College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Clemson’s EELI program continues to build connections in statewide Extension efforts


To keep the momentum Clemson University’s Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative (EELI) created with its inaugural class, Deon Legette recognized the best way to avoid standing still was to keep moving forward.

With that in mind, Legette, the driving force behind EELI’s creation, said while the mission of the 2021-22 cohort remained similar to the first, there are also notable differences.

A major addition to the program is the inclusion of three faculty and staff from the university’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS), which includes Extension operations around the state, in order for both groups to learn more about the other and strengthen connections between the college’s education and outreach missions.

Also included in this year’s class with the hopes of building more connections around the state are three participants from South Carolina State University’s 1890 Research Extension and Extension Program.

Clemson University President James P. Clements (right) and Midlands District Extension Director Deon Legette share a laugh during an on-campus meeting of the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative. Legette was inspired to create EELI after taking part in Clements’ own nine-month leadership program, the President’s Leadership Institute.

“That’s what’s going to make this cohort unique — is that we brought in several participants from CAFLS and from our sister land-grant university,” said Legette, who serves as District Extension Director — Midlands. “We’re having to start virtually, but our goal is still the same.”

EELI is a professional development opportunity that each year selects up to 20 professionals who are either at the county or state level with a minimum of three years of experience with Extension aimed at developing the next generation of leaders.

The second cohort was initially planned to follow the same calendar as the first installment and begin in November, but the decision was made to delay its start due to the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of more opportunities for in-person networking.

At the same time, the program had gathered so much momentum in its inaugural run Legette worried waiting for those opportunities couldn’t wait any longer. Thus, the second cohort held its first class in February and is slated to remain virtual until at least September.

The first session included presentations on leadership by Clemson President James P. Clements, Dream Builders Communication CEO Kenston Griffin, CAFLS Dean Keith Belli and Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins, all of whom were part of the program’s initial success.

Legette was inspired to create EELI after taking part in Clements’ own nine-month leadership program, the President’s Leadership Institute, and she said interest had spread quickly as the 19 members of the first class began to share their experiences with their Extension colleagues.

“We went from 25 applicants for the first cohort to 35 applicants this time, so it’s not a huge difference, but I think we would have had even more applicants if there was more certainly about it being face to face,” she said. “And I wanted to make sure that everyone understood that the first part of this cohort would be virtual.”

Legette said including S.C. State 1890 Extension in the program was a natural progression as a way to highlight the partnership and teamwork between the two schools, who already work together in many ways. South Carolina State University’s President James Clark will join the class in April to share his leadership thoughts.

“When Dr. Dobbins and (1890 Extension Executive Director) Dr. Louis Whitesides go to national meetings — the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, does not ask about the Clemson Extension Service or 1890 Extension by itself, they ask about what’s going on with the South Carolina Cooperative Extension Services,” she said. “We all share the same land-grant mission for the people of the state.”

The members of the 2021-22 cohort of EELI are:

  • Katie Altman, Water Resources Agent — Sumter County
  • Lance Beecher, Assistant Extension Specialist — CAFLS
  • Ben Boyles, Agribusiness Agent — York County
  • Guinn Wallover, Water Resources — Berkeley County
  • Chad Carter, Food Safety/Systems Associate — Charleston County
  • Sherry Davis-Livingston, 4-H Agent — Georgetown County
  • Jason Gore, FFA/4-H Program Coordinator
  • Jeremy Greene, Professor of Entomology — CAFLS
  • William Hardee, Agronomy Agent — Horry County
  • Lauren Hood, 4-H Agent — York County
  • Karen Jackson, Water Resources Agent — Richland County
  • Yashia Marshall, Grants Coordinator — CAFLS
  • Rhonda Matthews, Rural Health Extension Associate — Greenwood County
  • Jenny Mountford, 4-H Agent — Abbeville County
  • Katie Shaw, 4-H Extension Associate — Sandhill Research and Education Center
  • Amber Starnes, Livestock Agent — Chesterfield
  • Dawn Stuckey, 4-H Agent — Colleton
  • Faith Truesdale, 4-H Agent — Florence
  • Guinn Wallover, Water Resources — Berkeley
  • Alana West, 4-H Agent, Newberry
  • Kevin Burkett, Agribusiness Extension Associate — Sandhill REC
  • Renee Hall, 4-H Agent Upstate region — 1890 Extension, South Carolina State University
  • Cornelius Hamilton, 4-H Agent Lowcountry region — 1890 Extension, SCSU
  • Sydney Keith, Extension Agent — 1890 Extension, SCSU
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