Penn State Intercom......March 20, 2003

First Graduate Program Leadership
Award goes to Joan S. Thomson

Joan S. Thomson, professor of agricultural communications and graduate program officer for the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, is this year's winner and the first recipient of the Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award, an award new to Penn State's faculty and staff awards program.

The award honors faculty members for exemplary leadership that benefits graduate students and faculty in an existing graduate degree program at the University. The award's design acknowledges the recipient's efforts to enhance student recruitment, professional development and placement, and mentoring and promotion of faculty and students in the graduate program. The winner works to enhance her program's diversity, educational quality, resources and national visibility, and promotes professional ethics and its integration into all elements of graduate programming.

Thomson proves to be a major strength in the College of Agricultural Sciences, as key programmatic and philosophic changes emerged within the department's graduate programs under her leadership. Thomson joined the graduate program committee in 1992 and chaired the committee from 1993 to 2000 and was re-elected as chairperson this fall. Her attention to detail and unwavering commitment to excellence and diversity characterize her tenure as graduate coordinator since 1995.

Thomson's leadership is instrumental in both revitalizing curriculum and keeping the department's programs contemporary. She led efforts to transform the extension education master's program into youth and family education, thus enabling youth and family faculty to be involved with graduate education. Prior to this strategic move, the youth and family faculty primarily focused their energies on delivering informal education through Cooperative Extension.

With important curricular changes in place, Thomson expanded recruitment efforts aimed to target more diverse students and those with stronger credentials. Her efforts continue to yield unparalleled results as the program attracts a variety of international students who have or continue to complete degrees as Fulbright fellows and scholars. Currently, 46 percent of the program's students are minority and 53 percent of the students are women.

Thomson developed a portfolio of processes and activities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of graduate functioning in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education. The program's successes are possible because Thomson understands and is deeply passionate about the collective dynamics necessary to deliver first-class graduate programs.