UACES Facebook Excellence Awards honor some of Cooperative Extension Service’s best and brightest
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Excellence Awards honor some of Cooperative Extension Service’s best and brightest

Dec. 14, 2018

By Ryan McGeeney 
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast Facts:

  • Nita Cooper, Boone County Cooperative Extension staff chair, named Employee of the Year
  • Extension agents, administrators and associates across the state honored for their innovations

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LITTLE ROCK — The people behind projects that introduced youth to essential life skills in the kitchen, fostered professional development among colleagues, and encouraged young ranchers at the beginning of their careers, were honored during the annual Extension Excellence Awards.

The Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, recognized the efforts and excellence of employees at both the state and county levels during the service’s faculty and staff conference on Dec. 3.

The conference was attended by cooperative extension agents, agronomists, professors and other employees from around the state. Rick Cartwright, extension director, provided an update on accomplishments during 2018.

Nita Cooper and Rick Cartwright
Nita Cooper receives the employee of the year award from Rick Cartwright. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Mary Hightower) 

The Extension Excellence Awards were established to foster teamwork, professional development and overall excellence.

“The Cooperative Extension Service has many excellent employees, those who exemplify work ethic, professionalism, and a positive 'can do' attitude – every day,” Cartwright said. “Once a year, we acknowledge the ‘best of the best’ as determined by a committee of peers from submitted nominations. 

“It is my singular honor as director to recognize these truly outstanding colleagues - a credit to the Division of Agriculture and their profession,” he said.

This year’s winners are:

County Team Award: The Culinary Arts School project earned this year’s team award, covering activities in Hempstead, Howard, Miller, Pike and Sevier counties. Recipients include Janet Cantrell, Carla Due, Jean Ince, Terrie James and Eva Langley.

State Team Award: The 2018 winner was Tech Tuesdays, an ongoing online effort from the Cooperative Extension Service to spread knowledge about how make the most out of the technology available to the people of Arkansas. Recipients include Amy Cole, Terrell Davis, Mary Hightower, Chelsey Kimbrough, Kevin Lawson, Mary Poling, Julie Robinson, Kerry Rodtnick and Kim Rowe.

Classified Employee Early Career Award: Saundra Harms, Mississippi County EFNEP program assistant. Mississippi County Food and Consumer Science Agent Pamela Pruitt, who nominated Harms, credited her with building the county’s EFNEP program “from the ground up.”

County Extension Faculty Early Career Award: Rachel Bearden, Hot Springs County Cooperative Extension staff chair. Lonoke County 4-H Agent Sara Beth Johnson, who nominated Bearden, said Bearden is “an agent that makes every effort to promote Extension work everywhere she goes, and to develop successful programs and clientele.” Bearden is credited with forging relationships that helped secure the funding for a full-time 4-H agent for Hot Spring County, among many other accomplishments.

State Extension Faculty Early Career Award: Chelsea Kimbrough, animal science livestock/youth specialist. Associate Professor of Equine Animal Science Mark Russell, who nominated Kimbrough, credited her with completely revamping the state’s youth livestock program “into one of the premier programs in the southern part of the United States.”

Project/Program Administrator Early Career Award:  Gretchen Skinner, in-service training and web applications specialist for the Office of Information Technology. Digital Media Program Director Amy Cole, who nominated Skinner, credited her with enriching programs that serve both the public and Extension employees through online courses and resources.

Project/Program Associate Early Career Award: Taylor Knox, 4-H Center program technician. 4-H Center Program Director Shannon Caldwell, who nominated Knox, said Taylor has “a real understanding of Extension’s goal of improving the lives of others.”

Employee of the Year: Nita Cooper, Boone County Cooperative Extension staff chair. Johnson County 4-H Agent Jeanie Rowbotham, who nominated Cooper for the award, said that Cooper, during her 31-year career, exemplified what Arkansans expect from a Cooperative Extension Service agent.

“Nita is what you think of when you think of a county extension agent,” Rowbotham said in her nominating document. “She has a long career in Extension, yet still maintains her enthusiasm for bettering the lives of Arkansans.”

Cooper is credited with providing crucial support to programs ranging from Annie’s Project for Women in Agriculture to 4-H, and is deeply involved in area organizations including the Farm Bureau, Kiwanis and the Chamber of Commerce.

“The highest award in Extension excellence is one where we try to pick the person who best exemplifies the gold standard for the Cooperative Extension Service,” Cartwright said. “Selfless dedication, hard work, professionalism, impact, high performance. All those things we think make a great employee, great colleague.

“Over the years, I’ve worked with Nita,” he said. “And nobody has been a better example to me of professionalism and hard work.”

“I am truly blessed to serve as an extension agent, and 30-plus years have flown by,” Cooper said. “Please know that it may be me in the photo with Dr. Cartwright, but I didn't get this honor by myself. Credit goes to my coworkers, both in the county and outside the county, awesome volunteers, 4-H members and parents, and my family.”

To learn about the Cooperative Extension Service, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126