On Nov. 10, Dean Kathryn Boor, Cornell Cooperative Extension Director and Associate Dean Chris Watkins, and more than 100 guests celebrated the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s best and brightest at the 11th annual Research, Extension and Staff Awards.
Part of the program was dedicated to the Core Value Staff Awards, created in 2010 and designed to recognize individuals or teams who have gone far beyond the standards defined by Cornell’s Skills for Success.
“These awards go to staff who consistently go above and beyond the call in their day-to-day activities,” Boor said, “and we are happy to highlight their dedication and accomplishments.”
This year the dean presented two awards for Unsung Hero. The award recognizes a team player whose accomplishments extend beyond the guidelines of a specific category.
The first Unsung Hero Award was presented to Craig Cramer, an extension communication specialist in the Horticulture section in the School of Integrative Plant Science.
Cramer is a key point person for the communications needs of the new school. He works closely with CALS Communications to help cover events and accomplishments by faculty, students and staff. He keeps websites updated and evolving, writes blog posts and articles, partners with CALS Communications for press releases, and is an excellent photographer and videographer. He is often found visiting classes or attending field days, conferences, and other events to capture Horticulture’s exciting work in action.
In short, he does whatever it takes to get the word out about Plant Science’s exciting research, teaching and extension.
Dean Boor also noted that each year, Cramer learns new skills and takes on more responsibilities, even regularly offering seminars to students and extension educators on topics like “writing for the Internet” and “creating digital art.” Masterful at presenting information in an engaging way, he enthusiastically accepts new communications challenges, such as helping a class produce posters that advertise the quantifiable value of trees to our community or editing the “Cornell Guide for Growing Fruit at Home,” which won an award for best new publication.
The second Unsung Hero Award was presented to Steven McKay, farm manager at the Thompson Vegetable Research Farm in Freeville, N.Y.
McKay’s technical role is to support the activities of 20-25 faculty researchers from more than a half a dozen departments who are investigating diverse questions associated with vegetables in New York. He oversees 260 acres of farmland, managing all aspects of land preparation, pest management, staff assignments and equipment purchases.
However, Boor said, his impact and reputation have expanded well beyond a support role.
He works long hours and is available 24/7, sharing his expertise with faculty and graduate students to help maximize the impact of their results. Field experiments are, by their nature, at the mercy of the elements, but Steve cares so deeply about on-farm experiments that he routinely goes beyond expectations to ensure their success.
For example, during Tropical Storm Lee, severe flooding jeopardized field trials at the farm. Due to the mud, it was impossible to use a tractor to apply fungicide treatments to one of the experiments, so Steve trudged through the mucky fields with a backpack sprayer to save the day.
During a time when sustainability and efficiency are key, he is a true forward-thinking leader. He has transitioned much of the farm to drip irrigation to reduce water usage by 80 percent, and he shuttered the Thompson lab building to save thousands of dollars annually on heating and utility costs.
The dean said his curiosity, creativity and ingenuity benefit everyone who depends on the farm – he is a lifelong learner who is always seeking new and improved practices. She noted that McKay even challenged an engineering class with a contest to design improved drainage and irrigation systems, and then implemented the winning design at the farm.