grocery money with the Livingston Hunger Council. She represented MSU Extension on the Michigan Health & Wellness 4x4 Partnership and served as secretary for the evaluation task group.

She proposed, implemented, and led action committees to address gaps in programming support.

Lindsey implements peer-led discussions and activities into team meetings, in addition to team field trips and trainings, which have helped foster relationships and teamwork. She is supportive of the team's mental health, incorporating Psychological Flexibility modules and discussion. She fuels the growth of her team by encouraging discussion, creativity, and professional development. She appreciates peer-to-peer teaching methods. This approach to staff management empowers people in their abilities to deliver programming effectively, report results and challenges, and to seek opportunities.

Pung-Terry's ability to foster an efficient and collaborative environment, improving the morale of the team and ultimately benefitting the organization as well as clientele is one of the attributes that led to her receiving the Meritorious Service Award.

Van Bergen received Support Staff Off-Campus Meritorious Service Award

As the 4-H secretary/county support, Van Bergen has been the anchoring force in the MSU Extension Oceana County office for the past 15 years. Toni primarily supports the 4-H program but also provides support to the agricultural programs as well.

She volunteers outside of her office hours as an administrator for all three of the Oceana County Fair auctions.

Toni has been tasked with some unique situations related to staff transitions, learning new database systems and managing media websites while keeping the 4-H program moving forward. During a recent three-year period, the 4-H program coordinator position had three different staff members serving in that role. Toni stepped in when needed to host meetings and provide required materials for all programs as well as handle day-to-day requests. Once the new 4-H program coordinator was in place, she provided the guidance they needed to be successful.

She serves clients seeking answers to gardening or pest-related issues. She has assisted with establishing partners through her personal connections and has helped connect MSU Extension with local school personnel, nonprofit groups, and additional volunteers. Toni promotes new 4-H programs and events through various social media platforms. She also keeps the MSU Extension Oceana County webpage updated. She maintains many resources the local farming community relies on. From an agribusiness perspective, she helps to keep local businesses involved in the community. She also works with MSU Extension agriculture and agribusiness educators and is an integral part of agricultural education programs in the county and statewide.

Bergen is a major contributor to a positive office environment and effective 4-H and agriculture programming in Oceana County. We salute her with the Meritorious Service Award.

Hudson received Support Staff On-Campus Meritorious Service Award.

Hudson is the communications manager for the Michigan Sea Grant Extension Program and part of a Michigan Sea Grant Communications team, which has three members at the University of Michigan. She has set the tone for the joint institution communications team to be collaborative and collegial. As a result, the communications team was highly rated during Michigan Sea Grant's most recent federal review.

When chairing the planning committee for the 2019 Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Meeting, she launched innovative programming, shared best practices for communication, and implemented a zero-waste conference. She helps the team keep up with programming and shares stories with the University of Michigan's Sea Grant office as part of federal reporting.

Cindy's communications leadership within MSU Extension has been a major factor in raising the visibility and integration of Michigan Sea Grant.

The team benefits from her productive approach when confronting a challenging situation. She has led Power of Positive Confrontation workshops, sharing this resource and facilitating discussion with district teams. Her demonstration of constructive communication skills and ability to tactfully address conflict have promoted healthy communication practices across the team.

Cindy brings a wealth of media industry knowledge and norms that help the team apply best practices when developing communications, outreach, and education products. She assists Extension educators in helping create customer-oriented and engaging products. Most recently, she has taken leadership in assembling Extension educators to develop an informal community of practice where they can increase their knowledge and understanding of communications work. This includes working with websites, design of printed material, and other topics that support virtual programming during the pandemic.

As an invaluable member of the Michigan Sea Grant Extension program and team, Cindy Hudson deserves the Meritorious Service Award.


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