Published on 04/20/17

Two UGA Cooperative Extension faculty members win UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach Walter Barnard Hill Awards

By Merritt Melancon

Two University of Georgia Cooperative Extension faculty members received Walter Barnard Hill Awards in recognition of their public outreach.

Melanie Biersmith, Georgia 4-H environmental education coordinator, and Dennis Hancock, Extension forages specialist and associate professor of crop and soil sciences, both received 2017 Walter Barnard Hill Awards for Distinguished Achievement in Public Service and Outreach (Hill Award) at UGA’s Public Service Outreach Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon on April 17.

The Hill Award recognizes UGA faculty members and service professionals who made contributions to the improvement of the quality of life in Georgia or elsewhere to a degree that greatly exceeds the normal accomplishments of a productive faculty member.

The Hill Award is named in honor of Chancellor Walter Barnard Hill, who led the university from 1899 until his death in 1905. Hill was the first to articulate the university’s modern public service and outreach mission. 

Leading exploration into the environment

Since 1979, more than 1 million Georgia students have learned about the wild world in their own backyards through Georgia 4-H’s environmental education program. Today, Biersmith coordinates this mass exploration of the natural world. She was a K-12 science teacher, then director of Georgia 4-H’s Jekyll Island 4-H Center before taking over as state coordinator of 4-H’s environmental education program in 2008.

Since then, she’s watched more than 45,000 Georgia students participate in the program each year.

Biersmith is doggedly dedicated to environmental education and helping teachers link outdoor experiences with the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula used in their classroom.

She also worked to bring more STEM programming to Georgia 4-H, including an increased focus on robotics.

Helping farmers find greener pastures

With his trademark beard and trusty “grazing stick,” Hancock has been preaching better pasture health to livestock farmers in Georgia since 2006.

He works closely with UGA Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources county agents across the state to host multiple forage field days and sustainable grazing workshops each year.

From Georgia Grazing School to GrassMasters trainings, Hancock has worked to make sure that farmers have the information they need to reduce their costs and their workloads while protecting the health of their livestock and the environment.

With the rest of the UGA Extension Forage Team, Hancock helps to produce the UGA Forage Team’s blog, which presents the most up-to-date forage information to the public.

He also leads the Sustainable Grazing Systems Program. Through the program, Hancock and colleagues research and assess the best management practices for pasture and grassland crop systems. Hancock's goal is to ensure that Georgia and the Southeast's forage management systems sustain economically viable forage productivity, animal nutrition and livestock productivity while enhancing stewardship of our natural resources and improving quality of life for producers employing these techniques.

For more information about the ways that UGA Extension is working to improve the lives of Georgians, visit

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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