2016 DAFVM Spotlight Employees

John Linhoss
John Linhoss
January 2016

Extension Associate III
Ag & Bio Engineering
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 3
Years of Service to MSU: 3

John Linhoss has spent his career using science to make life better.

After getting his master’s degree in interdisciplinary ecology, John worked as an Extension agent for the University of Florida/IFAS Marion County Extension Service in Marion County, Florida.

Even though he loved his job, he always wanted to work at a university. So when he got the chance to work at Mississippi State, he didn’t hesitate.

In the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, John provides engineering and science-based support and Extension programming to stakeholders, Extension personnel and agricultural producers throughout Mississippi.

“Operating a modern poultry house is very energy intensive. My primary research and Extension areas include using technology to help reduce the fuel and electricity needed to operate a poultry house,” he said.

Part of John’s job includes working with colleagues to educate Mississippians about the poultry industry by taking the Mobile Energy and Environment Lab (MEEL) on the road

“The MEEL trailer is basically a poultry house on wheels that showcases the technology needed to raise broiler chickens in today’s market,” he explained.

When not on the job or working on his doctorate, John enjoys being outdoors.

“I probably spend most of my free time rock climbing or training for it,” he said. “No…there are no places to climb in Mississippi, but there are some great spots in Alabama and Tennessee. Any day spent fishing is a good day.”

John and his wife, Anna — who also works in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering — love to travel with their son, Luke (3), and daughter, Cedar Rose (1).

Mohammed Rahim
Mohammed Rahim
January 2016

Network Analyst
Forest & Wildlife Research Center/Research Support
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 7.5
Years of Service to MSU: 8

Mohammed “Mo” Rahim is the guy everyone in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center and College of Forest Resources turns to when they have technology problems.

As the network analyst for both units, Mo manages day-to-day operations related to support issues, system log files, server verification, database performance and backups of file server data.

He loves working with computers and technology, so working at MSU is a perfect fit.

“My most important job is keeping my users working and happy,” he said.

In addition to regular maintenance, Mo is instrumental in adopting and installing new technology.

“One of my favorite memories on the job is all of the compliments I received after I finished installing eight technology podiums in Thompson Hall,” he said. “These podiums provided faculty everything they needed to deliver multimedia presentations with the touch of a button and practically zero set-up time.”

Mo and his wife of 15 years, Jessica, have two daughters who attend Starkville Christian School: Jayden and Skyler.

In his free time, Mo enjoys going to yard sales, estate sales and flea markets in search of Coca-Cola signs and collectibles, as well as retro video game systems, such as Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo.

Verleen Gray
Verleen Gray
February 2016

Communications Operator
CVM Facilities Engineering
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 2
Years of Service to MSU: 12

Verleen Gray helps keep the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine running smoothly while encouraging clients, students and staff.

As a communications operator, Verleen answers the phone and directs calls to small animal admissions and the clinic. She also handles work orders for items that break and operates the gate to let clients into and out of the hospital. Logging visitors’ names, times and destinations helps keep CVM secure.

“We also have two new classrooms, so I’ve been giving directions to students coming here from the main campus,” she added.

Before coming to CVM, Verleen worked in a variety of customer service jobs. On campus, she worked at the bookstore and then as a dispatcher for the MSU Police Department.

“I’ve always been a big customer service person, I like helping other people,” Verleen said. “I feel like you have to be a very compassionate person to work any customer service job. What might not be a big deal to someone else is a serious issue to the person on the other end of the phone. Here at CVM, I try to comfort clients and assure them everything is going to be okay with regard to their pets.”

Verleen never imaged her training as a police dispatcher would come in so handy in her job at CVM. During the 2015 active shooter incident, Verleen was asked to make announcements over the intercom.

“I had to tell everyone we were on lockdown and relay whatever Dr. Burt advised me to say,” Verleen remembered. “I stayed calm and gave people directions. Later I heard someone say ‘whoever was making those announcements had experience,’ and that made me feel good.”

Verleen said she works hard to smile and greet everyone who comes by the operator’s desk.

“I love helping make people’s day better,” she said.

She credits her faith in God with her desire to be an encourager.

“That’s where we get our start being compassionate,” she observed. “The bottom line is I just love to help.”

Outside of work, Verleen enjoys attending church and spending time with her two daughters, a freshman in high school and a freshman at MSU.

Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel
Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel
February 2016

Accounting Assistant
College of Forest Resources
Starkville Campus

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

Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel didn’t grow up planning to work in the College of Forest Resources, but it has been home for a lot longer than her tenure as an accounting assistant.

“I wouldn’t say I chose this career; I would say it chose me,” Mary Katherine said. “My father, Charles Burkhardt, worked for MSU for more than 25 years. I grew up, literally, in CFR. Many of the faculty were like family to me.”

In her job, Mary Katherine is responsible for taking care of details: completing paperwork for new hires, payroll and procard purchases. But her favorite work-related activity is interacting with the graduate students.

“I love meeting new people and forming lifelong friendships with some of them,” she said.

While many of the faculty members she knew while she was growing have moved on to other jobs, a few are still at MSU.

“Especially since my father’s passing, it pleases my heart to see them,” she said. “They stop by my office and check on me from time to time. They knew me as a kid. Being part of the college that is so near and dear to my heart means the world to me.”

Mary Katherine has been married to Coby McNeel for 10 years, and they have a 5-year-old daughter, Burklee Elizabeth.

When she’s not at work, Mary Katherine enjoys planning events, playing with her daughter, traveling and going to the beach.

Anionette Roberson
Antionette Roberson
March 2016

Administrative Assistant
Department of Basic Sciences
MSU College of Veterinary Medicine

Years in Position: 13 Years
Years of Service to MSU: 28.5 years

Antionette Roberson does not like to be told she cannot do something. She will always prove to herself and others that she can.

“When I graduated high school, I wanted a job with the Army Corp of Engineers. My high school counselor told me I would never accomplish this task,” she said. “The day after graduation, I went to work for the Army Corp of Engineers in the real estate division. I ran into my counselor after I started working there and told her I did what she said I could not do. Do not tell me I cannot do something, I want to find that out for myself.”

Roberson is the administrative assistant for the CVM Department of Basic Sciences. Her job consists of doing most of the office tasks, such as managing the department’s university credit card, responding to and sending out emails, answering the office phone and interacting with the general public.

Roberson’s favorite aspect of her job is the people.

“I really enjoy working with people. I love working with the students in our department,” she said. “The camaraderie between the different nationalities and personalities in this department makes work a fun experience.”

Personally being involved with the work load makes a job more meaningful.

“My job is very rewarding because of the personal aspect of it,” Roberson said. “When you have a wonderful boss like I do, it makes my job that much easier.”

Roberson is married to Lewis Roberson Jr., a former Mississippi State University employee. After dating for 16 years, they married nine years ago. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and playing the piano. Roberson has been a church musician since the age of 13.

Marquita Sinclair Thomas
Marquita Sinclair Thomas
March 2016

Program Assistant
Early Years Network
MSU Extension Service

Years in Position: 3 Years
Years of Service to MSU: 3 Years

When Marquita Sinclair Thomas sees bright smiles on the faces of the children she works with, she knows all of her hard work has paid off.

Thomas is a program assistant for the Mississippi State University Early Years Network. She provides assistance to the reference and referral center, prepares everything needed for the early childhood center and helps with office management.

“I enjoy when every area of our network comes together, including people that I normally do not see because we are not in the same department,” she said. “Witnessing all of the different entities involved in this network is incredible.”

Working with children is always an enjoyable experience.

“Getting to work with children is my favorite part of my job,” Thomas said. “The look on their faces when they are interacting with me or other workers is special every time. Doing activities with the children brings joy to both the children and me.”

Thomas’s job is time-consuming but also very rewarding.

“One thing I wish people knew about my job is how demanding it is,” she said. “We are always busy, whether that is training individuals or maintaining the resource and referral center, we are constantly working. All the work is well worth it though, and it is very gratifying.”

In her spare time, Thomas enjoys reading, exercising, riding horses and spending time with her family. She has a husband, Danny Williams, and two children, Jerrell, 8, and Janae, 6.

Jamie Bates
Jamie Bates

April 2016

Animal Health Technician
MSU College of Veterinary Medicine
Department of Clinical Sciences
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 1 Year
Years of Service to MSU: Almost 2 Years

Watching her furry friends run out of the hospital doors after a long road to recovery leaves a lasting impact on Jamie Bates’ heart.

Bates is a certified veterinary technician in the rehabilitation service at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine clinical sciences department. She works with dogs that have diseases or injuries that affect their mobility.

Some patients have severe issues causing them to stay in the clinic for months, but others may only have to stay a few days. While at the hospital, patients are treated using the underwater treadmill, endless pool, therapeutic laser, electrical stimulation, exercise balls and a variety of physical exercises.

Bates said the best part of her job is the one-on-one time with the patients.

“Dogs are very resilient creatures that can overcome almost anything life throws at them. Nothing compares to seeing a dog who is unable to walk learn how to walk again,” she said. “Then, seeing that same patient run out of the hospital doors after weeks of therapy, leaves a lasting impact that I will always remember. This is the reason I do what I do.”

A pit bull named Dirty inspired Bates to pursue rehabilitative services.

“During my rotations to become a vet tech, I spent two weeks in the rehabilitation service. I fell in love with the patients and their recovery process so much that I volunteered for another two weeks,” she said. “During this time, I met Dirty, a pit bull that had a ventral slot and had become completely immobile. He spent close to six months at the vet school before he was able to walk on his own. He was the first dog I had ever cried tears of joy over after seeing him run out the door. He inspired me to look into this profession. Today, because of him and other cases like him, I am working on getting my certification in canine rehabilitation.”

Bates could not imagine doing anything else because of her passion for her job.

“My profession requires endless hours of patience and laborious work,” she said. “No patient is turned down due to size or difficulty. It is because of this that my job is so rewarding.”

Bates is a First Lieutenant in the Army Reserves. When she is not at work or Drill, she enjoys spending time with her husband of five years, Jonathon Bates, and their four furry friends.

Shirley Guy
Shirley Guy

April 2016

Central Sterile Aide
MSU College of Veterinary Medicine
Department of Clinical Sciences
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: Almost 12 Years
Years of Service to MSU: 21 Years

A clean lab is the foundation of good science, and the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine depends on Shirley Guy to keep its sterilizing process running.

Guy is the central sterile aide for the CVM Department of Clinical Sciences. She is responsible for making sure the daily operation of the central sterile supply runs as smoothly as possible. She handles the hazardous waste, needles and pins for the department. She also operates the gas sterilizer, steam sterilizer, autoclave sterilizer, ultrasonic instrument cleaning machine, and washing machine and dryer.

Guy became interested in her profession because of the multitasking aspect of her job.

“I clean and process instruments and linens for the entire clinic. You have to know which instruments belong in a particular tray and be able to work alone and fast in order to keep the daily routine going,” she said. “I also help train the technology students in processing surgical trays, and I provide customer service throughout the center. Being a proficient multitasker helped in the decision that this profession was the right one for me.”

Guy’s favorite memory from her job happened fairly early in her career.

“Six months after I started working in this position, I had to work alone for the first time,” she said. “I had to process a TPLO, tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy, surgery by myself. A TPLO is a surgery performed on dogs to stabilize the stifle joint after ruptures of the cranial cruciate ligament. I had to handle nine to 10 trays by myself. The surgery was not as tough as I had anticipated, which made me proud of my accomplishment that day.”

Guy said her favorite part of the job is customer service.

“I enjoy getting to meet new people,” she said. “Helping people is one of the many enjoyable aspects about my job.”

In her spare time, Guy enjoys spending time with her husband, Timmy, and her son, Timothy. She also enjoys reading and watching television.

Leo Jenkins
Leo Jenkins
May 2016

Research Technician
Delta Research and Extension Center
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences
Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville

Years in Position: 1.5 years
Years of Service to MSU: 1.5 years

Jenkins is involved in data collection, maintaining fields, assisting co-workers and other researchers whenever possible. He oversees hourly employees, and works primarily on the Delta Research and Extension Center’s Stoneville campus.

Jenkins likes being a team player and helping complete a variety of tasks whether in the field or in research laboratories. Jenkins comes from a farming family.

“I lived and worked on a farm for more then 15 years,” Jenkins said. “This experience helps me appreciate the hard word that it takes to be effective in the industry. I also like being able to help researchers and producers be successful and profitable.”

Jenkins chose this career because he loves farming and was already familiar with farming practices and responsibilities but also likes the security of a promising career working for MSU.

In his free time, Jenkins enjoys spending time with his fiancée and watching his two stepchildren play basketball and baseball. He also likes hunting and fishing the Washington County area.

Tiffany Valentine
Tiffany Valentine
May 2016

Field Technical Assessment Worker
MSU Extension Service
Early Years Network

Time in Position: 3 Months
Service to MSU: 3 Months

Helping people has been a natural instinct for Tiffany Valentine since she was a little girl.

Valentine is the oldest of eight children, which prepared her for her career.

“Growing up, I always helped take care of my siblings,” she said. “My nurturing personality helped me with my siblings growing up and is continuing to help me in my career.”

Valentine is a program specialist for the Early Years Network, a program of the Mississippi State University Extension Service and part of the School of Human Sciences. She provides infant and toddler assessments for new moms.

Valentine said her favorite part of the job is helping the families enrolled in the parenting program.

“I love assisting a family with their new baby,” she said. “I enjoy seeing how much they learn from the lessons we teach them.”

Seeing the gratitude on the faces of new moms and dads brings Valentine a special appreciation for her job.

“The resources and the lessons we implement to families help them out immensely,” she said. “We receive a lot of feedback from the new families telling us how successful our programs are and how much they helped them with their newborns. They are so thankful to have received the help that we provided them, which makes my job all the more worthwhile.”

Before coming to MSU, she worked as a preschool teacher for Head Start in Flora, Mississippi, and as a parent educator for Healthy Homes Mississippi.

In her spare time, Valentine enjoys spending time with her husband, Curly, and her daughter, Almia, 12. She also enjoys shopping. Valentine loves helping people in her community as much as she does at her job. She is PTA president and athletic director of a little league football team. She is also a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

Ben Berry
Ben Berry
June 2016

Dairy Equipment Processing Operator II
MSU Dairy Plant

Years in Position: 3
Years of Service to MSU: 3

While most people are asleep at 2:30 a.m., Ben Berry is already starting his work day.

Berry is a Dairy Equipment Processor in the milk room at the Mississippi State University Dairy Plant. He processes milk, cheese and ice cream for the plant. He also pasteurizes and sterilizes milk, and processes the cream to make butter.

“If it has to do with dairy, then I have something to do with it at some part in the process,” Berry said.

Each day, he has to have the milk ready by 6 a.m.

“It’s crucial that I’m on time with everything I have to do. If I’m late, the whole plant is late,” he said.

Berry said that he enjoys being a part of one of the well-known aspects of MSU.

“It’s such an honor to be a part of something that is this big of a deal,” he said. “It’s one of those jobs where you see just how much work is put into the final product.”

One of Berry’s favorite memories is the 75th anniversary of the Edam cheese.

“There were cameras everywhere in the plant,” Berry said. “It was pretty neat to be part of it.”

Berry worked in auto part sales before working at MSU. Several members of his family also work at MSU. When the opportunity arose to work at the dairy plant, he took advantage of it.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Berry said. “It’s worth it when I can see the work at the end of the day and be proud of it.”

Nathan, his younger brother, followed in his footsteps. He is a student worker in the dairy plant.

“If I didn’t work with him, I wouldn’t see him as much as I do,” he said.

Berry can be found in the outdoors when he is not at the dairy plant. He enjoys hunting, fishing and farming. He also likes to spend time with his wife, Amanda Berry.

Walter Solomon
Walter Solomon
June 2016

Research Associate III
Delta Research and Extension Center
Stoneville, Washington County

Years in Position: 16
Years of Service to MSU: 16

No two days look the same for Walter Solomon at the Mississippi State University Delta Research and Extension Center. The variety in his work is one of his favorite aspects of his job.

Solomon serves as a Research Associate at the DREC in Stoneville. He is involved in every aspect of the plant pathology program with a focus on data analysis and manuscript preparation.

He works closely with plant pathologist Dr. Tom Allen to study and conduct research on diseases in crops, including cotton, soybean, corn, wheat and rice.

Solomon appreciates that his job is not mundane or routine.

“I like the ability to work outside in the field, but also work inside on the computer,” he said.

The variety of work also means he has several opportunities to interact with people with different areas of expertise.

“This provides me an opportunity to learn new things from highly knowledgeable individuals, which is very rewarding,” he said.

Solomon has always been interested in science.

“With an educational background in chemistry, biology, entomology and plant breeding, agricultural research was a good fit for me,” he said.

He spent 12 years working for the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville in the entomology unit before moving to the MSU center.

Solomon helped to develop rice varieties for 11 years with the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station before he became a research associate in the pathology program.

“One of my favorite memories on the job is getting to travel with the rice breeder to the rice winter nursery in Puerto Rico to harvest our rice varieties grown there,” Solomon said.

A true outdoorsman, he enjoys fishing, hunting and gardening during his spare time. He also likes to ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Solomon has three children, Amy, Eric, and Joseph. He also likes spending time with and spoiling Crosby and Henry, his two grandsons.

Jessica Redd
Jessica Redd
July 2016

Program Assistant
MSU Extension Service Early Years Network
Southwest Community College, Pike County

Years in Position: 7
Years of Service to MSU: 7

Jesica Redd has a passion for educating and working with children. The Mississippi State University Extension Service helps her turn her passion into a profession.

Jesica serves as the program assistant for the Early Years Network at Southwest Community College in Pike County. She does many different tasks that allow her to help others.

“My responsibilities allow me to provide excellent customer service and program assistance to people in the community who need great resources, training classes and high quality child care,” Jesica said.

She also prepares reports and plans logistics for implementing workshops.

Jesica says that one of the best parts of her job is that she help others, primarily early care and education providers.

“I like assisting in providing professional development to individuals whose main goal is to provide quality care for the children of Mississippi,” she said.

Her favorite memory on the job was when she visited in-home child care providers affected by Hurricane Katrina.

“The visit allowed me to witness their dedication to their career,” Jesica said. “It showed me their level of determination to rebuild after the tragedy.”

In her free time, she enjoys helping others and spending time with her husband, Kelvin, and their two children, Kelsi and Ky.

Patty Swearingen
Patty Swearingen
July 2016

Extension Agent -- Lauderdale County Coordinator
MSU Extension Service

Years in Position: 14
Years of Service to MSU: 25 years

Extension is a family thing for Patty Swearingen. Like her mother who served as an Extension agent, Patty pursued a career with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Patty is an Extension agent and the county coordinator in Lauderdale County. She provides educational programs in family and consumer education, 4-H youth development, and enterprise and community resource development.

People are Patty’s favorite aspect of working in Extension.

“I love getting to know so many different people throughout the county, and making a difference in their lives,” Patty said. “Also, working with high school juniors through Leadership Lauderdale Youth is very rewarding.”

Following in her mother’s footsteps, she spent 11 years working as a 4-H Youth Development agent and Family and Consumer Sciences agent in Monroe County before moving to Lauderdale County.

“I grew up in Extension. My mother, Dot Shaw, is a retired Home Economist,” Patty said. “I saw how she loved her job and the people loved her. Every day was a new experience, and some days were a challenge, but she always enjoyed it to the fullest.”

Her favorite memory was when Roy Doss, Monroe County agent, took her to work during a snow storm.

“I could not believe we had to go to work. No one was on the streets and no one had electricity,” Patty said. “By the time they got us to work, it was time to start taking us back home. That’s why we called Mr. Doss the Ole Country Agent.”

When she is not serving the people of Lauderdale County, she enjoys working in the yard and spending time with her family.

Patty has been married to her husband, Harvey, for 29 years. They have two children, Patrick and Ashley.

Rebecca Bates
Rebecca Bates
August 2016

Extension Agent/County Coordinator
MSU Extension Service            
Lincoln County

Years in Position: 10
Years of Service to MSU: 15

Working for the MSU Extension Service as a county agent is the only job Rebecca Bates has ever wanted.

“I’m from an MSU family. My father was a professor. I’ve always felt that this job was made for me,” Rebecca said.

As a horticulturist, Rebecca fields calls from homeowners, vegetable producers and other Extension agents who need horticulture-related advice. As the county coordinator, Rebecca is instrumental in running the farmers market and working with local dairy producers, the local Cattlemen’s Association and the Lincoln County Forestry Association. She also hosts a weekly radio show and writes columns for two local newspapers.

For the last five years, to kick off National Dairy Month in June, Rebecca and local dairy producers have brought a dairy cow to the front steps of the Lincoln County Courthouse.

“Our elected officials come out, we put the proclamation declaring it’s National Dairy Month on the back of the cow, and they all sign it,” she explained. “I had a senator call me to make sure he wasn’t going to miss it. It’s a really good photo op!”

In 2013, Rebecca received the inaugural Travis Tadlock Outstanding Extension Agent Award. Tadlock, who retired as the Lincoln County agent in 1978, was well known to Rebecca.

“I’m very lucky in that I’ve had good relationships with every agent who has served in the county since Travis, but he was the one I always worked to be like. I think he’s the most beloved agent the county has ever had,” she said.

In her free time, Rebecca loves to garden.

“I don’t get stuck on one plant; I just love to plant things and watch them grow,” she said.

Other than her garden, her favorite place to be is in Gautier on the Pascagoula River.

Katie Bouchillon
Katie Bouchillon
August 2016

Extension Associate I
MSU Extension Service
Starkville Campus

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

Working with people has always been Katie Bouchillon’s favorite part of her job with the MSU Extension Service, although her interactions and audiences have changed over the course of her career.

As an Extension Associate with the Office of Nutrition Education, Katie spent several years touring the state with the Body Walk educational exhibit designed to teach elementary school-age children about the human body.

“I saw all of our beautiful state, met tons of volunteers, and interacted with tens of thousands of children,” Katie said. “In each place I worked with a new group of volunteers, and I had five minutes to introduce myself, get them excited about the intense physical labor required to set up the exhibit, convey I knew what I was doing, and assure them we could accomplish our task. I quickly learned that praising everyone throughout the process made a big difference.”

During the past year, Katie has transitioned to working as an accounting assistant and social media coordinator.

“I love social media!” she said. “I love being able to share information about our nutrition educators and highlight the work they do.”

Katie is passionate about sharing Extension’s mission with everyone she meets.

“I want to let Mississippians know Extension is more than farming, cattle and forestry,” she explained. “We are here to help you figure out how to keep your families healthy, that you can have something tasty and delicious to eat and know you’re providing a nutritious meal for your kids and for yourself.

In addition to spending time on social media platforms when she’s off the clock, Katie loves to read, especially sci-fi novels and nonfiction. She also enjoys spending time with her one-year-old mixed-breed dog, Tom Barker.

Catherine Hepner
Catherine Hepner
September 2016

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Newton County

Years in Position: 1.75
Years of Service to MSU: 1.75

Having the opportunity to become more involved in her community is what sparked Catherine Hepner’s interest in working for the MSU Extension Service.

As an office associate for Newton County Extension, Catherine concentrates on community outreach through newsletters, social media and press releases. She also initiated a weekly agent column in a local newspaper.

“I’m the first smiling face our clients encounter when they call, email or come into the office, so I make sure they receive timely service,” Catherine said.

Catherine said dealing with people is the most enjoyable aspect of her job with Extension.

“There are so many talented and interesting people in our local community and the university,” Catherine explained. “I especially enjoy seeing the children who participate through 4-H.”

Previously, Catherine worked as a computer programmer specializing in materials management and integrated manufacturing systems for 11 years while living in California. After relocating to Idaho, she helped establish a local newspaper. Her family lived in Idaho for 10 years before moving to Mississippi. She was working part time at the local newspaper, the Newton County Appeal, when her current position became available.

Volunteerism and community outreach has always been a very integral part of Catherine’s life.

“I’ve always been interested in contributing to the welfare of my community, no matter where I live,” she said. “Working together with other interested individuals is a great way to get to know people.”

In California, she was involved in her church and delivering programs to aid pregnant teens. While in Idaho, she served as a volunteer art instructor for her daughter’s school and helped organize support groups for grandparents-as-parents (relatives who have custody of children when their biological parents are unable to care for them). Currently, she serves as secretary for the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce and manages the “Decatur News” Facebook group.

Catherine, who has been married for 30 years, has a 15-year-old daughter and four grown stepchildren.

Judias Neal
Judias Neal
September 2016

Research Technician
Department of Poultry Science
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 5
Years of Service to MSU: 8

Working with people has always been Judias Neal’s favorite task in his job with the Department of Poultry Science at Mississippi State.

“When I get up in the morning, I’m excited about going to work,” Judias said. “My supervisor and coworkers really make my job enjoyable. That’s key—having a good working relationship with other employees.”

As a research technician for the MSU Poultry Unit, Judias’ responsibilities include overseeing three houses on the South Farm. One house is dedicated to hatching chicks and caring for them during their brooding period (the first eight to 10 weeks after hatching). Older chickens are housed in the second house, and the third house is for raising turkeys.

Judias is no stranger to the university. Before his bird work, he harvested catfish from the ponds on the South Farm.

“I became interested in working at MSU because I heard there was good retirement, a great working environment and even better people,” Judias explained. “Now, I’m able to live comfortably and work with some of the nicest people.”

Having students come back and express their appreciation for his work with the poultry unit is what Judias considers one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

“It’s a joy to know that more young people are getting involved in poultry production,” Judias said. “With controversial issues in the media like steroid usage, it’s so important that we show students the truth about how we raise our chickens. Just giving them the opportunity for hands-on learning helps with that and gets them excited to learn more. With technology and facility upgrades, I can’t wait to see what the future for the state’s poultry industry holds.”

In 1998, Judias was called to the ministry and has been preaching at New St. Peters Baptist Church in West Point ever since. A Starkville native, Judias lives in Pheba with his wife of 20 years. He is a father of six and a grandfather of four.

“I love that my kids always come to me with problems and seek spiritual advice,” Judias said. “I thank God that my family is God-fearing and prides themselves on doing the right thing.”

Ontenncia Boclear
Ontenncia Boclear
October 2016

Extension Agent I
MSU Extension Service
Carroll County

Years in Position: 2.5
Years at MSU: 2.5

As someone passionate about making a difference, Ontenncia Boclear said working as an Extension agent in Carroll County is a perfect fit for her.

Ontenncia oversees the Family and Consumer Science program and helps with 4-H Youth Development in the county.

“I really enjoy working with the 4-H’ers,” Ontenncia said. “Just seeing the look on their faces when they learn something new is so rewarding.”

Before working for Extension, Ontenncia obtained her master’s degree in early childhood development and taught preschool for eight years. Based on these experiences, she thought her current job would be exciting.

“Since I had been in a teaching environment for quite some time, working with both 4-H and the general public sounded attractive,” Ontenncia said.

Ontenncia loves to make connections with people in Carroll County and across the state.

“My ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible,” Ontenncia said. “I want to give people the opportunity to learn about new things and develop new skills, and to provide them with all the information they need.”

Before joining the Extension family, Ontenncia knew very little about the 4-H program, other than what she had read. This led to her two children (18-year-old AJ and 12-year-old Ashlyn) getting involved in their county club.

“As far as the future of Extension goes, I see growth,” Ontenncia said. “I see programs developing and growing bigger and better. As industries and society evolve, I foresee programs evolving with it.”

After hours, Ontenncia enjoys spending time with her family and doing arts and crafts. She enjoys this hobby so much that she tries to incorporate it into her job. For example, she has taught wreath-making and sewing classes.

“I really love this job,” Ontenncia said. “I have wonderful coworkers that welcomed me with open arms. I know that I am here to stay because MSU Extension is my home.”

Sayonara Jones
Sayonara Jones
October 2016

Copy Center Operator
MSU Extension Service
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 1.25
Years at MSU: 1.25

The MSU Extension Office of Agricultural Communications relies on Sayonara Jones for her hard work in the Copy Center.

Sayonara spends her workday operating two industrial-sized printers, one color and one black and white. She also uses a highly specialized software to lay out all types of print jobs for MSU Extension. Jobs can range from holiday or post cards to informational brochures or manuals. Sayonara said she likes that her job is always changing and she is constantly working on something different.

“I just love seeing the look on a client’s face when they see the finished product,” Sayonara said. “The gratification of knowing the client is satisfied has to be my favorite part about this job. I also love that I get to take someone’s artistic vision and bring it to life. It’s like putting their dream on paper.”

Previously, Sayonara lived in Georgia and worked as a hair stylist for 15 years. A Mississippi native, she decided to move home to be closer to her family and obtain her degree.

“While working in University Relations at the Mississippi University for Women, I decided to get my degree in communications,” Sayonara said. “I had the opportunity to learn a lot about publications and doing layouts, so when I saw the posting for this job, I knew I had to apply.”

When Sayonara is not at work, she loves to travel and spend time with her three children. She recently adopted a 4-month-old girl.

“Life is truly a dream right now,” Sayonara said. “I’m a new mom all over again, I love my job, and I get to raise my children in a quiet, secure community. I’m really enjoying life.”

Latesia Jackson
Latesia Jackson
November 2016

Program Assistant
MSU Extension Service
Walthall County

Years in Position: 13.75
Years at MSU: 13.75

When Latesia Jackson was in 4-H as a child, she never imagined she would one day be responsible for the same program.

After previously working as a Dental Assistant, Jackson was taking nursing classes when she heard about the position for Extension Program Assistant in Walthall County.

“When I was visiting the office, the secretary told me about the job, and we actually joked about me applying,” Jackson said. “Then I got the notion to apply and thought I’d try it for a while if I was offered the position. Sure enough, I accepted, and the rest is history.”

Jackson is responsible for organizing various 4-H and after school programs, including the “Welcome to the Real World!” program which is an active, hands-on, real-life simulation designed to help young people learn about the financial obligations adults face on a daily basis. 

Many of the workshops she teaches are about time management, and she is able to help high school students with managing busy schedules packed with school, sports, church, and family activities. A leadership workshop Jackson is looking forward to implementing is a “Superhero within You.”

“The workshop is about being your own hero,” Jackson said. “The objective is for kids to realize that it’s okay to fail in a given situation, but you have to learn to take initiative to take a different approach. A teacher in the Tylertown GED program approached me about coming to teach it to her students, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Jackson’s son, Gregory, will be old enough to join 4-H next year.

“To see him learn valuable life skills and grow as an individual will be exciting. I can’t wait for him to get more involved. I was a 4-H’er under Mrs. Edith Carter Butler,” Jackson said. “And now I actually sit at the same desk that she sat at during her tenure as 4-H agent. Everything that I am as a professional Extension employee -- I owe it all to her.”

Lori Maztek
Lori Matzek
November 2016

Extension Associate III
MSU Extension Service
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 1
Years at MSU: 1

For Lori Matzek, changing the lives of students across the state has become second nature.

As an Extension associate in the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach, Matzek serves as project coordinator for a math and science partnership grant program, In-Depth Mathematical Practices and Teacher Content Training (IMPACT2), which delivers professional development to in-service K-8 mathematics teachers across the state.

“I am continually researching teaching methods and materials to share with our participants,” Matzek said. “I strive to be a resource for them as they earnestly try meet the needs of their students.”

After receiving her bachelor’s in elementary education from MSU, Matzek taught fifth grade at Louisville Elementary School for over 20 years. During that time, she also worked for the MSU College of Education in after-school and summer school programs.

“I was actually a participant in the IMPACT2 program while still a classroom teacher,” Matzek said. “I then took a role as mentor teacher in the program and later joined the staff as project coordinator, so I have experienced many aspects of our program firsthand.”

Her current position allows her to explore classrooms around the state. Matzek said her favorite aspect of the job is that she still gets to interact with students.

“For example, I recently hosted a group of middle school students for a ‘math walk’ around MSU, where they solved mathematical challenges at locations around campus,” Matzek said. “A few of them were former students of mine from fifth grade!”

Currently, Matzek is pursuing her master’s in education. Even though she is no rookie to the educational atmosphere, she constantly takes advantage of any learning opportunity.

“Even when I am modeling lessons for teachers, I am always learning from them as well,” Matzek said. “I am acutely aware of the challenges both teachers and their students face in classrooms today. The IMPACT2 program is important because it provides information and resources to teachers that help address those needs.”

Just as she enjoys sharing information in a classroom setting, Matzek said that one of the best things about Extension is the wealth of knowledge available to share.

“You can find someone with expertise in any field,” Matzek said. “They are always willing to share that information with others. It is important for me to be part of a service-minded organization and feel such satisfaction knowing I have helped someone else in some small way.”

When Matzek is not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband, three children and two granddaughters. She also enjoys completing projects inspired by Pinterest and thrift store finds.

Chris Forrester

Chris Forrester
December 2016

Building Maintenance Tech I
Forest Operations/
Forest and Wildlife Research Center
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 5
Years at MSU: 5

The MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center’s Forest Operations team relies on Chris Forrester to keep the buildings and equipment running smoothly.

Forrester completes daily work orders from his superintendent or supervisor that primarily consist of electrical or HVAC work.

“One day I might be repairing incubators on South Farm and another I may be doing electrical work in the Sustainable Bioproducts building,” Forrester said. “I do a variety of assignments such as installing new equipment, wiring up motors, fixing faulty plumbing and troubleshooting with HVAC systems.”

Forrester said his favorite part about his job is working with such great people who work together and make the job worthwhile. He also likes that his job is constantly changing, and he knows he has a purpose.

Forrester first became interested in electrical work during his previous job as an ATV/motorcycle technician. He then decided to pursue his associate’s degree in Electrical Technology at EMCC. He finds digital electronics to be most interesting.

When Forrester is not working, he enjoys attending Meadowview Baptist Church and spending time with his family. He has been married to Jennifer for 14 years.  She also works at MSU as the business coordinator at the Custer Dairy Processing Plant.  They have two children: Allie, 9 and Jacob, 6. 

“I’m looking forward to some time off with my kids at Christmas,” Forrester said. “Another perk of the job.”

Darian Young

Darian Young
December 2016

Research Associate I
Mississippi Veterinary Research
and Diagnostic Laboratory

Years in Position: 1
Years at MSU: 1

With Darian Young’s experience in completing research and lab experiments, the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl runs like a well-oiled machine.

As Research Associate under Dr. Trey Howell, Young runs various experiments along with his daily responsibilities, which include maintaining cell cultures, extracting cells from tissue samples, and analyzing data.

“My job really depends on the major project at hand,” Young said. “Towards the end of a project, we will run multiple experiments to test our results. It gets particularly busy in the spring when the lab receives animal tissue samples that need to be tested.”

Young has been interested in science since childhood. His curiosity about biology led to him to pursue his degree in the field. Young graduated with a degree in biology from the University of West Alabama in 2012 and a master’s in biology from Mississippi College in 2014.

“I’m gaining valuable research experience before I pursue my doctorate,” Young said. “My plan is to continue in research after furthering my education.”

Young said his favorite thing about his job is getting unexpected results from an experiment.

“It’s so interesting to see results come in and be counter to what we believed they would be,” Young said. “We always conduct a follow-up experiment and of course continue to find out why the results were the way they were.”

When he’s out of the lab, Young enjoys reading and visiting his family in Meridian. He said this year he is looking forward to a break for the holidays.

“I remember waking up Christmas morning at my grandparents’ home and rushing to open presents,” Young said. “Now that I’m older, I realize it isn’t about what’s under the tree but who’s around the tree, instead.”


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