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UGA Public Service and Outreach awards recognize exemplary service to the state

Seven University of Georgia faculty and staff members were honored during the UGA Public Service and Outreach 31stannual awards luncheon for their exemplary service to the state.

Maritza Soto Keen, a senior public service faculty member and associate director at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, received the Walter Barnard Hill Fellow Award for distinguished achievement in Public Service and outreach. The Hill Fellow is UGA’s highest award for public service and outreach.

Among Keen’s accomplishments, she has designed and led leadership programs throughout the state for Hispanics and women, including a women’s leadership academy in southeast Georgia that has resulted in greater female participation in civic activities and more women in elected positions.

Keen led design and development for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Cultivating Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI). CHLI is a six-month leadership program designed to encourage the Hispanic community to engage in public and nonprofit leadership opportunities. Since its start in 2014, more than 125 people have graduated from the program and gone on to join major nonprofit boards, such as the United Way of Greater Atlanta. Brenda Lopez, the first Latina elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, graduated from CHLI.

Four UGA faculty members received Walter Barnard Hill Awards, recognizing contributions to the improvement of quality of life in Georgia and beyond.

The 2022 Hill Award recipients are:

  • Pam Knox, a senior public service associate with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where she serves as the director of the University of Georgia Weather Network and as an agricultural climatologist. Through her ability to connect agriculture and climate science, Knox has proven to be a valuable resource to growers in Georgia, as well as regional and national climate work groups. Recently, Knox’s work has included raising awareness of frost climatology and how to respond. She conducted educational programs on frost prevention, how frost prevention methods work and the meteorology behind frost events. She helped produce two UGA Extension Bulletins on frost and freeze protection for produce, which better prepared growers to predict frost.

Her work has resulted in detailed information on climate variability and change. In collaboration with the Southeast Climate Consortium, a group of scientists from eight southeastern universities, she contributed to a publication on adapting farming to variable climates. As director of the UGA Weather Network, she oversees personnel, manages the budget and direction of the unit, which comprises 86 weather stations across the state.


  • Joan Koonce, a professor and extension specialist in the Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. In this role, she creates financial planning resources, conducts financial trainings and provides support for local county extension agents in insurance and tax matters. Koonce created the Virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to help Georgia residents prepare their taxes. Based at UGA, the program has grown since its inception and now reaches people throughout the state.

Koonce also collaborated with the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Georgia to assist them in providing financial planning education to TRS members throughout the state. She partnered with the UGA Small Business Development Center to provide statewide financial education opportunities for entrepreneurs. And she developed a statewide and 12-state health insurance project that helps people better understand the Affordable Care Act.


  • J. Scott Pippin, a public service faculty member at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. In this role he has helped communities across Georgia with zoning and land use planning, improving infrastructure planning processes, and helping Georgians better prepare for natural hazards such as flooding and severe weather. Pippin has worked extensively with coastal communities to better prepare for severe storms and flooding, which has led to lower insurance premiums for many property owners. In partnership with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, he worked on a project encouraging coastal communities to adopt the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System (CRS). The system aims to improve local floodplain management and local resiliency to flooding and to lower flood insurance premiums.

With UGA’s College of Engineering, Pippin is helping develop a network of interconnected sensors that can analyze septic system functionality in real time, alert property owners of problems and indicate management practices to avoid system failure. He is leading the effort to understand how the systems fit into current septic system regulatory and management frameworks, and how such smart systems can be incentivized and deployed in communities.


  • Lenny Wells, a professor and extension specialist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, who developed and implemented a nationally recognized pecan program that greatly increased the average yield for Georgia pecan farmers, as well as their gate value. From 2006 to 2017, the average state pecan yield was 98 million pounds, compared to 60.5 million pounds in years prior. During that time, the farm gate value of pecans increased by $200 million. With the development of Wells’ set of guidelines for specific agricultural practices and precautions, the potential for contamination of pecans with pathogenic bacteria at the farm level has minimized. These guidelines are being used as a blueprint for the development of Good Agricultural Practices in other major pecan producing states.

In 2014, Wells established the UGA Pecan Blog and serves as its primary author. Today it has over 24,000 users and 150,000 global pageviews annually. During Hurricane Irma, the blog provided information to keep growers, county extension agents, pecan buyers and government officials updated on storm preparations and affects. The blog was also cited in news stories throughout the world, documenting the storm’s impact. It provided valuable estimates of the extent of damage for the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture, which helped expedite the application process for emergency cleanup funds.


Pam Bracken, a program coordinator for the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, is the 2022 recipient of the Staff Award for Excellence. She  has worked on face-to-face and online courses requiring collaboration across the university and with outside associations, including the Marketing Research Insights Institute, through which she developed the center’s first online certificate program. Bracken led the development of the Principles of Market Research course, with input from industry practitioners, 300 global researchers acting as pilot participants and the Georgia Center’s instructional design team. The program has seen over 8,000 enrollments with students from 107 countries and all 50 states.

In 2020, when the pandemic affected in-person course instruction, Bracken designed alternative methods to deliver programs, including the Sherpa Executive Coaching Certification program. Since its establishment in 2008, the program had served over 200 executive-level participants through in-person classes. Under Bracken’s guidance, the program successfully transitioned into remote instruction. During the pandemic, she also facilitated monthly webinars that reached a total of 6,000 participants from 88 countries, and encouraged adults to utilize the pandemic as a time to retool and build new skills through full program enrollment.


The 2022 recipient of the UGA Public Service and Outreach Engaged Scholar Award is Jason Cade, associate dean for clinical programs and experiential learning, and the J. Alton Hosch Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law. In his more than eight years at UGA, he has created experiential learning opportunities that have built community partnerships, positively impacted the lives of immigrants, and prepared his students for the legal profession while inspiring them to a life of service.

Since joining the law school in 2013, Cade’s teaching and scholarship have focused on a critical issue – the treatment of noncitizens who live, work and raise families in Georgia and elsewhere. In 2014, he created and continues to direct the Community Health Law Partnership Clinic, an experiential learning course for law students that delivers legal advocacy and public education to immigrants in the Athens-Clarke County area. The clinic has served more than 200 individuals and families since it began. In 2021, Cade was one of several law school clinic directors from across the country who received the Clinical Legal Education Association’s national award for excellence for their advocacy on behalf of immigrant women in a Georgia detention center, who alleged medical malfeasance and retaliation for speaking out about the dangerous health conditions in the facility.

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