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Feb. 4, 2014

2014 Distinguished Academic Staff Awards

Richard Hensh
Department of Mathematics
College of Natural Science

Richard Hensh is a senior academic specialist and assistant to the chair in the Department of Mathematics. He has served his department, the College of Natural Science, and Michigan State University with a sustained record of excellence since 1994.

Hensh’s work with the mathematics department has been extensive and varied— but always focused on student development. He has worked with the Emerging Scholars pro- gram, an enrichment program to help students transition from high school to university-level mathematics. In 1999, he became an instructor in MSU’s Cooperative Highly Accelerated Mathematics Program (CHAMP), in which mathematically gifted students in grades 7 to 10 learn algebra, geometry, trigonometry, analytic geometry, college algebra and pre-calculus in just two years. In 2007 and 2008, he helped recruit and teach in the study abroad program in Volgograd, Russia, where he chaperoned large student groups to St. Petersburg and Moscow.

In August 2008, Hensh was recruited to teach an undergraduate mathematics course at MSU Dubai. Thereafter, he was quickly promoted as the first MSU Dubai Undergraduate Student Academic Coordinator. Some of his additional duties included undergraduate advising, course scheduling, and SIS and MPS Exam troubleshooting. He worked closely with many offices in East Lansing, including the Office of Admissions, the Registrar, and the Provost’s office. He also worked closely with advisors and unit administrators from all the MSU departments represented in Dubai.

Upon his return to East Lansing in 2010,
 Hensh was asked to sit on the executive committee as an assistant to the chair, with primary responsibilities for budgeting and staff supervision. More recently, he has worked closely with the college to accommodate the 15 percent increase in student enrollment in all mathematics classes since 2010.

Jill O'Donnell
Agriculture and agribusiness
MSU Extension
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Jill O’Donnell, a senior extension educator for MSU Extension, is nationally recognized as an expert in Christmas tree production; her work emphasizes early pest identification and management. The hallmark of her career is her ability to develop relationships of trust and respect with Christmas tree producers while helping them identify and address critical issues related to their tree crop. Connecting tree growers with MSU specialists and researchers has kept Michigan a national leader in the Christmas tree industry.

O’Donnell’s commitment to assisting Christmas tree and nursery growers sustainably produce the highest quality product lies
at the center of her work. She brings together scientific knowledge, research, fieldwork, and educational expertise to help growers better understand integrated pest management techniques, optimizing production practices that help protect the environment and reduce production costs. Through her efforts, growers have been able to improve tree quality, increase yields and eliminate or reduce pesticide applications. In 2012 alone, Jill helped growers protect or earn a reported $1 million in additional profits.

O’Donnell has a long history of collaborating with various researchers at MSU as well as specialists in other states. Her close working relationship with the Christmas tree industry helped garner support for many critical university projects—from the increased production of quality true firs that drive Michigan’s competitive edge in the national market to providing bilingual safety training for farm workers.

Gary Parsons
Department of Entomology

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Gary Parsons works nearly every day, evening and weekend helping students and faculty in the Department of Entomology and the College of Natural Science. As the manager of the Albert
 J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection, one of the largest insect collections in the North Central United States, with more than 1.5 million insects and other arthropods, Parsons is one of the most selfless specialists at MSU. When Parsons began managing the Cook collection in 1999, it was in disarray due to a lack of financial funding for its maintenance. Very quickly, he transformed the valuable insect collection into a well organized, well managed, and respected collection that now receives NSF support and frequently provides loans, often of thousands of specimen, for taxonomic research to universities around the world.

To return the Cook Arthropod Research Collection to the highly respected, working project that it was meant to be, Parsons invested thousands of evenings and nearly every weekend since he started at MSU on preserving, organizing, and improving the collection. He collaborated with dozens of retired faculty, amateur collectors, donors, and students to give direction to the thousands of hours of volunteer work — which he coordinated —needed to preserve and to bring order to the 1.5 million specimens in the collection. He expanded the collection to new rooms, emptied hallways of old cabinets full of neglected specimens, and updated major groups in the collection to reflect current classification standards regarding species, genera, families and suborders. Essentially, Parsons did everything necessary to save the Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection from the destruction of time that leads to obsolescence and obscurity. Insect museum curators around the country credit him with saving one of the largest and unquestionably important collections in the country.

In addition to maintaining this excellent and valuable collection, Parsons also supports many research, teaching and outreach efforts of the Department of Entomology. He began teaching the immature insect class ten years ago, and graduate students regularly select him as their favorite teacher. The Bug House, a new outreach effort when Parsons arrived in 1999, has became a top field-trip destination for area grade schools, with more than 5,000 students visiting each year. His addition of live insect cultures and displays to the Bug House have helped make it a major science outreach project at MSU, including a very popular, week-long insect adventure camp for grade school students during the summer.

Dean Solomon
Extension Greening Michigan Institute

MSU Extension
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Dean Solomon, a senior extension educator for MSU Extension, is recognized as an expert on local land use policy and natural resource pro- tection through strategic and forward-looking planning. His ability to respond to needs and to develop easy-to-understand land use educa- tional materials for landowners and busy local government officials in convenient, accessible formats has been the hallmark of his career. Since beginning with MSU Extension in 1981,
 Solomon has developed curricula, educational materials, and programs on numerous natural resource and land use topics for landowners and decision makers. His unique skills along with his teaching and leadership abilities have made him a major force in MSU Extension’s flagship land use education effort, “The Michigan Citizen Planner Program.” Since its inception, more than 4,000 local land use officials have participated
in this 21-hour intensive training program, increasing their ability to effectively guide Michigan’s recovery and development. He frequently teaches Citizen Planner core and advanced sessions throughout Michigan, receiving very favorable reviews for his presentations. As an educator,  Solomon
 is in high demand by communities statewide because of his ability to fully engage learners with enthusiastic presentations, stories, anecdotes, humor and discussion.

Solomon’s commitment to sustainable land use planning lies at the center of his work. He successfully engages fellow natural resource experts to help them understand how their work can influence, or can be influenced by, local land use policy. In this way, he is continu- ally increasing the value of MSU Extension’s educational outreach to local communities.