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ACE 2024 Honor Award Winners

ACE Fellow 

Dr. Jefferson Miller

Dr. Jefferson Miller is a professor of agricultural communications at the University of Arkansas, where he has taught for 24 years. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in technical writing. He earned his Ph.D. in Agricultural Education at Oklahoma State University with an emphasis in agricultural communications. Before his career as a faculty member, he worked for seven years as a communications specialist in the Oklahoma State University Agricultural Communications Services unit. He has been an ACE member since 1995 and has chaired two learning communities, served as treasurer of the organization, served as editor of the Journal of Applied Communications and is the current ACE Co-Director of Development.

Learning Community Award of Excellence

Kara Bonsack - Publishing & Graphic Design

Kara Bonsack joined the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (UConn CLEAR) in 2002 as a graphic designer and quickly expanded her skills to include website development. She has become the primary designer and web developer for CLEAR and all of UConn Extension, helping build brand recognition and communicating research and outreach opportunities and successes, both locally and nationally. She also supports UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR) Communications’ team, as well as other University centers, institutes, and departments, through partnerships and grant funding. Kara spends much of her time designing publications (reports, newsletters, factsheets, etc.), creating and maintaining Extension-related websites, and managing projects. She also serves as a resource answering questions and providing design and website-related training for faculty, staff, and student interns.

Kara has been involved in ACE since 2017, taking advantage of professional development opportunities and is a part of the ACE Northeast Communicators Working Group. The group meets monthly to discuss current issues, share learned experiences and brainstorm ideas for successful marketing and communication campaigns. Kara’s design work has been recognized multiple times by the ACE critique and awards program.

Kara is a recipient of the UConn CAHNR Arland R. Meade Communications Award, in recognition of improving communications within the Cooperative Extension System. She not only works at UConn but is also a UConn alumna with a BFA, specializing in graphic design. Kara is an avid photographer and has taken many of the photographs used in publications and websites she creates.

Lori Greiner - Media Relations and Writing

Lori Greiner serves as the Publications Manager for Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech. She is responsible for overseeing the production and promotion of VCE’s publications and educational materials. As the managing editor of VCE publications, she works with faculty members to identify publication topics and creative ways to disseminate information. Lori also serves as the content manager for Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Publications and Educational Resources website.

During her 26 years at Virginia Tech, Lori has also served as the communications manager for Virginia Cooperative Extension, the communications manager for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the public relations coordinator and customer advocate for Virginia Tech’s Office of Student Programs. Before coming to Virginia Tech, she held positions with the Iowa Soybean Association and with Michigan Farm Bureau.

Lori has been a member of ACE since 2005 and currently represents ACE on the Journal of Extension Board and is serving as its President. She has been involved with several committees, learning communities, and is a former ACE board member. 

Lori earned a bachelor’s degree in food systems economics and management with a second major in agriculture and natural resources communications from Michigan State University.

Garrett M. Steede, Ph.D - Academic and Research

Garrett M. Steede, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of agricultural, food & natural resource communication in the Division of Applied Economics & Agricultural Education, Communication and Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Garrett completed his BS in animal and dairy sciences and MS in agricultural and extension education, both at Mississippi State University. He completed his Ph.D. in 2018 at Texas Tech University in agricultural communication and education. He then joined UMN as an assistant teaching professor before moving into his current tenure track position in 2020. 

Garrett has been an ACE member for over eight years and served the Academic & Research Learning Community for five years including Chair in 2023. Garrett’s teaching and research focuses on strategic and visual communication in food and agricultural marketing, media effects, and public opinion.

Faith Peppers - Leadership and Management

Faith Peppers is Communications Director for the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. She joined USDA-NIFA in June 2020 after a 27-year career in agricultural communications, issues management, crisis communication and strategic communications at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Prior to joining UGA, she worked for more than a decade as an Atlanta newspaper reporter, public information officer and healthcare marketing specialist. She has degrees in journalism and communication from Middle Georgia College and Georgia State University. In 2016, she was recognized by the Association for Communication Excellence with their highest honor, the ACE Professional Award (now the ACE Fellow), which recognizes excellence and professionalism in agricultural communications over an extended career. She also received the organizations Awards of Excellence in Media Relations and Marketing. She has served ACE as the chair of the Learning Communities for Marketing, Media Relations, Writing, and Leadership and Management. In 2013, she was ACE President.

ACE Rising Star Award 

Cassie Ann Kiggen

Cassie Ann Kiggen serves as the Chief Communications Officer for the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and UGA Extension. As a member of the executive leadership team, Cassie Ann is responsible for developing strategic communication plans for CAES as well as leading and overseeing the public relations, digital marketing, and creative content strategies for CAES. She manages an award-winning team of communications professionals who are responsible for translating brand strategy into innovative storytelling opportunities to create optimized experiences for CAES global audiences. Cassie Ann and her team advance the priorities of CAES and UGA Extension through multimedia reputational management campaigns and develop results-oriented communications and media plans that advance the CAES brand.

Previously, Cassie Ann was the Director of Communications at the National Venture Capital Association where she led and managed the Association's strategic communications, public policy communications, brand development and storytelling, multimedia digital and creative content marketing, and media efforts to better support and empower the U.S. venture community, startups and entrepreneurs. Cassie Ann also served as Officer of Communications at the United Nations Foundation, developing and implementing its strategic communications plans to further the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while focusing on brand development, media relations, and digital outreach.

Before the United Nations Foundation, Cassie Ann was the Senior Manager of Strategy and Communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She led multimedia campaigns for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, specializing in International Affairs & Trade, Healthcare, Immigration, and Innovation. Cassie also managed the U.S. Chamber’s digital platform and content covering small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurship.

Cassie Ann graduated from the University of Georgia Honors College with Bachelors in both International Affairs and Spanish. While as an undergraduate student, Cassie studied International Relations and Politics at the University of Oxford. She also studied at the Real Academia de Historia y Arte de San Quirce in Segovia, Spain. She completed her M.A. in International Communications with specializations in Strategic Communications and Intercultural Leadership at the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C.

Jens-Kristian Kiel

Jens-Kristian Kiel began his public sector journey in July 2023 after a career spanning over three decades in advertising, marketing, and information technology across two continents. He made significant contributions in Europe, branding trade shows and working with companies like ThyssenKrupp AG and Swiss Ruck Insurance. In the United States, he boosted revenue for an independent elevator company by 80% in just 18 months.

Recently, Kiel shifted his focus to West Virginia State University, where he now serves as the Director of Agricultural Research and Extension Communications. This move reflects his commitment to creating value over simply generating revenue, following the path of respected ACE members Matt Browning and Stacy Herrick.

Outside of work, Jens prioritizes his family, supporting his wife's teaching career in West Virginia and staying connected with his two adult sons in Germany. He also enjoys diverse hobbies like watching movies, playing music, reading, writing blog posts and articles, staying fit, grilling, traveling, and contemplating philosophical ideas.

Ricardo Vela

Ricardo is a 35-year, two-time Emmy-winning broadcast journalism professional. Before joining UC’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Division as manager of News and Information Outreach in Spanish (NOS), he worked as a national news correspondent for Univision and CNN in Texas and Los Angeles. 

He started his journalism career at the Chicago Tribune and Univision in Chicago, Ill. While in Chicago, Ricardo collaborated with several Latino community organizations, always promoting equity and inclusion.

Ricardo was Univision’s main news anchor in San Diego for 17 years and hosted “Voces Hispanas,” his own morning talk radio show, for 10 years. 

In 2006, he was listed among the 100 most influential Latinos in the country by Hispanic Magazine.

Ricardo served as news director and anchor at Entravisión (a Univisión affiliate) in Palm Springs and as a news anchor at Telemundo in El Paso, Texas.

As program manager of NOS, Ricardo supervises a Spanish-language expert team that focuses on disseminating the news and research regarding agriculture, nutrition, and natural resources to more Spanish-speaking communities across California.

Since joining UC ANR, Ricardo has become an advocate for Latino and other ethnic groups, promoting their contributions to society and creating for the first-time events for the UC ANR community to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and Cesar Chavez Day.

UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston appointed Ricardo as a founding member of the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to serve a three-year term. 

ACE Retiree Award of Excellence Co-Honorees

Linda Benedict

Linda Benedict is a professor emeritus in Communications at the LSU AgCenter, where she served as associate director and editor of Louisiana Agriculture magazine. Her career spans more than five decades, in which she has worked as a newspaper reporter (Waterloo, Iowa, Daily Courier and the Cedar Falls, Iowa, Record), in corporate public relations (Pillsbury in Minneapolis), as an extension home economist in Black Hawk and Buchanan counties in Iowa, and in the communication offices of five land-grant universities, including Iowa State University, Ames; Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri; the University of Missouri-Columbia; Southern University in Baton Rouge; and the LSU AgCenter, where she worked for 25 years. An ACE member since 1974, Linda has served as ACE president, North Central Regional Director, and SIG (Special Interest Group) chair of both diversity and photography; she is a former editor of the Journal of Applied Communication. Her ACE awards include the ACE Professional Award; Awards of Excellence in media relations, teaching and training, and writing; Outstanding Professional Skill Awards for an information campaign and an integrated communication program; and Gold Awards for editing and an information or noncredit educational video. She has a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University in home economics journalism (1969), a master’s degree in home economics education from the University of Northern Iowa (1972) and was awarded a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1994.

Becky Koch

Becky Koch joined the NDSU Ag Communication staff in 1991 as an information specialist focusing on marketing and editing. She was named Ag Comm director in 2004, providing leadership for strategic planning, editorial, graphics, social media, audio/video, distribution, IT, the campus print/copy services and more.

After retiring from NDSU Ag Communication in November 2020 and moving to Arizona, she has taught Intro to Ag Comm for NDSU via Zoom, edited publications for Ag Comm, continued editing the North Dakota Ag Mag and volunteered to support North Dakota 4-H Foundation communications.

In ACE, she was the 2021 ACE Fellow, 2013-14 president, 2016-18 treasurer, Distance Education and Instructional Design Award of Excellence honoree and a winner of multiple C&A awards.

In retirement, Koch has supported ACE by working with other retirees to capture ACE history.  She organized the ACE history home page, contacted members to create or fill in lists of past honorees, collected conference program and award booklet PDFs, and has started developing a template for summarizing each year’s ACE history and other resources.

Reuben Brigham Award

Announced at the 2024 Conference

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