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Faculty and Staff Brief Bios

Every few weeks, the Snapshots section will introduce you to a UMass faculty or staff member whose work helps to support the mission of the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. With these pieces, we aim to present a picture of the breadth of the education and research that happens every day at UMass Amherst. Enjoy getting to know some of our extraordinary colleagues.

Rick Harper Helps Us to See Both the Forest and the Trees

Richard Harper, extension assistant professor of urban and community forestryRick Harper’s enthusiasm and passion for trees – and educating others about them – is contagious. Since August 2012, he has occupied a newly-created extension faculty position in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

As Extension Assistant Professor of Urban & Community Forestry, Harper’s position involves a three-way “split” of teaching, research and extension.  That means that at certain periods in the year he may be spending considerable time in the classroom instructing urban forestry/arboriculture students on the UMass campus, or that he may be traveling to Extension programs throughout Massachusetts - and North America – reaching adult audiences with lectures and hands-on activities about the management and stewardship of urban trees.

Tracy Allen Knows All the Dirt

It is a familiar sight. Every spring, your local farmers’ market offers information on soil testing through master gardener volunteers. Maybe you have sent in a soil sample for testing to the soil lab at UMass (officially the Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory), as thousands do each year.  You want to know if your garden needs amendments to grow those long-awaited juicy tomatoes. But who catches your soil sample on the other side of the mailbox?

Meet Tracy Allen.

Va Shon Wallace-Hiltpold, A Natural Teacher

Va Shon Wallace-Hiltpold,4-H EducatorLike falling off a log. Like stepping through a doorway. It is no surprise that work for Va Shon Wallace-Hiltpold, a 4-H extension educator, seems so effortless. Her vibrant personality seems to be the perfect match for a career that allows her to work with young people. With three teenagers of her own, her house is usually full of teens, “Which brings me so much joy and is a great reminder as to why I do the work I do.”

We all live downstream

Marie Francois Hatte,  Associate Director, MA WRRCFor Marie-Françoise Hatte, it is all about water. From helping with research projects and organizing events at UMass Amherst to coordinating statewide projects, water is what she does.

As the Associate Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) sited at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hatte assists Director Paula Rees in running the day-to-day operations at the Center. She enjoys the wide variety of water-related projects that come across her desk and her interactions on many levels.

Tina Smith: Some Green Thumb!

Tina Smith, extension educator, UMass Amherst “Growing things has always been a part of my life,” says Smith. Indeed! She grew up gardening outdoors with her family and caring for indoor houseplants. As a teenager, she had a small glass unheated greenhouse in her back yard where she started flower and vegetable seeds. Her high school summers found her working in those iconic long tobacco barns in the Pioneer Valley sewing dried tobacco leaves. Later, grounded in a love of plants, her career blossomed (excuse the pun) as an extension educator in the UMass Extension Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture Program at UMass Amherst.

Hang Xiao Wants to Help You Eat a Healthy Diet

Hang Xiao, Food Scientist, Associate Professor, Honors Program DirectorDr. Hang Xiao aims to help you eat a healthful diet and one that helps prevent disease. His research is focused on understanding the health-promoting effects of different food components. Xiao’s work is at the forefront of research into what are known as “functional foods”—foods that provide additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. It turns out that knowing what your body needs to lower your risk to chronic diseases such as cancer is a lot more complicated than choosing cereal with a happy heart on the box. 

Katie Campbell-Nelson is Outstanding in Her (Vegetable) Field (No Joke)

Katie Campbell Nelson, Vegetable Specialist"Agriculture isn’t just a job for University of Massachusetts Extension Vegetable Specialist Katie Campbell-Nelson, it’s a part of who she is. 'No matter where I went, helping people farm was always a productive and important way to live, despite whatever else was going on.” This all-encompassing outlook on the importance of agriculture blossomed early in childhood, where being part of the community growing up in rural Indonesia also meant farming.

Tom Waskiewicz: Proud of a Life in 4-H

Tom Waskiewicz, Mass 4-H educator Tom Waskiewicz may be one of the most enthusiastic 4-H educators you will ever meet, maybe even one of the more enthusiastic humans in general. He has been involved with UMass Extension 4-H for 34 years (and counting). In 1982, Waskiewicz, a Hadley native, joined 4-H as a county agent based in Hampshire County and he has subsequently taken on many roles.

“Working with 4-H youth and volunteers is the most rewarding career I can imagine,” he said. Growing up on a small farm in the Connecticut River Valley known for its asparagus has provided a background that allows him to relate to farms—many of them operated by 4-H families—across the valley. 

Sarifa Khan: Committed Nutritional Coach

Sarifa Khan, nutritional coach, Springfield, MA Sarifa Khan’s gentle encouragement towards better nutritional health and the sincere warmth in her voice are evident from the minute you begin speaking with her. As a UMass Extension nutrition educator, she helps adults, teen parents, parents in shelters, and children in summer camps make smart nutritional choices through the “EFNEP” and “SNAP-ED” programs serving the communities of the western region of the state.

Carrie Chickering-Sears: When Your Passion Is Your Career

Carrie Chickering-Sears, 4-H Extension EducatorCarrie Chickering-Sears has a deep passion for animals. Fifteen years ago, she left a position as Operations Officer at a Massachusetts bank to go to work for the UMass Extension 4-H Youth Development Program. Today, she will tell you that she’s had a job for 15 years that syncs up perfectly with her interests and talents. As a dairy farmer and former 4-H dairy member, her decision was easy. She chose to leave regulators, auditors, and the inside work environment behind in favor of working with youth and adults doing things in which they, too, have devoted interests.

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