Clemson Cooperative Extension professionals were honored recently with a slew of awards on the national level to recognize the impact they are making on their respective local ones.
Clemson Extension garnered five National Award Winners at the 2022 National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) Annual Meeting in July in West Palm Beach, Florida, and also received an award for highest numerical membership gain in the organization out of all 50 states and two territories.
In addition, Area Livestock Agent Brian Beer, based in the Lancaster County Extension Office, was elected as the new Southern Region director for NACAA — one of five regional directors nationally — after serving as vice director since 2020.
NACAA is composed of members from state agricultural agent associations for the purpose of promoting professional development, recognizing professional excellence and representing professional interests of its members.
“Because NACAA is the national, professional development organization for Extension county agriculture agents and educators, these recognitions are something we take great pride in — because each one shows actual, real-world impact that our agents have made in their communities,” Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins said. “At the end of the day, our job is to make sure we are serving the people of South Carolina, but the impact happens at the local level through the hard work of individuals, not just a broad brush across the state.”
Clemson Extension’s National Award winners were Achievement Award winners William Hardee and Amber Starnes, Distinguished Service Award winners Terasa Lott and Millie Davenport, and Amy Dabbs, who won in the Bound Book/e-Book category.
The Achievement Award is awarded to agents with less than 10 years of service in Cooperative Extension Service who have exhibited excellence in the field of professional Extension, while the Distinguished Service Award is given to encourage and recognize excellence for those with more than 10 years under their collective belt.
Nearly across the board, Clemson Extension’s national winners pointed to the peer-nominated nature of the NACAA awards as a major reason they were so meaningful.
“Of all the recognition I have ever received, this is the best because my peers selected me,” said Davenport, the director of Clemson Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) website. “Clemson Extension provides the citizens of South Carolina with unbiased, research-based answers to questions they have. And guess what? We are not selling anything to them. Instead, we can genuinely help, often saving citizens time and money. In addition to answering any questions, agents work hard to arm South Carolina citizens with information before problems arise.
“Working for Clemson Extension is a blessing. I get to help people, and if I do not already know the answer, I get to learn something new while helping them.”
Davenport manages the HGIC website, which received 7.5 million page views last year, and the call center that answered over 18,000 calls and emails in 2021. In addition, she co-coordinates the Clemson building for the Southeastern Sunbelt Ag Expo, the largest agricultural expo in the Southeastern region.
With Clemson Extension since 2010, Lott serves as state coordinator of the SC Master Gardener Program and is most recognized for her work with SC ETV’s “Making It Grow,” which provides horticulture information and highlights South Carolina places and products.
Lott also oversees Carolina Yards, an environmentally friendly landscaping program that guides residents in making positive changes in the environmental quality of their yards, neighborhoods and surrounding waterways.
“It’s a privilege to work alongside other Clemson Cooperative Extension staff to fulfill the mission of improving the lives of South Carolinians through the delivery of unbiased, research-based information and education,” she said. “While our delivery methods have changed over the years, Extension continues to play a vital role in connecting consumers with knowledge, research and resources to bring about positive change.”
The area agronomy agent for Horry, Marion and Dillon counties and the county coordinator in Marion County, Hardee keeps himself busy in the field helping growers with pest management and many other agronomic issues across roughly 175,000 acres of row-crop production.
“The Achievement Award means a great deal to me because it’s nominated and voted on by your peers … not self-nominated,” Hardee said. “Clemson Extension, and Extension in general, has always been a trusted source for unbiased, research-based information. In a world where unlimited information is at everyone’s fingertips, Extension will continue to be relevant because of the relationships and trust that clients have with their agents.”
Starnes has served as area livestock and forages agent with Clemson Extension since 2013 and covers four counties in the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina.
She enjoys working with producers across multiple livestock species — beef cattle, poultry, swine, small ruminants and equine — while her work includes field demonstrations and field days, workshops and farm site visits to assist livestock producers in improving their operations.
“County Extension agents play a vital role in the grassroots society of agriculture, community development and involvement,” Starnes said. “As Cooperative Extension, we are responsible for providing unbiased research to the public, and Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service agents hold that to a high standard in their daily tasks and operations.”
Dabbs, meanwhile, co-authored the book, “Seasonal Planting Guide and Calendar for South Carolina School and Community Gardens,” along with Zack Snipes, and it was edited by fellow Clemson Extension Agents Justin Ballew, Rob Last, Stephanie Turner and Patricia Whitener, as well as Horticulture Program Team Leader Cory Tanner.
The book was published by the Clemson University Press and designed as an “easy-to-follow guide that includes gardening checklists, crop profiles, common insect pests, vegetable diseases, a harvesting guide, sample planting calendars and expanded plans for year-round vegetable gardening in South Carolina,” and serves as the textbook for two Clemson Extension statewide online courses.
Dabbs celebrated her 14th anniversary with Clemson Extension this year and coordinates all horticultural aspects of school and community gardening and serves as a resource to program teams and agents who engage groups of constituents through gardening.
“My goal is to spark an early interest in horticulture in South Carolina students by supporting school gardens,” she said. “By training teachers, parents and volunteers to garden with children, we will grow lifelong gardeners and introduce students to careers in agriculture and horticulture. We’re also introducing young people to Extension programming and what we do as an agency, so we are also creating our next generation of clients who look to Clemson Extension for answers.”
And the recognitions for Clemson Extension continued beyond the national winners, as Jenny Mountford was a National Finalist in the Search for Excellence in 4-H Programming category, while Mallory Maher (Computer Generated Presentation with Script), Paul Thompson (Personal Column) and Barbara H. Smith (Published Photo) were Southern Region Winners.
Clemson Extension also had numerous State Winners: Zachary Snipes (Audio Recording, Search for Excellence in Young, Beginning, or Small Farmers/Ranchers), Anthony Savereno (Educational Video Recordings), Alana West (Event Promotional Package, Feature Story), Susan Lunt (Fact Sheet), Jaime Pohlman (Learning Module/Notebook, Newsletter), Justin Ballew (Publication), Ryan Bean (Search for Excellence in Environmental Quality, Forestry and Natural Resources) and Charly Greenthaler (Website/Online Content).
Separate from the awards but certainly a recognition in its own right, Beer was elected as one of five regional directors — voting members of the NACAA Board of Directors, which guides the day-to-day business of the organization.
Beer said one of the most important duties of Regional Directors is to attend state association meetings within their region.
“This allows for the membership to communicate concerns to the NACAA Board. At the same time, it allows the local association to hear what the Board is doing to make NACAA the best professional organization for Extension agents and educators,” he said. “Serving as a communication conduit is a very important role of regional directors.
“I am honored to represent agricultural Extension agents from South Carolina and other southern region states. I appreciate the South Carolina Association of County Agricultural Agents nominating me for Southern Region vice-director in 2020, and I am excited to move into the regional director role for the next two years.”
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