Skip to main content Skip to navigation

CAHNRS’ finest: 2020 Faculty and Staff Award Winners named

Nine individuals, and one seven-member team, were recognized this spring for their outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and Extension as the 2020 Faculty and Staff Award Winners in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

This is the 64th year that faculty and staff in the college have been honored for exemplary achievement. The 2020 award winners include:

Head shot of Miller
Helen Miller

Administrational Professional Staff Excellence Award: Helen Miller, Administrative Manager, Institute of Biological Chemistry

Miller serves as the fiscal and personnel administrator for the Institute, creating an environment that supports research and teaching. She has been employed by CAHNRS for 24 years, 19 of those years with IBC.

The Institute is a truly international research center that includes faculty, post-doctoral researchers, students, and visiting scholars from all over the world. Miller does an exceptional job at making personnel feel at home, facilitating all aspects of the transition to life in the U.S., to Pullman, and to the culture of WSU. Colleagues say that Miller’s excellent human relationships, business and financial management skills, interpersonal skills, and competency, coupled with commitment, make her a vital part of IBC.

head shot of Weybright
Elizabeth Weybright

Early Career Excellence Award: Elizabeth Weybright, Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development

Weybright joined the department of Human Development at WSU in 2014 as an Assistant Professor and Extension Adolescent Specialist. She explores how adolescents experience leisure, and how leisure is associated with risky or healthy behaviors, to inform approaches promoting positive development. She has emerged as an authority in youth boredom, gaining a national reputation for integrating prevention science with leisure science, as well as for producing strong research in both basic and applied topics.

Since her arrival, Weybright has completed grant-funded projects in the U.S. and South Africa totaling $1 million. She is now the primary investigator on projects totaling $1.8 million from the USDA’s Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) program and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. She has been an unusually productive early career faculty member whose career embodies the land-grant mission.

Nordquist head shot
Tami Nordquist

Classified/Fiscal Staff Excellence Award: Tami Nordquist, Administrative Assistant, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences

The role of administrative assistant is often unappreciated for its importance both in terms of keeping the unit functioning, and in maintaining a positive public face to the community. Performing both these roles, Nordquist is the face of the largest department in CAHNRS, serving students, faculty, staff, stakeholders, and visitors.

Daily, she handles a myriad of requests. Responsible for all front office functions, she knows exactly what resources to tap to find answers to complex problems, has an excellent ethical sense, and develops solutions that are consistent with both WSU and USDA business policy. Nordquist brings a “students-first” approach to her work, going above and beyond her duties to support her department, its faculty, and scholars.

Fisher head shot
Valorie Fisher

Excellence in Advising Award: Valorie Fisher, Academic Coordinator, Department of Animal Sciences

Part of Animal Sciences since 2012, Fisher has served as a WSU advisor to students for more than 30 years.

She helps new students transition, navigate the world of college, and go on to graduation, careers, and professional school. Handling increased enrollment in Animal Sciences, she keeps the department current on changes, and serves as a mentor to advisors across the WSU system. Her role requires staying up to date on changing rules and requirements, and the new approaches and strategies needed to help each generation of students. Nothing makes her happier than when a student tells her they truly enjoy a course she suggested.

Hansen head shot
Debra Hansen

Faculty Excellence in Extension: Debra Hansen, Director, WSU Stevens County Extension

As a County Director and member of the Community and Economic Development Program Unit, Hansen is a collegial, inspirational team member who makes a positive impact on quality, output and success. Her efforts in economic development, food access and in support of traditional WSU programs like Master Gardeners and 4-H are well-respected and influential in her county and beyond.

She is part of the original team which developed what is now known regionally and nationally as the Distributed Conferencing Model, pioneered a well-recognized Ripple Effects Mapping evaluation design, and is part of a small group to successfully advance broadband access in rural and under-served Washington, through the formation and support of Broadband Action Teams.

Head shot of Steinbock
John Steinbock

Classified Technical Staff Excellence Award: John Steinbock, Farmer, WSU-IAREC Othello Farm

For more than 43 years, Steinbock has performed the duties of varied jobs within the university with professionalism and exceptional performance. He is responsible for irrigation, tractor operation, and day crop care decisions for all aspects of production on the research station. He can learn and operate any system on the farm, no matter how advanced or technical.

Steinbock interacts with extension agents and directors from Franklin, Adams and Grant counties, assists potato researchers, and has built good working relationships with industry partners, while helping secure the farm’s revenue stream. Conscientious, timely, and professional, and willing to do any job required in the farm, Steinbock stewards the facility as if it was his own. With the addition of the Othello entomology facility, he has embraced the opportunity to learn and make use of this new resource. He has helped to mentor the entire staff of the station, helping multiple programs meet and exceed their goals.

Head shot of Nelson
Debra Nelson

R.M. Wade Award for Excellence in Teaching: Debra Nelson, Instructor, Department of Human Development

Teaching at WSU for more than 25 years, Nelson is a teacher, colleague, and mentor who has dedicated herself to transforming students’ lives. She helps peers learn how to engage students and continually improve their classroom teaching, sharing ideas for how to better reach students, hold students accountable, and challenge them to reach their full potential.

She was part of the team that developed HD 101, the introductory class that typically enrolls more than 1,000 students each academic year, and leads efforts to provide an active and engaging course for the students, while supporting fellow teachers. Each semester, Nelson offers a section of HD 101 connected to the First Year Focus program, in which she participates fully. Through these efforts alone, the number of students who have benefitted from Nelson’s personal dedication to student success easily reaches into the thousands.

Portrait photo of Dr. Zhu
Meijun Zhu

Faculty Excellence in Research Award: Meijun Zhu, Associate Professor, School of Food Science

Zhu’s research focuses on microbial food safety and gut health. She explores interactions among dietary factors, food-borne pathogens, and gut health. To effectively address food safety, she has built a competitive research program with national and international prominence directly relevant to the apple and tree fruit industry. Her research program has been widely recognized for its originality and contribution to the scientific community and food industry. She has established collaborative research efforts with faculty within CAHNRS, which increases productivity, secures extramural funding, and strengthens graduate training.
Zhu has served on many committees and leadership teams, on the editorial boards of several journals and as an ad hoc reviewer for several grant agencies and more than 40 scientific journals.

Head shot of Rayapati
Naidu Rayapati

Land Grant Mission Award: Naidu Rayapati, Director, WSU IAREC, Prosser

As a WSU plant pathologist, director of the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center and assistant dean for Tri-Cities, Rayapati leads a comprehensive program of research, teaching and outreach. During the past 15 years at IAREC, he has made significant agricultural and basic-science advances in plant virology and brought national and international recognition to WSU. His program shows how CAHNRS advances the land-grant mission of WSU with positive impacts to science and society.

Since joining WSU in 2004, Rayapati has had a strong focus on solving the complex problems of grapevine viruses and diseases in Washington. His team has identified several viruses that were previously considered alien to Washington vineyards and highlighted the threat that these viruses pose to the grape and wine industry. His research on genetic diversity of grapevine viruses has resulted in a better understanding of their epidemiology and improved detection in vineyards. His efforts improved the health of grapevine nurseries in Washington State and strengthened the grapevine planting material supply chain for establishing healthy vineyards.

A mentor and advisor, Rayapati has offered a successful 300-level course, Diseases of Fruit Crops, for students across Washington, and organized field trips for students to relate to the real-world impacts of diseases on specialty fruit crops and learn how growers are implementing strategies to mitigate negative impacts of diseases in vineyards and orchards. His expertise, leadership, and commitment has elevated WSU in the wine research world.

A photo collage of individual Extension members at field days, working outdoors, head shot portraitsTeam Interdisciplinary Award: WSU Extension Forestry Team

The WSU Extension Forestry Team provides leadership, access, and education to meet the diverse needs of Washington’s forest owners and managers. Recognized members include Andy Perleberg, Kevin Zobrist, Todd Murray, Brendan Whyte, Patrick Shults, as well as Noelle Hart and Kelsey Ketcheson, who are no longer with Extension.

The team is innovative, combining tradition and technology to reach learners. Their flagship program is the Coached Planning Forest Stewardship Shortcourse, which helps clients become experts on their own land. More than 22,000 families have met goals, reduced risk, and protected their investments through taking part in hundreds of Extension Forestry demonstrations, workshops, field days, and short courses.

This team is affiliate with the School of the Environment, leveraging impacts by providing industry-ready preparation for forestry undergraduate and graduate students. They have improved the ecological condition and economic wellbeing of communities in every forested county of Washington.