UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three individuals have received the 2017 Dr. William Henson Diversity Achievement Award from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, an honor that recognizes distinctive and outstanding teaching, research, extension or creative work that advances diversity in the college.
This year's recipients are Miguel Saviroff, extension educator, Penn State Extension in Somerset County; Kathryn Pletcher, administrative assistant, Office for Undergraduate Education; and Brenda Brown Williams, extension associate, Penn State Extension in Chester County.
Saviroff was recognized for his commitment to strengthening relationships between employers and their Hispanic and Latino workers, empowering communication and learning in diverse work settings, and encouraging migrant workers to put down roots and begin farming in their own right in Pennsylvania.
"Miguel Saviroff has demonstrated a strong belief that all community members must receive information they and their families need in their preferred language," said Winifred McGee, extension educator, who nominated Saviroff.
"Having originated in Venezuela, he carries with him the ethic that education must not just be delivered in other languages, but the methods used must speak to the culture and life view of the students. As a result, he has spearheaded numerous projects, educating workers on farms across Pennsylvania about dairy and horticultural production methods."
During his 17-year career as an extension educator, Saviroff fostered better workplace communication between farm owners and Hispanic employees through his dairy labor management initiative. In a recent case, he helped a group of dairy farmers and their employees in southwestern Pennsylvania work through cultural and language barriers through hundreds of phone calls, farm visits and meetings.
Saviroff also played a key role in an initiative to translate Penn State Extension publications to Spanish, reviewing fact sheets that had been "bulk interpreted" and ensuring that agricultural idioms were correct and the text clear to the reader. His work resulted in 18 Agricultural Alternatives fact sheets being translated to Spanish.
In addition, Saviroff developed and offered the "Best Milking Practices — Hispanic Education" workshop series. These classes introduced 65 Latino participants from seven counties across Pennsylvania — representing 17 dairies and a total of 6,841 cows — to the protocols for increasing herd health and improving milk quality and safety.
As co-principal investigator for the 2013 Director's PPI Seed Money Grant project titled "Farm and Food Business Development Education for Beginning Latino Producers in Pennsylvania," Saviroff presented entrepreneurship and farm financial management information to Latino fruit, vegetable and mushroom industry workers. These sessions were delivered in Adams County and at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey.
Pletcher was recognized for enhancing diversity through her work with the college's students, families and faculty.
"Kathy Pletcher joined the Office for Undergraduate Education in 1994. At that time, the concept of cultural diversity was understood in the office of Dr. William Henson, where Kathy began her career as a receptionist," said Audrey Maretzki, professor emeritus of food science and nutrition, a nominator.
"Kathy realized how important it was for her to assist Dr. Henson in creating a welcoming environment for students as well as their parents. Although Kathy may not readily identify herself as a Native American, she clearly understands, appreciates and advocates for cultural diversity."
Pletcher is a member of the Penn State Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity and serves on the commission's team to provide a staff development symposium this fall for diverse staff. Pletcher, a Native American, also has volunteered to help in the planning of a major Native American diversity event funded by the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity.
In 2011, Pletcher volunteered to plan and execute a project related to the College of Agricultural Sciences' strategic diversity goal to make the Office for Undergraduate Education more visually attractive and diverse in both gender and ethnicity. She created photo collages that illustrated each of the academic majors in the college and highlighted the visual diversity (culture, nationality, gender and age) among the student body.
Pletcher also played an important role in supporting a cultural engagement course that enables Penn State students to learn from the Ojibwe on the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth reservations in northern Minnesota about their ceremonies, lifestyles and indigenous ways of knowing. She has promoted its educational value, has encouraged student enrollment, and was instrumental in establishing it as a permanent course in May 2015.
She also assisted Madison Miller, a 2016 graduate and past president of the Student Society for Indigenous Knowledge, with her Schreyer honors thesis, which focused on designing a high school Native American curriculum based on the input of Native American faculty, staff and students at Penn State. Pletcher provided information about educational experiences of three generations of her Ojibwe family.
Brenda J. Brown Williams
Brenda Brown Williams was lauded for her efforts to teach diversity in the workplace and implement workforce development programs in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"'Miss Brenda,' as her students call her, is an outstanding individual," said nominator John Wodhouse, agricultural business educator with Penn State Extension in Chester County. "Her dedication toward fostering an open environment for learning — regardless of the students' age, ethnicity, family background or education — coupled with her ability to connect with at-risk students is, in my opinion, the most impressive of the gifts Brenda gives.
"With an intrinsic commitment and dedication to multicultural advocacy, Brenda has the ability to altruistically improve the lives of those around her."
Brown Williams' programs with the youth centers in Chester and Montgomery counties began more than a decade ago. Her workforce development programs reach youth of all colors, education and cultural backgrounds. Understanding cultural and socioeconomic variances is important to Brown Williams, so she constantly improves her content to better connect with the wide-ranging groups of students.
She educates more than 400 students yearly though programs at Chester County Futures, the Chester County Youth Center, and the Montgomery County Youth Center. Through life-skill-building activities, workforce development courses, and other alternative youth programming, she helps prepare students of various ages, upbringing and ethnicities to become upstanding and accepted young citizens in the community.
One of Brown Williams' programs — "Skills for Taking Control of Your Future" — reaches more than 385 underserved youth each year at the Chester County Youth Center. She also networks with the House of Original Dreams, the Montgomery County Youth Center, and the Chester County Youth Center to offer at-risk youth programming.
Throughout her years of service with Extension, Brown Williams has gained valuable partnerships that enable her to reach more youth each year, including collaborations with the Norristown School District and the Chester County Children Family and Youth Services. Both have been strong supporters of Penn State Extension and Brown Williams' diversity in the workforce and job readiness programs.