2013 DAFVM Spotlight Employees

Edna Ball

Edna Ball
December 2013

Extension Program Assistant
MSU Extension Service
Humphreys County

Years in Position: 4
Years of Service to MSU: 4

When children see Edna Ball around town, they say, “There’s the Food Lady!”

For four years, Ball has been teaching basic nutrition to school-aged children and families with limited resources through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. She is based in Belzoni, in the Humphreys County Extension office.

“I talk about everything from the five food groups to the importance of physical activity for reducing health risks and combating obesity,” Ball said. “I love meeting people and sharing valuable information with the hope of changing lives through small changes over time.”

Ball’s favorite hobby keeps her moving.

“I love to dance,” she said. “I do a lot of line dancing, but I love any kind of dancing. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends.”

Through her job, Ball has also discovered a new passion for cooking healthy foods.

“I really love most any kind of food with spinach in it especially the meatless spinach lasagna recipe that the children prepared one year in the kids-in-the-kitchen program,” she said. “I like to make healthy, quick dishes, like salads, and dishes with lean protein, fresh vegetables and low-fat dairy. I’m becoming a pretty good cook of healthy foods.”

Claudia John

Dr. Claudia Hohn
December 2013

Research Associate III
MSU College of Veterinary Medicine
Department of Basic Sciences

Years in Position: 5
Years of Service to MSU: 10

Claudia Hohn’s research can get slippery, so every day when she goes to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, she tries to think of unique approaches to her work.

“Fish are a challenging research model, and you have to be very creative and think outside the box,” Hohn said. “I get to work with multiple species. Some of them are endangered, such as the Atlantic sturgeon.”

From the time she was a graduate student in Dr. Lora Petrie-Hanson’s lab, Hohn has studied fish.

“We established the College of Veterinary Medicine’s zebrafish facility at the CVM Fish Hatchery, where we now breed several strains of zebrafish as a model organism for research,” Hohn said.

Hohn and her colleagues are studying cellular memory in fish immune systems. They also investigate the impact of the April 20, 2010, Macondo oil spill on the immune response of fish.

One of the highlights of her job is getting manuscripts accepted for publication.

“So much hard work and dedication goes into the preparation, I feel great when a manuscript is accepted,” she said. “I like that my name is on a paper that shows some new and exciting findings.”

Hohn enjoys exercising, cooking healthy food and having friends over for dinner. Until the birth of her son Eko last year, she taught spinning and yoga at the Sanderson Center.

Lauren Behel

Lauren Behel
November 2013

Extension Associate I
MSU Department of Agricultural Economics
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 11 months
Years of Service to MSU: 0

Whenever a Mississippian takes a drink of clear, cool water, Lauren Behel has had a role in the process.

“I work with public water works utility operators, coordinating and teaching their training classes and tracking their training hours,” Behel said. “They have a certain number of professional development hours required to renew their licenses every three years.”

Behel said these public water works utility operators make sure people have safe, adequate supplies of drinking water. She develops management materials for these operators and their supervisors to use. She also works with boards of supervisors, aldermen and water association board members across the state to make sure they stay up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations related to water quality and safety.

After beginning her career as an eighth grade teacher, Behel said becoming an Extension educator was a natural transition.

“One of the benefits of working with Extension is getting to travel across the state,” she said. “I’ve lived in Mississippi for 12 years, and it is fun to see all of the unique places that make the state special. I get to visit many small towns I would not have seen otherwise.”

Behel has been married to her husband Heath for two and a half years. They enjoy tailgating at MSU football games and travelling to the Caribbean and to theme parks.

Brad Jones

Brad Jones
November 2013

Extension Agent II
MSU Extension Service
Stone County

Years in Position: 5
Years of Service to MSU: 5

Like the clients he serves, Brad Jones knows the value of research-based information. Jones is an Extension agent in Stone County, supporting 4-H, agriculture and natural resources programs. But he is also a cattle producer who relies on the advice of Extension specialists.

“My wife, Brittany, and I have a stocker-calf operation; that’s our hobby,” Jones said. “We farm about 300 acres. We purchase and contract young calves when they weigh 300-500 pounds. We graze them until they are 700-800 pounds, then we send them to a feed lot.”

Jones said he has always preferred working outside, which fits well with his job as an Extension agent.

“I love to be outside with folks, getting involved,” he said. “In Stone County, we take a lot of pride in our rapport with our clients. I like being hands-on, and I’m not afraid to get dirty -- they seem to think more of the input I give when I’m working right there beside them.”

Jones said Stone County has very active junior livestock, shooting sports and horse clubs. He also works with the county cattlemen’s association, Farm Bureau and recently reestablished master gardener club.

He and Brittany have two children, 5-year-old Tyler and 1-year-old Lauryn.

Jan Acoff

Jan Acoff
October 2013

Field Technical Assistant
MSU Extension Service/Nurturing Homes Initiative
Central Mississippi

Years in Position: 10 months
Years of Service to MSU: 0

Every day, Jan Acoff arrives at an in-home child care provider’s house ready to share teaching strategies and learning materials. Her goal: to increase the quality of early learning environments for the infants, toddlers and preschoolers who spend their days in multi-age, in-home settings.

“I have a caseload of 22 providers, and I work with them to improve their Quality Rating and Improvement System scores,” Acoff said. “I provide educational materials and technical assistance lessons on a variety of topics, from business operations to health and safety.”

Acoff travels through several central Mississippi counties to reach providers enrolled in the program, which has served these child care businesses since 2000. In addition to practical, hands-on lessons, she answers any questions providers have about their online coursework to earn the Child Development Associate credential. The online credential program is offered free of charge to NHI participants.

Acoff said she loves her job.

“I enjoy working with the children, doing art activities and dramatic play,” she said. “Language development is a big focus for us, especially with infants and toddlers.”

In Mississippi, in-home child care providers are not required to be licensed, but the Nurturing Homes Initiative’s technical assistance program is designed to help these businesses attain the same high quality standards as licensed centers.

“The overall goal of our work is to help providers become learn about and implement best practices so that all Mississippi children are safe and healthy and can benefit from a high quality, early education environment,” Acoff said.

In her spare time, Acoff enjoys reading, shopping and spending time with family, especially her husband of seven years, Alton.

Debbie Bagwell

Debbie Bagwell
October 2013

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Webster County

Years in Position: 5
Years of Service to MSU: 15

A lot has changed in the MSU Extension Service since Debbie Bagwell worked in Word Processing years ago. Back then, she typeset publications manually.

“When you work on campus, say in agronomy or entomology, that’s all you do,” Bagwell said. “I’d heard there was more variety in the county office, but you don’t truly experience it until you work here.”

After various jobs with MSU and the local school district, Bagwell now spends her days as an office associate in Webster County, looking for answers to all kinds of questions – and that is one thing about the Extension Service that has not changed.

“It’s our job to help people, and we get everything from ‘What’s this on my crape myrtle?’ to questions about growing pumpkins and canning tomatoes,” she said. “It’s a joy coming to work each day to work with the great staff in Webster County and seeing what questions will be asked.”

Bagwell has noticed an increase in client traffic since the county courthouse burned down and county personnel began working out of the Extension Office.

“We’ve had people come in looking for courthouse employees but ended up getting help from Extension too,” Bagwell said. “They never realized what we do, but once we help them they come back.”

Bagwell and her husband of 35 years have a camping trailer and want to travel across the United States. They have one son and two daughters. She is learning to quilt and enjoys spending time with her two grandsons, 2-year-old Barrett and 6-week-old Blaine.

Goff

Marilyn Goff
September 2013

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Greene County

Years in Position: 18
Years of Service to MSU: 18

Marilyn Goff can answer most of the questions clients pose when they call or stop by the Greene County Extension office.

But early on in her career as an office associate, she got a question she didn’t know how to answer.

“When I first started my job, I got a call from a client who had a hickory tree that he loved because it shaded his house, but he hated the nuts dropping on his tin roof,” Goff said. “He didn’t want to cut down the tree, so he asked if there was a way to sterilize the tree so it wouldn’t produce any more hickory nuts. I didn’t know of one, so I simply said, ‘Let me let you talk to our county agent.’”

Over the past 18 years, Goff has learned a thing or two about trees and plants. Her love for flowers and gardening led her to go through the Master Gardener program.

“Becoming a Master Gardener helped me with client questions, too,” Goff said.

Goff and her husband of six years, Dwain, run a small farm. Their Dachshund/Jack Russell mix dog serves as the superintendent, she said, and keeps them all in line.

“We have a small flock of Katahdin sheep, grown mainly for meat, and we have laying hens and a big garden every year,” she said. “Our favorite thing to do, though, is to go fishing. We live in an area where we can go saltwater or freshwater fishing. We get really competitive about who catches the most or the biggest fish."

Tackitt

Sam Tackitt
September 2013

Farm Supervisor
Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station
Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station

Years in Position: 13
Years of Service to MSU: 22

Sam Tackitt likes to be outside and spends his days managing the day-to-day operations of the Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station. As the farm supervisor, Tackitt works with the station’s researchers to manage their research plots.

In addition to maintaining the station, Tackitt helps plant and harvest the research plots and other crops grown on the farm.

“Our primary focus is sweet potato research, but we also have the major row crops -- corn, cotton and soybeans,” Tackitt said. “In the winter we raise our sweet potato slips in the greenhouses and sell them to a local farmer, who grows the foundation seed. Sweet potato farming is a more complicated process than people think.”

Over the years, Tackitt has come to appreciate working with people as much as with crops.

“We’ve had a tremendous line of department heads who have been extremely good to the north Mississippi experiment stations,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the leaders we’ve had, and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.”

When he’s not working, Tackitt stays busy with multiple interests, including his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

“My main hobby now is rebuilding classic cars and trucks,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of tournament bass fishing over the years. My wife and I are in a motorcycle club that travels all over the country. We’re planning a trip out West next summer for two weeks, and we go to the Smokey Mountains every year.”

Haleigh Fason

Haleigh Fason
August 2013

Admissions Assistant
College of Veterinary Medicine

Years in Position: 1
Years of Service to MSU: 1

Haleigh Fason loved her part-time job as a student worker at the College of Veterinary Medicine so much, she went back to work full-time as an admissions assistant two years after she graduated with her degree in business administration.

“I help with everything, but my main responsibility is working with students from the time they apply, through the committee and interview process, to letters telling them they were accepted,” Fason said. “I give tours, talk to prospective students and answer questions. I enjoy doing something different every day.”

Fason said the best part of her job is working with students.

“I love meeting new people, and we get to know our students very well. Going to CVM is a dream come true for most of them, and it’s rewarding to be part of that,” she said.

Haleigh has been married to her high school sweetheart, Caleb, for four years, and they’ve been together for nine years. They have a two-year-old daughter, Caleigh, and are expecting their second child in February. The Fasons spend their free time outside swimming, fishing, hunting, riding 4-wheelers, mud-riding and just playing. Their four pit bulls, Eve, Nikki, Ceyenne and Opie, join in when they can.

Susan Collins-Smith

Susan Collins-Smith
August 2013

Extension Associate II
MSU Extension Service
Office of Agricultural Communications

Years in Position: 1
Years of Service to MSU: 9

After working in the Chickasaw County Extension office for several years, Susan Collins-Smith relocated to Jackson and jumped at the chance to share research-based information with a broader audience.

“I work in Media Relations in the Office of Agricultural Communications, and it’s my job to promote the workshops, events, educational programs and success stories in the central and southern regions of the state,” Collins-Smith said. “I enjoy the variety in my work – I write stories about everything from pets and livestock to family finances to insect pests. Every time I write a feature story, I learn something new.”

One of Collins-Smith’s favorite parts of her job is meeting so many people who are passionate about their work.

“I love working with Extension specialists and agents because they are dedicated to sharing their knowledge with others,” she said. “I can ask all kinds of questions, and they always take the time to explain things to me, which in turn helps me write about it in ways the public can understand. It’s a privilege to work with people who are making a difference in the lives of others.”

In her spare time, Susan enjoys reading, but most of her time is taken up with family activities and her two dogs, Sadie and Loki.

Charlie Bush

Charlie Bush
July 2013

Extension Agent
MSU Extension Service
Simpson County

Years in Position: 3.5
Years of Service to MSU: 3.5

When Charlie Bush heads out of the Simpson County Extension Office, you won’t catch him listening to the latest popular music.

“I like listening to the old country singers and songwriters, like Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Hank Williams Sr.,” Bush said. “I haven’t listened to the radio in years.”

Bush spends a lot of time on the road, meeting with clients in his job as a county Extension agent. He’s been with MSU’s Extension Service since January 2010, after he got his master’s degree in agricultural business management at MSU.
            “My favorite part of this job is getting out and being with people – not necessarily handling things over the phone,” he said. “I worked as a county agent in Bolivar County for two years, until the position in my home county opened up. I’ve been in Simpson County since February 2012. I enjoy meeting different people and sometimes being able to help them with their problems.”

Bush enjoys the smaller scale of agriculture in Simpson County.

“The smaller scale allows me to get involved with more farmers, landowners and homeowners,” he said. “I try to help them figure out what to do and make general recommendations on cattle, hayfields, timber, ponds, trees, yards, flower beds, gardens and more.”

When he’s not meeting with clients or working with 4-H clubs, Bush writes for his weekly county newspaper, The Magee Courier.

“People who know of Extension have a pretty good overall sense of what we do. The problem is that too many people don’t know about Extension,” Bush said. “So I try to write an article twice a month about what I see going on in yards and gardens around the county. I list our county contact information at the end of each article so they’re able to use us as a resource. My goal is to reach people who don’t know about the Extension Service so they will consider calling us when they have a question or need some help.”      

Tabitha McRunnels

Tabitha McRunnels
July 2013

Extension Program Assistant
MSU Extension Service
Lee County

Years in Position: 6
Years of Service to MSU: 6

For six years, Tabitha McRunnels has been teaching parents in Lee County how to get quick, easy and healthy meals on the table.

“I go into WIC offices, DHS offices, churches and individual homes to teach general nutrition classes to low-income moms and dads,” McRunnels said. “I talk to them about shopping sensibly and the foods children need to be healthy.”

McRunnels is an Extension program assistant for the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. As the mother of three children -- ages 9, 15 and 17 -- she understands the pressure parents are under.

“We just run, run, run all the time – basketball, band practice and cheerleading practice,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, cooking is just too much work’ I show them how to simplify shopping and cooking. It’s wonderful to be able to show them how to make their lives easier. They can relate to me, and I can relate to them. I get where they are.”

McRunnels sees the impact of her work in her community, sometimes when she least expects it. She recently encountered one of her class participants at a restaurant.

“She said, ‘Hey, Mrs. Tabitha! I was in your class at DHS. Every time I fix my kids a meal, I ask myself if I have enough color on their plates.’ What that told me is that before our class, it wasn’t important to her to have something from each food group on the plate when she fed her children. Now she thinks about giving them all of the foods they need. Sometimes you think they’re not listening, but even the smallest thing that they pick up tells me we’re making a difference.”

Pam Manley

Pam Manley
June 2013

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Prentiss County

Years in position: 21
Years of Service to MSU:
21

Responsibilities:
I answer the telephone and greet clientele. I work with office personnel to provide clientele with information on various subjects from canning to lawn grasses. I provide support to all county staff, as well as helping to maintain the county office and all of its programming. I prepare travel for county staff, assist with quarterly reports and annual budget preparations, prepare and submit staff conference minutes, complete the end-of-the-month postal report, and various other duties.

Interests & Hobbies:
I enjoy cooking, reading, and spending time with my family. I am especially looking forward to the birth of my first granddaughter, who is also my first grandchild, in less than a month. I can’t wait to be a grandmother.

LaToyia Sly

LaToyia Sly
June 2013

Laboratory Technologist
CVM - Virology/MVRDL
Starkville Campus

Years in position: 3
Years of Service to MSU:
7

Responsibilities:
I maintain cell lines. I also do virus isolation. I perform ELISA on testing. I do IFA and FA testing. My other duties include working in the poultry lab where I perform ELISA testing for Avian influenza and mycoplasma.

Interests & Hobbies:
I love to read.

Crystal Blackmon

Lynda Golden
May 2013

Agricultural Technician
Catfish Compound
Delta Research and Extension Center

Years in position: 14
Years of Service to MSU:
14

Responsibilities:
I do all data entry associated with the catfish ponds such as oxygen readings, feed consumption, stocking, and harvesting. I also help with fish feeding, checking oxygen in ponds and seining research ponds.

Interests & Hobbies:
I am a member of the Washington County Mounted Sheriff's Posse and do the announcing at all the horse shows. I have two horses and three dogs that keep me busy.

Wanda Clifton

Jean Ormond
May 2013

Office Associate
CVM MS Veterinary Diagnostic Lab
Pearl, MS

Years in position: 13
Years of Service to MSU:
13

Responsibilities:
I answer the phone for MVRDL and PRDL labs. I greet the public as well as assist clients, billing office, and other duties when required.

Interests & Hobbies:
I enjoy swimming, walking, and shopping. Cats are my favorite animal. I enjoy four spoiled rotten cats at my home. I also like to visit with friends and talk on the phone.

Crystal Blackmon

Jennel Aycock
April 2013

Sample Receiving Tech & UVIS
MVRDL
Starkville campus

Years in position: 6
Years of Service to MSU:
7

Responsibilities:
I count samples, match them with the paper work, sort them to a specific lab, register them on tracking sheets, then call the labs to retrieve their samples. I enter accession forms, set up new client accounts and handle issues that clinics have (such as reports or pricing). I’m also UVIS coordinator which means I help my co-workers with problems or concerns with our current database UVIS and I’m also helping set up the new database VetView.

Interests & Hobbies:
I love to be outside riding four wheelers, boating, or playing softball.

Wanda Clifton

Wanda W. Clifton
April 2013

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Perry County

Years in position: 28
Years of Service to MSU:
28

Responsibilities:
I work with office personnel to provide clientele with information on any subject from canning to cogongrass. The best part of my job is helping clients with answers to their questions. Extension is great.

Interests & Hobbies:
Reading, traveling, genealogy, teaching Sunday School, spending time with my children and grandchildren.

Crystal Blackmon

Crystal Blackmon
March 2013

Field Technical Assistant
School of Human Sciences/MS Child Care Resource & Referral

Years in position: 1
Years of Service to MSU:
1

Responsibilities:
My duties include providing early childhood training to child care providers in the northwest area of the state.  My responsibilities also include providing on-site one-on-one technical assistance to child care teachers and directors.

Interests & Hobbies:
I love to read fashion magazines, traveling, and spending time with my family, friends and my little furry friend Mr. Buttons.

Unavailable

Robert Duke
March 2013

Farm Supervisor
Prairie Research Unit
North Mississippif

Years in position: 6
Years of Service to MSU:
8

Interests & Hobbies:
Hunting, fishing, and spending time with family.

James Cannon

Jacob L. Cole
February 2013

Agricultural Technician
Plant Science/Research Support/Grounds Maintenance
Starkville campus

Years in position: 8
Years of Service to MSU:
8

Responsibilities:
Operate and maintain tractors and equipment related to research areas. Perform other duties as needed.

Interests & Hobbies:
Classic cars, reading, writing, spending time with friends and family, and church activities

Beth Poganski

Elizabeth Jones
February 2013

Business Coordinator
Delta Research and Extension Center
Stoneville, MS

Years in position: 5
Years of Service to MSU:
22

Responsibilities:
Purchasing, inventory, and travel.

Interests & Hobbies:
Church Youth Group, Girl Scout Assistant Leader, and enjoy helping son with the Boy Scout Pinewood Derby.

James Cannon

James W. Cannon
January 2013

Processing Supervisor
Animal and Dairy Science
Starkville campus

Years of Service to MSU: 30

Responsibilities:
I really enjoy working with the students in Introduction to Meat Science Labs. I enjoy working with Tim, my supervisor.

Interests & Hobbies:
Rabbit hunting and fishing.

Beth Poganski

Beth Poganski
January 2013

Research Program Manager
Water Quality Lab
Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture

Years in position: 1
Years of Service to MSU:
2

Responsibilities:
Day to day management of lab personnel, equipment and projects including sample collection, chemical analysis; data organization and analysis and manuscript writing. All projects focus on monitoring and developing management strategies to protect the quality and quantity of water resources in Mississippi.

Interests & Hobbies:
I'm also working on a Ph.D. which leaves me with little time for hobbies. I spend as much times as I can with friends and family here in Starkville and back home in Minnesota.