Colbert, Whitt, Wright win Ohio State Distinguished Staff Awards

Three CFAES staff members last month received Ohio State’s Distinguished Staff Awards, the university’s highest honor for non-teaching employees. Our congratulations go to Susan Colbert, Extension program director, University District, OSU Extension; Ladonna Whitt, floriculture technician, Ohio State ATI; and Jane Wright, curriculum manager, Ohio 4-H Youth Development.

Recipients of the awards, which go to 12 individuals annually, are selected for their contributions to the quality of life for all people they encounter at work, including university colleagues, students and members of the community.

Ohio State Interim President Joseph Alutto and AJ Douglass, senior vice president for talent, culture and human resources, presented the 2014 recipients with a $1,500 honorarium and a crystal trophy, and each had $700 added to their base salaries. The recognition program is sponsored by Ohio State’s Office of Human Resources.

Susan Colbert

Susan Colbert has an extraordinary gift for creating and encouraging the sense of community throughout the Weinland Park neighborhood. As a director of Ohio State’s Extension office there, Colbert has built a level of trust and respect from the residents because of her obvious dedication to them.

“One of Susan’s most important qualities is her interest in and empathy for the residents of the University District, particularly Weinland Park,” wrote a nominator. “That comes through in her ability to communicate and work with people of differing incomes, education levels, ethnicities and ages — and that ability is both refreshing and needed.”

This keen interest has resulted in an incredible effort to connect neighborhood residents to the programs and resources offered through OSU Extension. Colbert conducts pre-purchase homebuyer education and financial literacy training, and residents who complete the workshops become eligible for up to $5,000 in down-payment assistance through the city of Columbus. 

She also spearheaded a partnership with the Godman Guild Association to help the 110-year-old social service agency provide free basic computer training to more than 1,500 residents, including senior citizens and unemployed and formerly incarcerated persons. She also has organized job fairs and arranged transportation to ensure that residents are able to connect with employers with openings. Colbert’s most recent project, the Moms2B program, began as a nutrition education program in Weinland Park to address the high level of infant mortality.

“Susan’s passion, commitment and compassion drive her good work,” a nominator wrote. “Her commitment to the mission of independence and financial security of others often demands evening and weekend devotion to the neighborhood, and that has allowed her to build an unparalleled level of trust and respect from residents and colleagues alike.”

Ladonna Whitt

Though her responsibilities pull her in numerous directions and toward multiple constituencies — students, faculty, staff, campus visitors, delivery people and 
customers to the Agricultural Technical Institute flower shop — Ladonna Whitt has the skills of a juggler. No matter how many tasks are thrown her way (and there are many), she has nary a drop.

Whitt supervises the floral design lab as well as the flower shop operations, and seasonally she is responsible for planting and maintaining six displays and learning garden areas on campus and the decorative gardens at the Hawk’s Nest Golf Course in Creston, north of Wooster.

It is a hectic schedule with labs scheduled back-to-back and the flower shop in operation at the same time. But Whitt, who has been at ATI 28 years, anticipates everything, including instituting a special processing procedure and labeling system to ensure flowers are sorted and handled properly.

Whitt never loses her cheerfulness, whether she’s called on to lend a pivotal hand in preparing, designing and installing floral decorations for important university events or working one on one with students on proper corsage and bow techniques. Students, even those outside the floral degree and marketing program that she supports, flock to the available jobs in the flower shop because of Whitt’s demeanor. 

“A key to her success is her willingness to work right along with the students, never asking them to do anything she wouldn’t also do herself,” a nominator wrote. 

Whitt also contributes to the campus in other ways, including serving on the selection committee for the Ohio State ATI Distinguished Staff Award, which she won in 2011, and co-chairing a reaccreditation committee. She also volunteers to greet new students and their parents, adding a smiling face to the beautiful grounds she helps maintain.

Jane Wright

It is an often over-used phrase: think outside the box. But Jane Wright gave it new meaning as she reimagined how the 4-H curriculum could and should be created and distributed to clients in all 88 counties across Ohio and beyond.

Her most recent accomplishment is Project Central, with ideas borrowed from’s wildly successful book search function. Wright created an online view of the table of contents and the first activity from every 4-H project book and added ratings of each project by the members who have completed them.

“Even those Extension educators who are cautious about new changes embraced this website almost immediately because the design is so appealing and easy to use,” a nominator wrote. “Before this website was developed, parents had to drive to their county Extension office to view the new and revised project books.”

In another instance, budget constraints forced an end to the production of 12 Learning Lab Kits that helped students explore plant and animal species. But Wright lamented their loss and worked to transfer the production rights to 4-H so she could continue to offer this resource nationwide. Using skills learned from her MBA degree, Wright set up staffing, warehousing and marketing to create a self-sustaining unit.

In her creative vein, Wright worked with Ohio State’s Technology Commercialization Office to create apps that benefit the 4-H curriculum while keeping the proper balance between printed and digital materials.

“Jane demonstrates excellence through her work and supervision of an indispensable part of 4-H,” another nominator wrote, “and she demonstrates leadership in innovation and change that keep expanding the 4-H youth development boundaries in a practical way.”

Details on all the recipients here. (Award winner profiles reprinted from onCampus and from the Office of Human Resources.)