On November 19, faculty, staff and students attended the 27th and 28th annual Celebration of Excellence for the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station held at the Cook Student Center. After the pandemic put a pause on fully celebrating the 2020 awardees, it was important to include them in this in-person event. Thomas Leustek, dean of Academic Programs, was the master of ceremonies.
This signature event acknowledges contributions that meet carefully-considered excellence criteria, including creativity, original work and ideas, innovation, effectiveness, integrity, leadership, impact, community engagement.
Following are the 2020 Excellence Award recipients, along with excerpts from the presentation:
INTERNATIONAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
Robin G. Brumfield – Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and the SEBS Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics
Robin is among the top floricultural economists in the world. Throughout her time at SEBS, Robin has exhibited sustained research and extension excellence, especially in international settings. Her greenhouse cost accounting program and her best-selling textbook, Greenhouse Operations and Management, have been used by industry leaders worldwide, particularly by international producers in Turkey, Guyana, and Nicaragua, where her works have helped small businesses to become successful. Robin’s international impact is also demonstrated by her work on the EMWOFA project, which provides comprehensive technical, entrepreneurial and managerial training to women farmers and extension educators.
OUTREACH EXCELLENCE AWARD
Chad Ripberger – Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County
Chad’s efforts have had significant impact on youth development in New Jersey and, specifically, Mercer County where over 100,000 have participated in 4H Programming since Chad began his tenure there. Chad has helped incorporate science education into youth development in several urban areas outside of Mercer County and he has been a leader in the science training of out of school staff. Chad has also succeeded in increasing the size of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office of Mercer County, to its current position as one of the largest in NJ. Chad is the first to admit that his accomplishments would not have bene possible without the help of many others; and he has consistently nominated his colleagues and collaborators for recognition and awards.
RESEARCH EXCELLENCE AWARD
Yair Rosenthal – Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Yair is a globally recognized leader focused on exploring and studying the composition and structure of Earth’s Ocean basins. His research has documented past changes in Earth’s climate, helping us to understand the underlying mechanisms. He has been a leader in understanding the importance of the ocean in regulating climate, which is now informing society about humanity’s profound impact on climate. Yair has developed quantitative geochemical proxies providing information of past ocean properties allowing rigorous testing of our understanding of crucial Earth process. He has over 140 publications, many in high profile journals including Science, Nature, and Nature Geoscience. Yair has been named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an honor bestowed on only 0.1% of the members of AGU.
STAFF DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION AWARD
Lynne Trabachino – from the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Lynne Trabachino is the Associate Director of the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. She has been a stalwart advocate of a more equitable and inclusive environment within the Earth system science community at Rutgers. Lynne established the “Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences DEI Scholars program.” She contributed to an initiative called URGE “Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equality,” which established a “diversity and inclusion” section in the biweekly EOAS bulletin—encouraging colleagues to learn more about diversity—and coordinating with “#MeToo: The Graduate Student Experience” to help combat sexual harassment in professional networks. Lynne worked with the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance to develop a workshop on sexual harassment, academic culture, and organization climates, which was originally targeted to graduate students and then became a model for a campus-wide effort. Lynne helped catalyze the development of proposals from multiple departments to join the American Geophysical Union’s Bridge program that aims to strengthen geosciences in the United States by increasing the number of underrepresented ethnic and racial minority students who receive advanced degrees in geoscience. Lynne has worked closely with the Support, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity committee in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences to develop a plan for assessing and improving departmental climate and she worked to implement the NSF-supported project “Unlearning Racism in the Geosciences”.
STAFF EXCELLENCE AWARD
Co-awardees: Zenash Tassew – Office of Financial and Business Administration and Karen Yudin – Department of Plant Biology
Zenash Tassew who has been a welcome member of the Office of Financial and Business Administration team for the past 8 years, during which she has become a valuable team player and has helped in restructuring the office, guiding forward-thinking changes in procedures and policies. She joined forces with departmental peers to develop and improve productivity. And, most recently, Zenash joined forces with the Budget Office to work through the challenges faced in the wake of the departure of the Business Office Director.
Karen Yudin is a business specialist in the Department of Plant Biology, a very large and active research, teaching and outreach unit at SEBS/NJAES. Karen is the primary coordinator of payroll operations for the Department and four affiliated farms and provides hands-on support in Foran Hall for building operations and facilities issues. Karen’s dedication is evidenced by her exemplary service and long hours that she puts in to ensure that accounts are managed timely, purchase requisitions are approved quickly and accurately, and payroll is always entered and approved by deadlines. She frequently meets individually with faculty to provide budget advice. In addition to her duties as a business specialist, Karen has assumed the role of building manager, addressing all Foran Hall building and equipment maintenance issues. I can personally attest to Karen’s outstanding service, having worked with her for more years than either of us would prefer to admit to.
TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD
Suzanne Sukhdeo – Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
Suzanne checks all of the criteria for a teaching excellence award. Peers describe her as an “extraordinary teacher” and an “outstanding member of the SEBS community” who is “among the best at communicating how learning in college is connected to the real-world experience.” Through her original ideas, she led the development and implementation of the courses Portals to Academic Study Success for at-risk students, Academic Mentoring for first-generation students, and Exploring Graduate School for upper-level students. She enthusiastically teaches large enrollment, introductory courses, which attract students to the EENR major. She consistently earns above-average scores on the Student Instructional Rating Survey of >4.5 for teaching effectiveness and course quality, and students report learning a great deal, even if they had little prior interest in the subject. Suzanne advises honors research students, she contributes to EOF, and she has, for a number of years, participated in summer 4-H. It is not an understatement to say that Suzanne sets the standard for undergraduate instruction at SEBS!
TEAM EXCELLENCE AWARD
Two different teams were awarded the prize for Team Excellence in 2020, the Rutgers 4-H STEM Ambassador Team, and the SEBS Online Mentors and Support Team.
Rutgers 4-H STEM Ambassador Team
From the Department of 4-H Youth Development: Kendrin Dyitt, Kenneth Faillace, Mary Kunicki, Janice McDonnell, James Nichnadowicz, Chad Ripberger, and Marissa Staffen
From the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences: Christine Bean and Alesha Vega
From the Office of Academic Programs: Sharice Richardson and Serafina Smith
From the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources: Richard Lathrop
From the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sara Campbell
From the Math and Science Learning Center: Patricia Irizarry
The Rutgers 4-H STEM Ambassador Program was established in 2009 by a team of faculty and staff from multiple Rutgers departments and units. Since then, this dedicated team has learned how to utilize the strengths and resources of each member to best serve traditionally underserved urban youth from throughout the state to enrich their interest and competency in science, technology, and engineering. The program is a nationally recognized model that has been replicated in other states. The team has successfully engaged collaborators from inside and outside the university, across multiple campuses and schools.
SEBS Online Mentors and Support Team
From the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology: Sharron Crane, Ramaydalis Keddis, Kyle Murphy, Ines Rauschenbach, and Gerben Zylstra
From the Department of Environmental Science: Craig Phelps
From the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences: Silke Severmann
From the Leadership Program: John Allen
From the Office of Information Technology Services: Karl Lindauer and Robert Muldowney
From the Department of Landscape Architecture: Marc Knowlton
From the Office of Academic Programs: Thomas Leustek
In March 2020 the COVID-19 crisis forced Rutgers University to shift Spring 2020 courses, in a mere instant, to remote instruction. During the summer of 2020, Rutgers engaged in an intense effort of planning for a fall semester of remote instruction. Each school was tasked with providing technological and pedagogical resources to its faculty for conversion of existing in-person courses to high-quality remote instruction. A team of faculty members was quickly mobilized, called the Online Mentoring Team, including support for technological requirements. The mentors offered individual instruction to SEBS faculty to help them choose the most appropriate technologies, to help them use the technologies, to help with remote instruction best practices, and to aid in design of remote instruction classes. The team also developed a CANVAS page called the SEBS Online Teaching Toolkit, which is a compendium of the resources at Rutgers to help further with technological and pedagogical course development.
Following are the 2021 Excellence Award recipients along with excerpts from the presentation:
FACULTY DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION AWARD
Troy Roepke – Department of Animal Sciences
Troy volunteered to serve as the SEBS/NJAES Equity Advisor and to lead the SEBS/NJAES diversity action plan process. As an advocate in 2020-21, he participated in trainings and meetings to support inclusion through the Rutgers Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. He convened the SEBS Faculty Diversity Advocates from each department to help collect data that informed our contributions to the Rutgers New Brunswick diversity plan. He has played a leading role in development of a draft SEBS/NJAES diversity strategic plan.
INTERNATIONAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
Alayne Torretta – Rutgers Cooperative Extension: 4-H Youth Development
Alayne Torretta has, for the past 21 years, nurtured relationships among non-traditional audiences in Italy, Azerbaijan, and Russia; three countries where 4-H youth development programming does not exist. Her enthusiasm, excellence in teaching, and ability to envision program outcomes allows her to assemble teams of colleagues to put together award winning programs that make a difference in the lives of teens around the globe and increasing SEBS presence on the global stage. Her successful international programming has won national awards in her professional associations and demonstrates collaboration within communities abroad through the sustainable partnerships that she has created. Beginning in 2004 with the Teen Russian/American International Leadership (TRAIL) program, her initiatives continue to foster international and global engagement even through a global pandemic. She has mentored junior faculty, ensuring that strong, productive, and diverse institutional partnerships will continue.
OUTREACH EXCELLENCE AWARD
John Worobey – Department of Nutritional Sciences
John Worobey has spent more than 30 years working in community outreach and service related to his scholarly expertise in maternal and child health. He has worked on numerous New Jersey councils, coalitions, committees, and consortiums focused on maternal and child health education and advocacy issues. John’s contribution has gone above and beyond his responsibilities as a SEBS faculty member and he has had profound impact at the city, county, and state levels. His tireless community engagement activities have enhanced public recognition of SEBS and Rutgers. Dr. Worobey is retiring from the University at the end of this year. We wish him well and will miss him very much.
RESEARCH EXCELLENCE AWARD
Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello – Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology
Gloria’s husband, Dr. Martin Blaser, director of CABM at Rutgers, and the Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome accepted the award on her behalf.
Gloria is an established leader in the field of microbiology with emphasis on the study of the role of animal-microbe interactions in health. Her internationally recognized work spans the gamut from elucidating functions of fermenting microbes in wild and domestic animals, to evolutionary origins of human microbionts, to early assembly of the human microbiome, environmental microbial and metabolite changes with urbanization, restoration of the human microbiota after perturbations, and to global conservation/education efforts. Her work is highly relevant in providing a basis for understanding the evolution of the human gut microbiome, thus bridging the fields of microbiology and anthropology.
STAFF DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION AWARD
Kathleen Howell – Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Kathleen Howell has been a passionate advocate for the mission and people of Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Throughout the organization, she is exceptionally well regarded for her responsiveness to all faculty and staff needs, a deep compassion for people, and the amicable demeanor she brings to all matters. Kathleen’s efforts have resulted in greater inclusion of members of the RCE community in shared and participatory leadership. She is an advocate for improving the on-boarding of new RCE employees to welcome them more appropriately to a complex organization and position them for success. Kathleen found energy within President Holloway’s ideal of a beloved community and the renewed and deepening university commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This is evidenced by her focus on modernizing the RCE “diversity strategic plan” and system-wide trainings into a more contemporary and actionable plan to strengthen cooperative extension.
STAFF EXCELLENCE AWARD
Kyle Hartmann – Rutgers Equine Science Center
Mr. Hartmann joined the Equine Science Center staff in September 2014 as an Administrative Assistant, before his promotion to Public Relations Specialist in 2015. Since his hiring in 2014, Kyle continues to seek out new opportunities to increase visibility for the Equine Science Center. Besides his demonstrated excellence in design, Kyle provides supervised and independent support for all aspects of the daily operation of the Center, including: planning and publicizing meetings, activities, and events; coordination and execution of strategic communications, including independent preparation of materials, such as press releases, newsletters, health bulletins, fact sheets and website postings and the Center’s annual report. Kyle is also responsible for the maintenance of donor and prospective donor information. And he has also increased collaboration between the Center and the Department of Animal Sciences via social media outreach to support both departmental and Center efforts.
TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD
Ines Rauschenbach – Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology
Ines is an outstanding member of the Rutgers community and she has made exceptional contributions to teaching and curriculum development. She is an inspiring and effective teacher who demonstrates depth and breadth of knowledge in her discipline of microbiology. She is effective in communicating this knowledge to her students and creates a positive and inclusive learning environment for both her students and faculty colleagues. She actively publishes on teaching and development of teaching approaches. She has innovative ideas in curriculum design and modifications, and then implements these. She has played a central role in developing teaching laboratory infrastructure and learning environment in the department. Importantly she has been leading the effort to teach a “culture of safety” in our laboratory courses. She creates an effective learning environment based on inclusion, communication, and engagement, where students integrate and apply key concepts in microbiology to build skills for the foundation of their professional success.
TEAM EXCELLENCE AWARD
The 2021 award recipient is the New Jersey 4-H From Home program
Team members from Rutgers Cooperative Extension: 4-H Youth Development, Abigail Kesely, Mary Kunicki, Matthew Newman, Jeanette Rae-Keywood, Marissa Staffen
Team members from the Office of Communication and Marketing: Jennifer Chudy Simon, Susanne Ruemmele
In March of 2020, in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, in-person Extension programs (including 4-H) were suspended throughout NJ. A small team of NJ 4-H Agents (the 4-H from Home leadership team) quickly mobilized to create a way to continue to engage 4-H families as well as introduce 4-H to new families. Recruiting and working collaboratively with faculty/staff across the 4-H department and other extension departments, the planning team created engaging virtual webinars and supported the development of virtual statewide special interest 4-H clubs. To further expand the reach of these virtual programs, this team also created the 4-H from Home website, a resource hub for NJ families. More than a year and a half later, virtual programs offered by 4-H from Home continue to positively impact families across New Jersey, and the website continues to adapt to the changing needs of the 4-H program during this unprecedented time.
Photos: Moira Keihm, Advancement Division – School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station