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Faculty and Staff Brief Bios

Let us 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.

  • Ashley Keiser: Lover of Plant and Soil Communities

    There aren’t many people who say things like, “I always really liked nitrogen… It’s just an element that has really struck me.” Ashley Keiser is one of those people. Her passion for all-things ecosystem ecology is infectious.  
  • Ezra Markowitz: Two Passions Make a Profession

    As an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist, Ezra Markowitz has two foremost passions: human behavior and environmental conservation. These two passions stem from his childhood and upbringing in the suburbs of New York. Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, Markowitz spent his formative years exploring the forested landscape of his backyard and hometown, a time during which he learned to care deeply for the environment. Later, in high school, Markowitz took a few psychology classes, wherein he quickly fell in love with the study of human behavior.
  • Hannah Whitehead: Sheep Farming, Raising Bees and Botanic Bootcamp

    While Hannah Whitehead has been working at the University of Massachusetts Extension for four years, her journey to get here took her on a rich, life-building trek.  Whitehead was hired by UMass in 2018 as a honey bee extension educator. In that role, she offered workshops on beekeeping topics, wrote fact sheets, and conducted research on bee health. In July 2021, Whitehead joined the UMass vegetable extension team.
  • Meg McDermott: Making 4-H Fun and Accessible

    Meaghan (Meg) McDermott calls her Worcester office “home base” but loves that her work allows her to travel throughout the large county for club meetings and myriad programs. The UMass 4-H educator is an enthusiastic cheerleader for 4-H, which is no surprise since she cut her teeth in Norfolk County’s 4-H program as a youngster.
  • Elizabeth Garofalo: Fruit Aficionado

    Growing up in Buckland, Elizabeth Garofalo remembers experiencing four distinct seasons by walking through her immediate environment, an orchard just down the road from her home. Every spring, tractors mowed fields, summer fruit was easily plucked from low-hanging branches, and a “lovely elderly woman” invited her to climb apples trees in the fall. Seasonal orientation is also in her blood with her grandparents’ dairy farm and other generational agriculture tasks flowing through her veins.  However, as an adult, the journey to the University of Massachusetts to become a well-respected Extension educator, has been a long and winding road.
  • Jim Cronk: Farming Is In His Blood

    Jim Cronk is a farm boy at heart. His grandmother owned a large farm in Des Moines, Iowa, where she grew corn and raised livestock and Jim’s mother had a green thumb. Turns out that love of farming the land has filtered down through the generations to him. For seven years Jim was employed in the landscaping business. There he built a solid foundation that provided him with the expertise to grow and maintain a variety of perennials, annual flowers, shrubs and trees and to understand factors needed for healthy growth (soil, nutrients, etc.). This background also provided a launching point for working at the University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard (CSO) in Belchertown.  
  • Heather Lohr: Growing the Job

    Heather Lohr began work with UMass Extension in 2013 at the Extension Bookstore and then became part of the administration team for the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) in 2014. She now assists CAFE assistant director William Miller in managing Experiment Station and Extension planning and reporting, along with other responsibilities.  She reports that she finds herself interested in learning about the internal workings of CAFE, how all the pieces fit together, and how she can contribute to the success of the Center and everyone it serves. 
  • Madeleine Charney: This Librarian’s Sustainable Roots Run Deep

    Madeleine Charney is a research services librarian with the UMass Libraries. She specializes in topics close to the heart of anyone interested in agriculture, food or the environment. Charney has seen an evolution of her tasks from the love of books, when she steered students toward library stacks, to managing data and offering information on open access.
  • Paulina Borrego: Librarian Who Catalogs Books (and Seeds)

    Paulina Borrego is a naturally curious person, the very quality one hopes for in a librarian. However, if your image of a librarian is one who shushes people with a stern personality, Paulina will help you ditch those expectations at the door. Borrego is eager to help those looking for guidance.
  • Day job: Cranberry Pathologist. Off duty: Inspires Women and Farmers

    Sai Sree Uppala focuses on cranberry pathology at the UMass Cranberry Station in Wareham. She is intrigued by the resilient and unique nature of cranberries compared to most other agricultural crops.
  • Lynn Beattie is Passionate About Community Nutrition and Better Health

    Lynn Beattie works as a training manager for UMass Extension’s Nutrition Education Program (NEP). Her job is multi-faceted: she both develops and implements program materials, evaluations and training for NEP’s two programs, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP.
  • River Strong’s Energy Work and Lifelong Interests Intersect

    River Strong says, “My work at the University of Massachusetts Clean Energy Extension (CEE) as an associate director, is deeply integrated into all aspects of my “off-campus” life. The work we do at CEE to advance the clean energy economy and help the Commonwealth meet its climate change goals is directly aligned with my values as a parent, educator, wilderness leader, community citizen, and human being.
  • Geunhwa Jung

    The Grass is Always Greener When you think of something ‘green,’ both money and turfgrass might come to mind.  In the case of Geunhwa Jung, you would be right on both counts, sort of. Professor Jung, a turfgrass specialist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, researches a fungal turf pathogen nicknamed dollar spot…
  • Tawny Simisky: She Knows What Bugs You...

    Tawny Simisky is an Extension entomologist who specializes in insect pests of ornamental trees and shrubs with the UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program. Simisky provides diagnostic support to the UMass Plant Diagnostics Laboratory, as well as trainings for those working in in the commercial horticulture industry in Massachusetts. Her expertise includes basic entomology and Integrated Pest Management of tree and shrub insect pests for landscapers and arborists. She provides stakeholders with information for a wide variety of pest insects. These include, but are certainly not limited to, winter moth, gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, and piercing-sucking insect pests of plants.
  • Rick Harper Helps Us to See Both the Forest and the Trees

    Rick 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.

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