2018 DAFVM Spotlight Employees

Donna Bland

Donna Bland
January 2018

Administrative Assistant
Department of Food Science,
Nutrition and Health Promotion
MSU Starkville campus

Years in Position: 7
Years at MSU: 27

Donna Bland is not averse to change, which is good, because her title has changed four times during her MSU career, and the department’s name has changed three times, even though she's worked in the same place for 27 years.

As an administrative assistant in the MSU Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, Donna loves that no two work days are ever alike.

"My responsibilities vary from day-to-day sometimes moment-to-moment," she explains. "I do a little bit of everything from working with and supporting the department head and faculty to assisting staff and helping students.  I perform a wide variety of clerical duties, such as acting as a department liaison,  greeting and directing visitors, answering phones, arranging meetings, scheduling rooms and interviews, processing and tracking official visitor agreements (OVA), submission of annual CRIS reports, handling the master class schedule every semester, and completion of graduate student defense paperwork to name a few. I’m the leave manager and the key manager for this department.  I also handle work requests with Facilities Management and help desk tickets with ITS.  I work closely with other front office personnel in the day-to-day operations of the department, and I share signature authority for the department head whenever he is away from the office."

Donna stays so busy one colleague dubbed her the department’s "COO," or chief operating officer.

"He even surprised me with a plaque naming me such for ‘doing more work than anyone else and putting up with more than anyone else,’" she said. "He thinks it bothers me but I consider it a compliment and know he is simply acknowledging my dedication to the department, the division, and the university."

Donna planned for this career from the time she was in high school. She graduated with a regular high school diploma and a business diploma. When she decided to return to school, she had the background required but not the computer skills. She graduated from East Mississippi Community College in May 1990 with an associate’s degree, and started working at MSU the next month.

When she’s not working, Donna enjoys reading, watching TV, attending church services at Starkville Church of Christ, watching the Diamond Dawgs, and spending time with friends and family. She and her late husband, Darrell, were blessed with three children (Michael, Joy, and Richard) and two grandchildren (Brandon and Daylin).

Loretta Derett-Smith

Loretta Derett-Smith
January 2018

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Tippah County

Years in Position: 22
Years at MSU: 22

Loretta Derett-Smith taught herself shorthand from an encyclopedia when she was in the seventh grade in Madison, Illinois, and she has never veered from her career plan.

For 22 years, she has served MSU Extension Service clients in Tippah County as an office associate. While she manages all of the usual office duties, such as managing schedules, writing letters, scheduling meetings, setting up for programs, planning, budgeting and helping with all of the local specialty groups including 4-H, the Forestry Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, and Master Gardeners, she knows her role requires much more.

"I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a secretary," she explains. "Not only did I need to write fast, I needed to listen. I loved to write and I loved to help others and to solve problems. As an office associate, this is what you do all day. You listen and get the job done in the most efficient and effective way possible."

Her earliest experiences taught her a lot.

"That first year as a secretary in a county with a fair involving premiums to be paid -- I cried for a solid month," she remembers. "It took me a month to clear out my books and get all of the premiums paid. The next year was a different story. I improve every year."

Helping with Extension programs and the Tippah County Fair are her favorite work-related responsibilities, and her helpfulness has resulted in long-standing friendships.

"One day we had a client come in right at closing because his daughter needed a photo for a passport," she says. "He lived across the street and would come by the office, but he never had much to say to me. I told him I was happy to help, and after that day we became the best of friends."

Loretta’s passion for helping others extends to her free time. She has volunteered on the board of the local Good Samaritan Center and helps with local food drives. She has also joined the newly formed Mississippi Mat Project making mats for the homeless out of recycled grocery bags.

Her job as 4-H Mom, Band Mom, PTO President Mom and Ripley High School Ambassador Mom ended when her daughter, Asia, graduated from high school, but her truck tag still reads ASIAMOM. Asia recently graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in biology.  Loretta is a serious fan of the Dallas Cowboys and former MSU quarterback Dak Prescott.

Irene Harrison

Irene Harrison
February 2018

Snap-Ed Educator
Office of Nutrition Education
Lauderdale County

Years in Position: 12.5
Years at MSU: 12.5

Irene Harrison does not simply teach children about food. She teaches children and families across Lauderdale County how to live a rich and vibrant life.

As a Snap-Ed Educator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Irene educates families about the importance of balanced nutrition and physical activity at schools, churches and around the community.

"My favorite part of this job is going to these different places and meeting new people," Harrison said. "I never would have gotten to do this working anywhere else."

She applied to the job on a whim after a friend encouraged her to consider it.

"I had never heard of Extension. I didn’t know what it was," Harrison said. "But it’s the best decision I’ve ever made."

One of the many experiences that Harrison loves about her job is the opportunity to work with children, especially preschoolers.

"I went to an area daycare and met 3-year-olds. They told me that they didn’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and that one little boy didn’t want to drink his milk," Harrison said. "I taught the lesson, and the next time I went there, they met me and said, ‘Miss Irene, we are eating our vegetables because we want to be healthy.’ That was one of the cutest things ever said to me."

Harrison unwinds after work by reading, sewing and spending time with her husband of 32 years.

Ann Twiner

Sarah ‘Izzy’ Pellegrine
February 2018

Research Associate I
Social Science Research Center
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 1
Years at MSU: 9

Izzy Pellegrine helps improve the lives of Mississippi children through her passion: sociology. Every day, her work directly challenges what justice, health and well-being looks like for youth across the state.

Pellegrine divides her time between the Family and Children Research Unit and the Wolfgang Frese Survey Research Laboratory, both facets of Mississippi State University. She collects and interprets data about the lives of children through analyzing the system Mississippi uses to measure the quality of childcare centers, evaluating programs to increase college enrollment for high school students and helping design a statewide system that betters the developmental health of babies and toddlers. She also programs software for data collection and builds survey instruments.

Once a social justice activist in Mississippi nonprofits, Pellegrine learned the critical need for accurate and substantial data about social problems.

"I’m incredibly lucky to have a job doing exactly what I always wanted to do -- using social science to address disparities that impact kids," Pellegrine said.

Pellegrine says her education as a current Ph.D. student in MSU’s Department of Sociology has also influenced the work that she does through MSU’s Social Science Research Center.

"Often, a research method or a theoretical approach I learn about in class becomes really useful for one of our projects," Pellegrine said. "For example, I took a course in advanced data visualization. I now use those skills in every report I write."

Though Pellegrine works tirelessly, she finds infinite value in her career.

"The work we do here directly translates to meaningful outcomes for Mississippi’s kids," she said. "I’ve had the opportunity to see our research shape and improve programs that benefit children across the state."

When she unwinds from work and school, Pellegrine kayaks, reads dystopian novels and plays with her three dogs that she shares with her wife, Amanda.

Gregory Biggs Gregory Biggs
March 2018

4-H Agent
MSU Extension Service
Madison County

Years in Position: 10
Years at MSU: 10

Gregory Biggs’ joy for serving young people began in 1981 during his time in seminary. Today, he engages this passion through the Mississippi State University Extension Service as a 4-H agent.

Biggs supports Madison County 4-H’ers through developing practical leadership, communication, and professional skills. Children ranging from 8 to 18 years old have opportunities to hone in on their specific interests through activities like livestock exhibits, shooting sports, horse shows, robotics, district and state agricultural competitions, and the Mississippi State Fair.

His 4-H knowledge stems from an extensive agricultural background. Raised on what he called a “weekend farm,” skills in livestock and agriculture are not new to Biggs. Later, during his undergraduate career at Texas Tech University, he was a member of Farmhouse Fraternity. Ultimately, his agriculture upbringing and seminary education perfectly shaped him for his current profession -- one where the children he teaches leave with better scholarships, impressive resumes and stronger characters.

“When the Extension job opened up, I felt like it was a great fit,” Biggs said. “I’ve always worked with kids. It’s a calling.”

One of Biggs’ favorite aspects of 4-H is the relationships it fosters between young people and their communities.

“We host monthly meetings for clubs like ‘Leadership Skills that Last a Lifetime’ and lunches where volunteers and parents are invited to eat with 4-H’ers,” Biggs said. “This gives parents and students from different areas a chance to meet.”

Apart from 4-H, Biggs plays sports -- especially baseball, basketball, football and golf. He loves spending time with his wife of 31 years, June, and their three children, Austin, Hope and Alex.


Melissa Montgomery Melissa E. Montgomery
March 2018

Advancement Coordinator
College of Veterinary Medicine
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 15
Years at MSU: 17

Melissa Montgomery is determined to make the world a brighter place through service and stewardship. At the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, she is known as a philanthropist.

Montgomery works alongside the college’s dean, primarily on fundraising projects. She manages the college’s annual giving program, handles gift administration and donor relations, identifies and cultivates donors and coordinates events. Montgomery also crafts and edits press releases and development stories.

Choosing a career so focused on others’ needs was not halfhearted. Both Montgomery and her coworkers chose their positions for a purpose.

“It’s wonderful to know there are many philanthropists from all walks of life who want to enrich the world,” Montgomery said. “Each colleague has different goals in mind, but I notice that they share a common thread – the desire to help others.”

Often, Montgomery’s dedication proves worthwhile through meeting people as passionate as herself. One such person included one of the nation’s leading animal experts, Jack Hanna.

“One of my favorite memories was having lunch with him,” she said. “He’s very personable, and I appreciate his conservation work.”

At the end of the day, Montgomery considers herself grateful for the ways her position allows her to connect with and influence others.

“I enjoy spending my time helping others and making a real impact in the lives of people and animals,” she said.

Outside of work, Montgomery enjoys running, photography and cheering on her children in their endeavors. She and her husband John have two children, Madeline and Nathan.

Katie Cooley-Lock
Katie Cooley-Locke
April 2018

Internal Medicine Resident
College of Veterinary Medicine
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 3
Years at MSU: 4

When Katie Cooley-Locke was a veterinary medical student, she faced a hardship that would shape her life: Her dog was diagnosed with cancer. Enduring her pet’s disease inspired her to pursue a position as an internal medicine resident in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cooley-Locke performs a variety of tasks, from overseeing clinical cases to working hand in hand with clients. She gives classroom lectures on hematology and other topics, but she also advises 10 students on rotation in the CVM.

“We’re a teaching hospital, so everything is a new experience for students and for us,” Cooley-Locke said.

One aspect of being a teaching hospital is accepting patients with advanced illnesses so that students benefit from the opportunity to give life-saving medical care to real pets.

“People come to us knowing that their animal has a severe disease like cancer, and knowing that we’re their last chance to recover,” Cooley-Locke said. “And it’s nice to help an animal survive and get home to its owners, because that’s rare.”

When an animal does overcome a disease like cancer, Cooley-Locke and her colleagues throw a celebration for its owners.

“We do balloons, flowers and decorations to show that their pet is not only in remission, but they’ve also survived a round of chemo,” Cooley-Locke said. “We approach chemo very differently than doctors do for humans, so it often surprises owners how good their pet feels. Our When Cooley-Locke is not teaching students or saving lives, she can be found helping with Homeward Bound, a shelter program that helps local pets find “forever homes.”

Farley Fondren
Farley Fondren

April 2018

Agricultural Technician
Poultry Science
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 4
Years at MSU: 9

For Farley Fondren, diligence is key. His work as an agricultural technician in the Mississippi State University Department of Poultry Science allows him to exercise a work ethic built around dedication and persistence.

His story began at age 16, when he sought part-time work at MSU. After discovering a passion for technical work, he returned years later to accept an offer for his current position.

“The job description had activities that I enjoy. I didn’t get into it for poultry but for hands-on technical work,” Fondren said. “And, as it goes, if you’re in the field every day, you realize you may as well work for a degree in it, too.”

And so he has. Fondren focuses on poultry disease research while working and attending class to earn a degree in poultry science. Balancing classes and a full-time career is too much for some, but Fondren said he enjoys the challenge.

“You can’t sit there and wait for something to happen. You’ve got to stay on top because poultry is the top moneymaker in Mississippi,” Fondren said.

However, Fondren said he loves and appreciates his job most for its spontaneity.

“Every day is a memory because you never know what will happen when you get here,” he said.

Emily Childers
Emily Childers
May 2018

Animal Health Technician 
College of Veterinary Medicine
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 11
Years at MSU: 11

When she was a child, Emily Childers filled a bathtub with spiders because she considered them her friends. It is no surprise, then, that she works as an Animal Health Technician for the Shelter Medicine program at Mississippi State University.

“I think I was meant to work with animals,” Childers said. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

She fulfills this goal by leaving campus at 7:30 a.m. every morning. With a team of doctors, technicians, and students, Emily travels on a mobile unit that will arrive at one of five different animal shelters in North Mississippi.

The mobile unit, founded 11 years ago, proves especially important to Childers, because she was one of the inaugural technicians on board. Though she hopes to do this work forever, she said that it can be demanding.

“On a typical day, I work on a 38-foot gooseneck. We have three different surgeries going at a time, which medical students perform, and then the rest of us spay and neuter,” Childers said.

Her unit spays and neuters up to 30 animals a day, free of charge to any shelter. They do this with one goal in mind: to save lives.

Childers says that spaying and neutering helps lower the intense animal population rates in the South. Warm yearly weather and a lack of strict neutering laws for pet owners contribute to filling shelters that are already overwhelmed. Ultimately, she said her work helps make “adoptable animals more adoptable.”

Another positive aspect of Childers’ job is the hands-on education it provides students and the community. Students in the veterinary medicine program perform surgeries each day with the supervision of a doctor, and their work encourages community members to adopt, spay, or neuter animals.

“It’s fun. It’s never boring, always high pace, and it keeps you on your toes,” Childers said.

When she is not at work, Childers still saves lives. She fosters many animals – especially cats -- through MSU’s Homeward Bound program.


Carly Becker
Carly Becker
May 2018

Assistant Herder
MAFES Joe Bearden
Dairy Research Center

Years in Position: 8 mo
Years at MSU: 1 year

The next time you reach for a glass of milk or enjoy a bowl of chocolate ice cream, you might think of Carly Becker.

Becker, an assistant herder at the Joe Bearden Dairy Research Center at Mississippi State University, rises before the sun each morning to take care of cows.

“I glance over the cows and make sure everyone looks healthy. I feed the calves milk, give them water and make sure everyone has energy,” Becker said. “Depending on the day, we are moving cows to different areas of the farm, breeding, giving vaccinations, registering animals, making sure all equipment is running properly, and keeping everything clean.”

Also a master’s student in animal and dairy sciences, Becker, in study and in practice, works tirelessly for the betterment of animals.

“Farmers are the hardest working people you will ever meet. It is a 24/7 job, because the cows have to be milked -- and unfortunately they don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas,” Becker said, laughing. “But we are passionate about what we do, making sure the cows are well-fed, comfortable and in good health.”

Becker earned her Bachelor of Science degree in animal science from the University of Kentucky.

“Every day is something new and exciting. When working with animals, the day is unpredictable, and there is always a new learning opportunity,” Becker said.

One of her favorite learning opportunities is moving calves from individual hutches to group housing, which happens once every 12 weeks.

“When the calves get off the trailer and realize they are able to run wherever they want, they all go crazy, jump around and buck their back legs. It’s pretty much the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and it never gets old,” she said.

At the end of each day, she believes hard work, perseverance, self-motivation and flexibility pull her through early mornings and heavy labor.

“If you are determined, you will be successful,” Becker said.

Shani HayShani Hay
June 2018

Extension Agent I
MSU Extension Service 
Lauderdale County

Years in Position: 1
Years at MSU: 1

When she was a child, Emily Shani Hay is no stranger to agriculture. A self-proclaimed “farmer’s kid that got swapped at the hospital,” she now works as a 4-H coordinator in Lauderdale County.

Hay said her deep appreciation for agriculture began at an early age. Though her family did not share her passion for wildlife, she continued to find beauty in horses, cattle and orchard farming. This inspired her to major in agriculture science at California Polytechnic State University.

“After graduating, I didn’t really want to go to vet school, so my interest in youth development led me to be an agriculture science teacher,” she said.

Eventually she moved to Mississippi with her husband, but teaching opportunities were nonexistent. She herded cattle in the meantime as she scouted for opportunities. One day, a friend called.

“He said, ‘Shani, you’d be perfect for this,” she recalled. “The agriculture science position had finally opened.”

Hay said she could not be happier serving kids, because the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s 4-H programs are broad and diverse.

“I have the responsibility of all of the 4-H groups including mechanics, robotics, photography, grooming and leadership,” she said. “In 4-H you have to be a jack of all trades. You’re never bored.”

Shani’s excitement to learn and teach proves crucial to the program, one that she says “changes kids’ lives.”

“4-H gives kids who don’t really have a place, a place. Over and over, I’ve seen kids who are failing school get involved in our program, and now they see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Hay said.  “It wakes them up to opportunities that are out there for them.”

Once, she helped a low-income high schooler begin a rabbit business. The student used her 4-H leadership skills to organize and maintain a successful rabbit-meat trade that helped her afford college. Another student -- with no plans to attend college -- earned a diesel degree just so he could afford a plot of land for cattle.

Hay says students like this -- students with “ambition but no resources” -- are the kinds that benefit exponentially from 4-H, and they are the students that remind her why she does what she does.

“They find something that becomes their passion, their direction,” she said. 

Morgan Jeremy Elliott
June 2018

Business Manager II
School of Human Sciences
MSU Starkville campus

Years in Position: 4 years 
Years at MSU: 4 years

Jeremiah Elliott always knew he wanted to stay close to home. What he did not know was that he would find a home at Mississippi State University.

A West Point native and Mississippi University for Women graduate, Elliott has always loved the Golden Triangle area. He majored in accounting and worked in a private accounting firm close by, yet he hoped for something different.

I would come in before daylight and leave after dark,” he said. “I literally would not see daylight at all.”

Not only that, but his former job lacked the sense of community and closeness he desired, and the private industry sector of accounting faced decline.

I knew it wasn’t something that would last much longer, and I always wanted to try university accounting,” Elliot said. “In private industry you’re trying to make a profit, but here you’re trying to spend within your budget. One focuses on what you can make, and the other, what you can spend.”

He began searching for a university position and discovered an opening in his current department. Elliott applied, got the position, and has served MSU for four years by working with grants and managing funds in the School of Human Sciences.

To students interested in this type of accounting, I would say be professional, be persistent and work hard. Most of all, always have a good work ethic,” he said.

Outside of work, Elliott’s life looks completely different. He and his wife spend up to three hours each evening taking care of 60 cattle on 120 acres of land.

It’s a nice change of pace to be at home and go outside with cattle instead of handling numbers,” Elliott said.

Jason Sanders Jason Sanders
July 2018

Research Technician
Dept. of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology & Plant Pathology

Years in Position: 1 Year, 8 Months Years at MSU: 1 Year, 8 Months

Most jobs do not involve seeing one’s boss dressed up in a cockroach costume, but Jason Sanders loves his job working at the Mississippi Entomological Museum.

His primary responsibility is coordinating the Mississippi Bug Blues outreach program, which Jennifer Seltzer and JoVonn Hill launched in 2012. The program has undergone a metamorphosis since it began, expanding beyond education about invasive insect species to including conservation and biodiversity.

“My favorite part of the job is seeing the looks on people’s faces when they learn something new,” Jason said. “Insects are endlessly fascinating and are a great gateway to getting the public, especially younger children, interested in their surroundings and science in general. When anyone reacts with awe and wonder as we present them with new information or show them some of the amazing insect specimens we have housed at the Mississippi Entomological Museum, it’s a great day!”

Jason travels around the state educating people about why the environment is important and what they can do to help. In addition to speaking at public schools, agricultural events, wildlife camps and the Mississippi State Fair, the team launched its own campus-based events: Insect Movie Night and Mississippi State Insect Fair.

The path to this position began in 2010, when Jason graduated from Mississippi State with his master of business administration . . . and decided he didn’t like business. In 2013 he finished his bachelor of fine arts degree and took a job designing candles for Starkville’s local candle company, CURiO (formerly DPM Fragrance). When he saw the entomology department was looking for a graphic designer, he decided to go for it.

“I am no stranger to making really out-of-left-field life changes,” he joked. “Now here I am, talking to somewhere around 30,000 people a year about insects. Life really is a mystery sometimes.”

He enjoys classic movies and traveling with his wife of 5.5 years, Christin.

Learn more about the Mississippi Bug Blues program at msbugblues.msstate.edu.

Steven Felston Steven Felston
July 2018

Agricultural Technician
Delta Research & Extension Center

Years in Position: 16
Years at MSU: 16

Steven Felston loves interacting with people and helping them solve problems on a daily basis. So his work in the Delta Research and Extension Center’s Communications Department fits him well.

Steven helps with logistics and set-up for the many meetings hosted at the center, including distance education video conferences. He also assists with building and grounds support and maintenance. He has enjoyed accepting the new challenges that have come about during his 16-year employment in Stoneville.

“I’ve always been interested in ag research and problem solving,” Steven said. “My recent move to the Communications Department has given me new ways to learn and continued opportunities for growth. I hope all of my colleagues consider me a resource for any type of problem or situation. My bottom line is making their jobs and work environment easier, positive and safe.”

During his career, Steven has gained appreciation for the most important traits required for success in his line of work.

“Be positive and solution-based,” he said. “Always lend a hand, no matter the person or situation. Strive for growth, work hard, be respectful, and remember that family and faith are high priorities in life too.”

Steven said he is blessed to have both of his parents still alive and enjoys seeing them nearly every day.

“I am also blessed to have been married to my best friend, Romelda, for nine years,” he said. “Together we have three wonderful children, Alazia, Nikeria and Taureon.” For fun, Steven enjoys basketball and cooking.


Jason Sanders Callie McKey
August 2018

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Pike County

Years in Position: 16 
Years at MSU: 16

Callie works for Extension by helping people find the information they need. Her sense of responsibility and organizational skills keep the Pike County office running. She enjoys seeing the smiles on people's faces as she aids them through their day.

She does this by answering phones, signing up clients for certain events, receiving soil samples, performing computer work, and setting up the interactive video system for Quick Bites programs offered through Extension.

She enjoys what she does every day, and she reminisces about when she got to host a spring break camp for 4-H'ers. She loved watching the children eagerly learn about new things.

Callie enjoys her job, but it is not always as easy as it looks.

"It takes hard work and a good, understanding personality to deal with some of the clients who call or walk through our office doors," said Callie.

Callie recommends hard work, patience and kindness to those interested in this type of job.

"In the end, the outcome is very rewarding," she said. "The most important traits for this career would definitely be a kind spirit, a patient mind, and an understanding attitude."

Callie said she has been married to a wonderful, loving husband for four years. She also enjoys cooking as well as many outdoor activities such as gardening, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.


Pamela S. Redwin Pamela S. Redwine
August 2018

Agent IV/County Coordinator
MSU Extension Service
Yalobusha County

Years in Position: 3
Years at MSU: 18

Pamela Redwine has an affinity for interacting with people to help them learn new, interesting information about important life skills. So, it would seem very natural for her to excel in her career of working with people simply to help them improve their quality of life.

Pamela aids people by planning, presenting and evaluating programs in Family & Consumer Science. She teaches various programs such as Walk-A-Weigh, and the Healthy Homes Initiative. She also offers child care trainings for early care and education providers.

She leads a 4-H Science Club, Sewing Club, Crochet Club, Arts and Crafts Club, and oversees a Master Chef’s School for young people.

“I love helping people, especially when they learn something they didn’t expect,” Pamela said. “I have always loved family and consumer science, so when I was offered the position, I knew it would be a perfect fit!” Pamela said.

During her career, she said she has come to better understand the asset that MSU Extension is to others in the county, and she hopes to spread this word to others through her work.

“Being a coordinator and planner truly requires a servant’s heart,” she said. “There must be a willingness to learn new things, even when you are completely out of your comfort zone.”

Pamela said she and her husband are blessed to celebrate their nineteen-year anniversary at the end of August.

“We have two children, ages 13 and 11.” She and her family are members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Grenada.

Mark Henry
Sept. 2018

Extension Associate I
MSU Extension Service
Delta Research & Extension Service

Years in Position: 7
Years at MSU: 7

Mississippi State Extension Associate Mark Henry works tirelessly with farmers to help them better understand and use irrigation tools, such as Pipe Planners, moisture sensors and surge valves.

“One of my favorite aspects of this job is meeting new people and then leaving there knowing that I was able to help someone,” Mark said.

Mark recalled teaching someone how to use computer hole selection to irrigate. The client told him that he already knew what holes to punch in the poly pipe.

“This farmer had been keeping notes for ten years, and I explained a much more efficient and easier way to keep track using the computer,” Mark said. “He gave me a field to do, and in about ten minutes, I gave him a hole punch for his poly pipe.”

When the farmer checked Mark’s calculations against his own, they were both very similar. Needless to say, the farmer started using computer hole selection.

Mark chose this career because he enjoys meeting and helping others and educating them about the principles of efficient farm work.

Outside the office, Mark enjoys spending his spare time with his grandchildren. He also enjoys woodworking, cooking, and hunting.

Kathy Johnson
Sept. 2018

Events Coordinator
MSU College of Agriculture 
and Life Sciences
MSU Campus

Years in Position: 5
Years at MSU: 7

Kathy Johnson works hard as Events Coordinator in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. She also works as a full-time mother and student as she pursues her degree in General Studies.

Kathy plans all events for her department. She is in charge of hiring all the 100-plus student workers and intermediate workers. She keeps track of all their paperwork, payroll, and general schedule.

“I love this position because of all the new students and people I get to meet almost every day,” she said.

Kathy’s favorite aspect of her job is the Row Crops Short Course. This three-day seminar is attended by several hundred agricultural producers, consultants, and students. Leading scientists share the latest crop-related research. Some undergraduate and graduate students speak at the event.

“The program has been growing as well,” Kathy said. “When I started, we had about 200 people attend. In the five years that I have been here, over 700 people started coming.”

Kathy said that she is always moving, and no two days are ever the same. She enjoys being busy and having a new task each day.

“I started this career later in my life, and we moved back here to be near my husband’s family,” Kathy said. “There was a lot of opportunity from MSU, and I think where I was hired was a really good fit for me and my family.”

She talked about some advice that she would give students interested in working for her.

“They would have to be flexible, organized, and outgoing. The students would have to be up for different types of tedious work and be able to multitask with all the many responsibilities,” she explained.

Kathy has been married for thirty-three years and has one daughter who is currently a graduate student teaching at Mississippi State University.

Kimberley Brooks
Oct. 2018

Central Sterile Aide
MSU College of Veterinary
MSU Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 5
Years at MSU: 5

Kimberley Brookes plays an important role in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine in Starkville. One of her many responsibilities is preparing the instrument packets for the college’s surgical teams. She is also in charge of making sure all the laundry is taken care of for the surgeons. She says she and her colleagues serve all the departments in the vet school, and the key to making all the departments happy is to work effectively as a team.

Her favorite parts of her job are the people she works with.

“I have a wonderful supervisor,” says Kimberley “I also have a great group of team workers which makes the job more enjoyable. I had always wanted to work on campus, and when my supervisor offered it to me, I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Kimberley started out as a nurse working in nursing homes. She says that she sometimes misses her previous job, but she loves learning new aspects of medicine and seeing the occasional tigers, lions or horses that are brought into the surgical ward.

“This is just a different aspect of medicine. I find this work so interesting, and I really enjoy learning about the instruments and all the things that they do. I learn something new almost every day,” she explains.

Kimberley has lived in Starkville all her life, and she got a business degree in nursing school. She has one son who goes to Starkville Christian School and loves playing basketball and baseball. Along with being very busy with her son’s sporting events, she is very church oriented and loves to relax with a good movie. Her father, James Weaver, was the first African American to work in law enforcement at MSU.


Angie Abrams
Oct. 2018

4-H Program Associate
MSU Extension Service
Chickasaw County

Years in Position: 26
Years at MSU: 26

For 26 years, Angie Abrams has worked tirelessly with 4-H’ers in Chickasaw County. She spends her time in meetings, doing community service projects, getting ready for contests, preparing paper work, and helping out the other agents in the office. Angie is totally committed to her community and its young people.

“Working with the young people of this county everyday gives me hope that I am making a good impact on their lives. That is what I look forward to every day,” Angie says. “There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a young person achieve, knowing that I helped them get there.”

Angie says she has made wonderful friendships with the 4-H families and the Extension colleagues who have become like family to her.

“I chose this career because I can remember being in 4-H growing up. It was so awesome, and I didn’t want to give it up. So, when the opportunity became available, it was an easy decision,” Abrams says.

Angie acknowledges that it is a very demanding job. But the rewards outweigh the hardships.

“One must be flexible, versatile, and, most importantly, a people person who loves working with all young people and adults alike,” Angie says.

She says that flexibility and the ability to multitask, all while making a difference in children’s lives, are some of the important traits required to be successful in this career. Each day brings different joys and responsibilities, so she says that she had to learn to go with the flow of what the 4-H’ers or volunteers needed in any given moment.

Angie loves to spend time with her family and friends. She can usually be found enjoying horse events on the weekends.

Nathan Gregory Nathan Grebgory
November 2018

News Writer
MSU Extension Service
Agricultural Communications

Years in Position: 4
Years at MSU: 4

Nathan Gregory advocates for Mississippians through his work as a writer in the Office of Agricultural Communications on the MSU Starkville campus. He promotes science-based information by writing media releases that go out to the state’s newspapers and TV outlets, as well as articles for LandMarks and Extension Matters magazines.

With his background in journalism, Nathan enjoys writing. But his work includes shooting video for social media and getting out the word about what this team writes and growing their audience requires almost as much effort as they put in to produce articles.

“I learn a lot about things that Extension researches and the different outreach efforts they do that I had no idea about when I was a student here 10 to 12 years ago,” Nathan said. “I enjoy learning about what goes on in the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine and having the opportunity to share that information with others.”

Nathan likes meeting new people whose lives have been improved in some way thanks to Extension.

Nathan was a journalism major in college and worked as a newspaper reporter for several years before he came back to MSU four years ago.

“I chose to write for MSU Extension because I look back on my time as a student at MSU as some of the best years of my life and was grateful to have an opportunity to come back,” Nathan said.

Nathan’s wife, Kate, is a senior library associate at MSU. They have a 2-month-old daughter, Alline and a cat named Julius. Nathan is an avid MSU sports fan. He enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, playing disc golf, collecting records, watching college sports, gardening, playing music and fishing. They are members of First United Methodist Church in Starkville.

Clinton Neely Derrel Taylor
November 2018

Research Technician
MSU Forest and Wildlife 
Research Center
Department of Wildlife, 
Fisheries, and Aquaculture

Years in Position: 15
Years at MSU: 15

Derrel Taylor works as a research technician for the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center at the H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center, popularly known as South Farm. His main job is to help with the research ponds and feeding.

“I generally help with anything and everything that needs to be done. That sometimes includes keeping predators out of the ponds,” he said. “However, my main chores are to monitor the oxygen level in the ponds and feed the fish.”

Derrel said that many people do not know that ponds require a certain amount of oxygen in order to be kept in a good condition for the fish. He said that he loves the cold season because the oxygen stays more stable in the ponds rather than fluctuating in the heat of the summer. However, there is so much more to his important role than just keeping up with the ponds.

Derrel helps to make sure the facility is in good and proper condition. He monitors erosion and is on the look-out for nuisance animals, such as muskrats which tunnel into the pond levees. These seemingly small and tedious jobs make a huge difference when raising catfish or other fish species.

“I chose this career because my family was in the catfish farming business. “I learned a good bit about fish farming as I grew up,” he said.” My favorite part of this job is that I get to be outside every day. It’s such a fun job, and I love the people I get to work with and meet.”

He said everyone on his team is dependable and careful. Most of the research related-work has to be done in specific ways and documented.

“We have to pay particular attention to aerator hours of operation and that they are functioning properly. We monitor the oxygen levels at least twice a day. You have to be observant and thoughtful. The oxygen can change in the ponds within 20 minutes, especially in the summer when it’s hot,” Derrel said.

Derrel won the Doris Lee Memorial Staff Award in 2014.

In his spare time, Derrel enjoys hunting as well as raising cows and farming. He has one daughter, Rachel, and one grandson, Taylor, who live in north Mississippi, and he likes to visit when he gets the chance.

David ButlerAlex Deason
December 2018

Extension Agent II
MSU Extension Service
Sunflower County

Years in Position: 5
Years at MSU: 5

For the past five years, Alex Deason has served as an Extension Agent in Sunflower County, specializing in 4-H, agriculture, and natural resources.

“My duty is to address the needs of Sunflower and Washington counties by providing research-based information and educational programs to better equip and inform residents,” Alex said.

He further explained that he and his team achieve this goal by conducting various workshops held at the office, during field days, at farms and homes for face-to-face visits and sharing information through various types of media, including newspapers and social media.

“I really love that no two days are ever the same,” he said. “There is no typical day for any one of us; we have all learned to prepare for the unexpected.”

Alex goes from traveling to look at a homeowner’s lawn to answering a phone call on cattle nutrition to standing in a corn field monitoring moisture sensors, sometimes all in one day.

“Only people in Extension understand the variability in a day,” Alex said “Extension serves all 82 counties with the purpose of extending knowledge and changing lives. Even though not all counties offer the same programs, we all aid in enhancing and sustaining Mississippi’s agriculture industry, providing health awareness to MS families, molding the next generation of leaders through 4-H, and promoting community growth through education.”

He said that his favorite part of his job is that he can find specialists for almost any topic anyone would want to know something about. For instance, if someone had an inquiry on a rose bush, soybean disease, or wildlife issue he has a wide range of people who can offer their expertise.

“Not only do you have other agents, but you have people on campus or on a research station that can add to the conversation too,” he said. “Also, clients don’t have to sit in a classroom to learn something new; the informal setting allows me to reach across generational gaps to get the same message across.”

Alex grew up knowing about the Extension Service through 4-H. He said he now works with some of the best and brightest youth in the state and helps educate Mississippians so that they are better informed to make decisions that will positively impact their life.

“You must be a diverse educator to cross generational gaps and move knowledge into the lives of everyone. One last, but extremely important, trait that everyone in the county must possess is trustworthiness,” Alex said. “The people out seeking knowledge must be able to trust you and your word. The relationships that you form in the counties help spread your knowledge and soon everyone will know where to find a reliable source of information.”

Yan ZhangYan Zhang
December 2018

Postdoctoral Associate
Experimental Seafood
Processing Laboratory

Years in Position: 1
Years at MSU: 1

Yan Zhang works as a Postdoctoral Associate at the Experimental Seafood Processing Laboratory in Pascagoula. He handles various analytical tools and technologies and studies the physical, microbiological and chemical makeup of foods. He and his team work to develop safe, nutritious foods with extended shelf-life.

“We can use our knowledge to solve problems for the food industry and benefit the local economy,” Yan said.

Their research is in the catfish industry, and because Mississippi is the leading catfish producer, they hope to benefit the state’s rural communities. Scientifically, this study can also provide new physical, biochemical, kinetic and engineering information needed for optimal manufacturing and applications which can be used in other fish products.

“My interest in food science developed after I attended college. It is really wonderful to produce nutritious, delicious, and safe foods through understanding of the chemistry of food components, such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats and water and the reactions they undergo during processing and storage,” Yan said.

What people may not know about Yan’s job is that Food Science is a multi-disciplinary field involving chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology statistics, and engineering to give one the scientific knowledge to solve real problems associated with the many facets of the food system.

“Food science is essentially an applied science. But it is vital to master all-round basic sciences. If a student wants to be a good food scientist, he/she needs to learn as much pertinent knowledge as possible, which is not limited to what is taught in the classroom,” Yan advised. “Hard work is always my motto and the key to success. In addition, as a scientist, always keep passion and curiosity to the unknown.”

Yan enjoyed playing tennis and badminton when he lived in Starkville. However, since his move to Pascagoula in July, he has missed the Sanderson Center on campus. Yan said that he has found other enjoyments, such as running on the beach and exploring the beautiful coastal scenery.

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