Published on 02/21/19

UGA Extension Academy program graduates new leaders

By Sharon Dowdy

Fifteen University of Georgia Cooperative Extension employees graduated this month from the 2018-19 UGA Extension Academy for Professional Excellence — an internal program aimed at developing the next generation of leaders.

The program is designed to teach leadership skills to early- and mid-career UGA county Extension agents, state specialists and personnel from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Ultimately, the training is an effort toward fulfilling UGA Extension’s mission of helping Georgians become healthier, more productive, financially independent and environmentally responsible individuals.

Extension Academy participants completed three leadership institutes offering intensive, three-day personal and professional development trainings facilitated by the CAES Office of Learning and Organizational Development (OLOD).

Participants in the leadership program have been identified as potential leaders for the organization, or are current leaders, who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills.

"Extension Academy is the first tier of leadership-development training for professionals working in UGA Extension and is closely aligned units within our college. This class of graduates look forward to potential leadership opportunities with the organization and will lean on the information and network they gained in this program as they lead,” said Lauren Griffeth, UGA Extension leadership specialist and organizer of the academy.

Tripp Williams, UGA Extension county coordinator in Columbia County, says he learned a lot about his management style and how it affects his team through the Extension Academy.

“I was able to identify leadership strengths and opportunities for growth to achieve our office goals and my personal career goals,” he said. “I feel the leadership academy is a vital part of continuing education for Extension agents as it equips us to be confident leaders in our offices, communities and state.” 

Kelle Ashley, the UGA Extension 4-H and youth development agent in Oconee County, applied for Extension Academy because she saw the program as an opportunity to grow professionally.

“Extension Academy was a great experience.  After each session, I felt ‘recharged.’ I’d return to my county office with a plan to take on new challenges both professionally and personally,” Ashley said. “This experience was also a great way to connect with colleagues from around the state. Creating this new network of Extension professionals has helped me better appreciate how each one of them brings value to our organization.” 

The opportunity to receive advanced leadership training in a small setting is what convinced Clark MacAllister, UGA Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Dawson and Lumpkin counties, to participate in the program.  

“I had been in Extension for a few years and I had established a decent reputation in my counties. This allowed me some room to take time for extra trainings,” said MacAllister, who joined UGA Extension seven years ago. “Even though I still feel ‘new’ in some ways, I’ve got to be a good example to the younger Extension agents coming up behind me.”

He said the Extension Academy courses helped him learn more about himself with an end goal of helping him better interact with others.

“The program makes you look inside and examine your own personality; how you are perceived by others and how you react to stress and conflict,” he said. “I learned how small actions can have big consequences when you are interacting with coworkers. It was uncomfortable at times to discuss my own personality habits, but in understanding these I can now adjust to become a better leader within my office and my community.”

After completing Extension Academy, MacAllister says he would recommend the program to other Extension agents who are interested in expanding their leadership skills.                              

This year’s Extension Academy participants are:

  • Leigh Anne Aaron, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, Oconee and Morgan counties
  • Kelle Ashley, 4-H agent, Oconee County
  • Stephanie Benton, 4-H agent, Early County
  • Pam Bloch, 4-H agent, Gwinnett County
  • Kasey Bozeman, county Extension coordinator and 4-H agent, Liberty and Long counties
  • Paul Coote, director, Burton 4-H Center
  • Tim Davis, county Extension coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Chatham County
  • Clark MacAllister, county Extension coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Dawson and Lumpkin Counties
  • Merritt Melancon, public relations coordinator, UGA Extension, Office of Communications and Creative Services
  • Susan Moore, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, Laurens County
  • Justin Shealey, county Extension coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Echols County
  • Heather Shultz, 4-H livestock programs coordinator, UGA Extension
  • Cindee Sweda, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, Spalding County
  • Trish West, county Extension coordinator and 4-H agent, Bryan County
  • Tripp Williams, county Extension coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Columbia County


For more information on UGA Extension’s impact in Georgia, visit

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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