Liz Juchems Recognized with P&S Outstanding New Professional Award

Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! Events Coordinator Elizabeth Juchems was honored at an awards ceremony this week as a recipient of the Professional & Scientific Outstanding New Professional Award. This award recognizes those P&S employees who have demonstrated innovative, creative or original ways in accomplishing job responsibilities, who have established a pattern of reliability and responsibility in performing job duties and who have made an effort toward continual personal and professional development.


Here are a few excepts from Liz’s award nomination:

“Elizabeth Juchems excels in her role as Extension Program Specialist with the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! outreach programs! Liz handles the coordination of ALL event details for 30+ farmer field days and 200+ community/youth outreach events each year, reaching 20,000+ people annually —50% increase since Liz’s first year! As one co-worker said, “Liz is a multi-tasking, scheduling, and organizational wizard.” Liz personally participates in 60+ outreach events each year, and has grown into one of our team’s key educators on conservation, soil, water, and natural resources issues with both farmers and youth audiences. Further, Liz serves as field coordinator for four cover crop research projects amounting to an additional $600,000 in grant funding for our programs.”

“Liz’s pattern of reliability and responsibility in performing job duties comes down to one key thing: Liz is highly organized. Her capacity for keeping everything in its place and attending to all the fine details enhances her productivity as well as keeps the ILF/WR! team on target.”

21992912_10155898573951155_5543714469147694128_oCongratulations, Liz! We appreciate you as a member of our team and are excited for both your past and future accomplishments that help our programs succeed.

Julie Whitson

Juchems Receives Outstanding New Professional Award at ISU

It’s May and that means it is American Wetlands Month. Normally, I would want to try to make my argument once again about how landowners should consider giving wetlands a second look on their land. Wetlands are a key component to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (learn more in Jake Hansen’s blog post titled Iowa CREP Wetlands) and often when farmed aren’t profitable (Should prairie potholes and other wet areas be farmed?). I know there is a history between landowners, wetlands and government regulation that sticks in many craws. But if we care about a sustainable and healthy Iowa, we need to rethink those issues going forward. Wetlands have important jobs to do in Iowa.

Instead of writing that column, I am dedicating this space to Iowa Learning Farms staff member, Liz Juchems, for recently receiving an Iowa State University Professional and Scientific Outstanding New Professional Award. This award reflects Liz’s commitment to Iowa State, her professional reputation and her esteem among her peers.

I have known Liz since she began working for the Iowa Learning Farms in 2008 as a student hourly employee while a freshman at ISU, and have been fortunate to work with her as our events coordinator since 2013. If you have been to any ILF field days over the last four years, you have Liz to thank for their quality and effectiveness.

Liz joined the team at a time when the ILF and Water Rocks! programs were starting to see substantial growth. Liz assumed not only the responsibility for coordinating farmer field days, but also coordinating all incoming requests for Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! community outreach events (school visits, camps, youth outdoor classrooms, farmers markets, festivals and more) that are received annually – no small task with hundreds of event requests each year.

Over the last four years, the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs have grown significantly and have become widely recognized flagship conservation programs across Iowa. This is due in large part to Liz’s tremendous ability to keep track of details and ensure positive, clear communication internally and externally. We now average 30+ field days and 200+ outreach events each year, reaching 20,000+ people each year in quality educational encounters across Iowa!

With Iowa Learning Farms, Liz has also been instrumental in taking on a leadership role with field research/demonstrations, data collection, communications and outreach delivery. Since her hiring in 2013, the field research/demonstration arm of the Iowa Learning Farms has seen significant expansion and diversification, thanks in large part to being awarded multiple new research/demonstration grants. Each of these funded proposals involved the establishment of different cover crop trials across Iowa, collectively adding 20 new field research/demonstration sites statewide. Liz took the reigns as the farmer liaison, coordinating all project details with participating farmer-partners and research farm staff, as well as coordinating field data collection efforts with Iowa Learning Farms staff and student interns, training her co-workers on the appropriate protocols to follow both in the field and in the lab to ensure successful data collection.

However, data collection is just one portion of the job –another major component is how that content is delivered to the general public, making often complex science, social science and economic data accessible to farmers, other conservation stakeholders and youth across the state. A good example of her work is the ILF publication series titled Talking With Your Tenant that offers talking points and relevant research findings about a number of different conservation practices. Liz has grown into the role of being one of our team’s key educators on conservation issues in the state of Iowa.

For these and so many other reasons, Liz is more than deserving of this prestigious university honor. Quite simply, she is excellent! We are grateful to have her as a member of our team. Congratulations, Liz!

Jacqueline Comito

Water Rocks! Team honored by Governor!

The Water Rocks! team traveled to the State Capitol in Des Moines earlier this week for a special recognition ceremony with Governor Terry Branstad. We were honored to receive Special Recognition Award in the Environmental Education category as part of the 2016 Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Awards!

eealogoThis year, 22 total awards were given out to organizations, businesses and communities across the state working to protect and enhance our natural resources. It was interesting and inspiring to hear about the many great projects that are happening statewide – from the Fighting Burrito’s use of electric cars and bicycles for food delivery, to Spirit Lake’s Pure Fishing establishing acres of pollinator habitat, to high school students in Central Community Schools’ Global Science class establishing a school/community food compost program!

At the awards ceremony, we were recognized for our outstanding efforts to educate youth and adults across the state of Iowa on water quality and environmental issues, whether that be through school visits, county fairs and community outreach events, Water Rocks! Summit teacher training workshops, and our collection of outstanding (and sometimes outrageous) music videos. While handing out the awards, the DNR’s Deputy Director Bruce Trautman even asked when he could sing in a music video!160803-WR!WebsiteGovernorAward

IMG_4490Joining us at the awards ceremony were several of our partners that believed in Water Rocks! early on and have been really instrumental in making this program a reality – Allen Bonini, Steve Hopkins, and Jeff Berckes from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Mark Rasmussen from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Melissa Miller representing the Iowa Water Center.  Thanks to these folks and all of you out there who have helped to support Water Rocks! in one way or another over the years.

As 2016 continues, we are on track to have another record-breaking year in terms of outreach!  There is a huge need for water quality education in our state, and the Water Rocks! team will continue to do our part to help meet that need as best we can.

Ann Staudt

An award-winning week for ILF/WR!

The Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! team is coming off quite an eventful week for our programs!  Three school visits, one farmer workshop, and one community presentation … that’s all in a usual week’s work. However, we were also honored with two separate awards recognizing our team’s efforts in conservation outreach across the state!

Soil and Water Conservation Education Award from East Pottawattamie SWCD


Ann Staudt and Nathan Stevenson proudly display the Soil and Water Conservation Education Award, given to the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! team at the East Pottawattamie SWCD Awards Night on March 9, 2016.

On Wednesday, March 9, Nate and I spent the full day in southwest Iowa – first giving classroom presentations to all of the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students at AHST (Avoca-Hancock-Shelby-Tennant) Elementary in partnership with East Pott’s outreach coordinator Jamie Meek. We then served as guest speakers for the East Pottawattamie Soil & Water Conservation District’s evening awards banquet, leading our interactive program called “How Does Your Water Shed?.”  Once we finished our part of the program, we did our best to quietly and efficiently pack up our materials as we still had quite a drive ahead of us that evening.

Well, totally unbeknownst to us, the East Pottawattamie SWCD commissioners had a trick up their sleeves, as they bestowed us with their Soil and Water Conservation Education Award!  We were completely blindsided!  I was in the midst of packing up the cups and “mock pollutants” that we had just finished using. Nate was actually in the kitchen dumping out our jars of dirty water from the demonstration, when one of the SWCD commissioners pulled him aside and firmly suggested that he shouldn’t be leaving, that he should be out in the main room where the program was happening.

“I thought I was being scolded, like I needed to get out there and pay attention to the people that were receiving the awards. What an awesome honor to find out they were recognizing US!”

Nate and I proudly accepted the award on behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! team, with the award reading, “In recognition of and appreciation for your outstanding dedication to soil and water conservation education and land stewardship.”  A special shout out and word of thanks to Jamie Meek, the 3rd grade Superheroes, and the rest of the East Pott SWCD crew – your enthusiasm is contagious! This special recognition was a TOTAL surprise, and what a genuine honor to be recognized in this way.


CYtation Team Award from ISU Professional and Scientific Council


ISU Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert recognizes the ILF/WR! crew with a CYtation team award on March 10, 2016. From left: Nathan Stevenson, Jacqueline Comito, VP Wickert, Liz Juchems, Ann Staudt, and Matt Helmers.

The next morning, March 10, the full Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! team was on hand at Iowa State University’s Professional and Scientific Council CYtation Awards Breakfast. While this team award was not a surprise – we found out about it back in January – that made it no less of an honor!  We were nominated by our colleague Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, for our exceptional efforts towards soil and water conservation outreach across the state. In the nomination, Benning wrote,

“If the team had just done what they were being contracted to do in their grants, it would have been impressive. However, in 2015, they went well beyond the call of duty and produced some staggering outputs: 25 research/on-farm demonstration sites, 132 youth/community outreach events, 29 farmer field days/workshops and 31 conferences, presentations and educator training workshops! All told, this team’s conservation outreach efforts in 2015 were 50% beyond what their grants require them to do. This outstanding P & S team (along with seven talented summer student interns) had quality educational encounters with 22,100 Iowans this year!”

At the CYtation awards breakfast last week, 15 individuals and 5 teams from across the University community were presented with Professional and Scientific Council CYtation Awards.

“These individuals are wonderful representations of work that Professional and Scientific Employees are engaging in throughout our University and were nominated for performing above and beyond the call of duty, doing something extraordinarily well, and for making a difference,” said Professional and Scientific Council President Tera Lawson.

Speaking for the whole team, we are passionate about what we do, and we are truly honored. Many thanks!

Ann Staudt

Comito honored with National Wetlands Award in Washington, DC

Congratulations to ILF and Water Rocks! program director Dr. Jacqueline Comito, recognized with a 2015 National Wetlands Award for Education and Outreach!  The National Wetlands Award Ceremony was held this evening at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC.  Six awardees from across the country were recognized for their exceptional work related to wetlands, in such categories as Education and Outreach, Science Research, Conservation and Restoration, and Landowner Stewardship.

Earlier in the day, award winners participated in a highly informative science briefing on Capitol Hill, titled Water Resources in the United States: Understanding the connections between streams, wetlands, and downstream waters.

Comito was nominated for the award by Clare Lindahl, Conservation Districts of Iowa, in recognition of her passionate promotion of wetlands (and many other conservation practices, as well) to people young and old across the state of Iowa. Read more about Comito’s award in our previous blog post Comito receives 2015 National Wetlands Award.

Program director Jacqueline Comito shares

Program director Jacqueline Comito reflects on the “joy of wetlands” in her National Wetlands Award acceptance speech.  The National Wetlands Awards are sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute.


Comito is presented the 2015 National Wetlands Award for Education and Outreach from Jeff Williams, NRCS National Wetlands Specialist.

Comito is presented the 2015 National Wetlands Award for Education and Outreach from Jeff Williams, Natural Resources Conservation Service/National Wetlands Easement Specialist.

Congratulations, Jackie, for this well-deserved honor!  Your passionate enthusiasm for all things wetlands is truly contagious!

Ann Staudt

Comito recognized with ISU CYtation Award

Iowa Learning Farms program manager Jacqueline Comito was honored at an awards ceremony this morning recognizing outstanding Professional & Scientific employees at Iowa State University.   Comito was recognized by Iowa State University President Steven Leath and Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert as a CYtation Award winner for her outstanding leadership of the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! outreach programs.

ISU CYtation Award winners, recognized on March 5, 2014

Here are a few excerpts from Comito’s CYtation award nomination:

“With seemingly limitless energy, Comito tackles her work with creativity, mixing unique approaches to Extension and Outreach with a true passion for improving the health of Iowa’s soil and water resources.”

Iowa Learning Farms program manager Jacqueline Comito, right, with Ann Staudt, who nominated Comito for the award

Iowa Learning Farms program manager Jacqueline Comito, right, with Ann Staudt, who nominated Comito for the award

“Comito’s passion for what she does is contagious.  Whether it be talking to farmers at a field day or singing ‘We All Live In A Watershed’ with 2nd graders at an elementary school, her energy and enthusiasm are helping to inspire change towards improved soil and water quality throughout Iowa.”

Congratulations, Jackie – the honor is well-deserved!

– Ann Staudt