On November 16, faculty, staff and students attended the 29th 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. 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 2022 Excellence Award recipients, along with excerpts from the presentation:
FACULTY DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION AWARD
Department of 4-H Youth Development
Laura Eppinger has represented RCE and 4-H Youth Development at Rutgers-wide initiatives such as C.I.T.E. and received a sub-award from Rutgers D.I.C.E. to develop and deliver a virtual training on examining teaching bias in after-school programs.
Laura also works to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion across RCE departments by serving on the Committee to restructure the RCE Strategic Plan for Diversity and has supported sub-committees to increase Inclusive RCE Teaching and Scholarship, and also developed content for a new RCE online Dashboard site for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
INTERNATIONAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
Department of 4-H Youth Development
Matthew Newman’s efforts on behalf of the 4-H Department and Rutgers have shown a light on SEBS international efforts to non-traditional audiences since his appointment in 2016. As the coordinator of the NJ 4-H International Exchange Program, Matthew has literally brought international opportunities into the households of hundreds of New Jersey residents. In the three years he’s served in this role, there has been a 33% increase in participation. In 2019, he worked with colleagues and international collaborators to create the 2-week in-person program, 4-H International Camp United Program (4-HICUP). In 2020, when the pandemic prevented international travel, he and colleagues provided international education through the 4-H Junior Explorers. This program connected NJ and international youth in real-time. Both programs have won national awards and resulted in articles in the Journal of Extension. Matt’s enthusiasm for international programming and expertise in bringing people together continues to bring SEBS onto the global stage.
OUTREACH EXCELLENCE AWARD
Department of Entomology
Anne Nielsen, an associate extension specialist in the Department of Entomology, is a leader in the development of sustainable strategies to manage insect pests of fruit crops. She has built an outstanding research and extension program that reaches local, national, and international audiences. Among her most recent accomplishments, she has developed trap crop strategies and pioneered the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for bio-surveillance of invasive pest species. Another IPM CPR (or “crop perimeter restructuring”) to manipulate the behavior of herbivores and reduce insecticide use in fruit crops while conserving natural enemies, is likewise highly innovative. This exemplifies the creative ways in which Anne has addressed insect pest problems in fruit crops and has provided IPM-based solutions that she disseminates to her stakeholders through collaborations with farmers as well fact sheets, newsletter articles, webinars, internet postings and radio and television appearances to reach the broader public.
RESEARCH EXCELLENCE AWARD
Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Kay Bidle is a world leading marine microbial biologist whose research topics span from marine microbiology/virology, phytoplankton physiology and mortality, host-virus interactions/arms races, molecular evolution and ecology, and microbial food webs. This work is critical to understanding global carbon cycling as microbial ecosystems modulate the biogeochemical dynamics of our planet. Kay has increased our understanding of viruses’ role in modulating that carbon flow and oceanic evolutionary processes. He is one of the discoverers of the programmed cell death in unicellular phytoplankton providing an insight into death processes in the ocean and has resulted in the discovery of chemical communication between marine microbes. Kay’s work has been recognized with the Gordon & Betty Investigator Award, a Rutgers Board Research Fellow, and being named a Kavli Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences. His work is central to understanding the Earth’s carbon biogeochemical cycling
STAFF DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION AWARD
RCE/NJ Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)
Marisol Ortiz has provided superior sustained service, as can be evidenced by her continual promotions from administrative assistant to a senior project administrator. She is a positive force, that helps make Rutgers a great place to work by greeting her colleagues and others by serving as a positive collaborator. Marisol orchestrated the use of program videos that teach how to use leftovers throughout NJ in food pantries, soup kitchens, and low-income churches. She also hired, trained and oversaw RU undergraduate students who under her direction took iPads into low-income communities, took people on tours of our website videos, and taught New Jersey’s underserved to access these Rutgers videos on their phones. Marisol has also volunteered her service on RCEs’ DEI Strategic Planning Committee.
STAFF EXCELLENCE AWARD
Office of Urban Extension and Engagement (OUEE)
Angela Johnson embodies the mission of extension and the purpose of the office, to make available the expertise and resources to address issues affecting urban residents and their communities. She has performed all of her duties and responsibilities at an outstanding level, exceeding the expectations of her position and creating an environment of collaboration, positivity, and enjoyment. Some of Angela’s accomplishments include: developing the office communication infrastructure, providing web and social media presence for Urban RCE programs and the NJ community at large; coordinating “Highlighted Urban Programs” that details and maps specific urban RCE programs in the state; establishing a state network of Urban RCE professionals to discuss, coordinate and collaborate across units and departments, by sharing current work and planning for future ventures; organizing 300 Attendee National Urban Extension Conference in Camden; and coordinating RCE DEI Panel a d provided a brief presentation at the NIFA Civil Rights Bi-Monthly Webinar.
TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD (two winners)
Department of Animal Sciences
Aparna Zama has an outstanding record of teaching, research mentoring and academic advising at Rutgers University. As an instructor of three popular animal science courses, and director of the Animal Sciences Undergraduate Program, she has elevated the level of academic excellence for our program, school and community. Aparna has pioneered the use of social media to expand outreach to prospective and current students. She has integrated current public health issues into her courses to enhance student engagement, promotes active learning, and spearheaded the creation of a new hands-on course, In Vivo Laboratory Animal Techniques. What stands out among these excellent accomplishments is Aparna’s tireless devotion to maximizing undergraduate experiences with a high standard of excellence. With her passionate teaching and mentoring acknowledged by a countless number of students, and her academic leadership praised by colleagues and deans, Aparna undoubtedly deserves the 2022 SEBS Teaching Excellence Award.
Department of Entomology
Chloe Hawkings joined the Department of Entomology in the Fall of 2019 as a non-tenure track assistant professor. Her enthusiasm, dedication, and ability to engage students as well as her colleagues are all exceptional. She resurrected or updated old courses, and added new courses, increasing enrollment in entomology courses from an average of 150 students per semester to over 1300. Her teaching ratings are uniformly exceptional. Further, in response to COVID19, she smoothed the transition to online learning and teaching, the latter by sharing her experience with colleagues. Chloe is also the only entomology undergraduate advisor, and routinely has several students developing research projects under her guidance. She promotes the research and courses of her colleagues, which has significantly increased undergraduate enrollment, and interest in entomology in general. She is a lightning rod that energizes the department. She has made us all better teachers.
TEAM EXCELLENCE AWARD
Explorers of the Deep 4-H STEM Challenge
Team members include: Janice McDonnell, Marissa Staffen, Matthew Newman, Kasey Walsh, Alesha Vega, Sage Lichtenwalner, Chad Ripberger, Josh Kohut, Douglas Zemeckis, Oscar Schofield, Rachel Lyons, Nicole Waite, Dave Aragon, and Michael Crowley
In 2022, National 4-H partnered with a cross department team made up of faculty and staff from Rutgers University to develop the national 4-H STEM Challenge Kit. Launched in August of 2022, this 4-H STEM Challenge has the potential of reaching tens of thousands of youth all across the country. This was an ambitious undertaking, combining strong leadership across different departments internally within Rutgers and also working collaboratively externally with professionals from National 4-H, Teledyne, NOAA and others to develop a 4-H STEM Challenge for youth rooted in hard science addressing marine science issues. Released to a national audience, this kit has increased the visibility of Rutgers and will serve as a model for other LGUs to follow.