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SDSU honors Women of Distinction

Pictured from left: Jane Christopher-Hennings, Veronica Shriver, Crystal Levesque, Dianne Nagy and Karla Rodriguez-Hernandez.

Five women at different levels on the SDSU ladder were honored with April Brooks Woman of Distinction Awards Tuesday.

They were: Jane Christopher-Hennings, administration; Crystal Levesque, faculty; Dianne Nagy, professional staff; Veronica Shriver, civil service; and Karla Rodriguez-Hernandez, student.

The awards are held as a culmination of Women in History Month and sponsored by South Dakota State University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Committee. The annual tea and award presentation was held in the University Student Union’s Campanile/Hobo Day Gallery.

“It’s amazing to read the nomination and support letters and learn how these women have contributed to their careers, departments, our campus and the community, often while overcoming difficulties and persevering in their lives,” said Elizabeth Tolman, professor and Women’s Studies coordinator.

This year’s women of distinction:


Administrative: Jane Christopher-Hennings, professor and head, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences; and director of the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory

Since arriving at State in 1990, Christopher-Hennings has been a leader in the research of livestock diseases, obtaining more than $5 million in grants and publishing more than 75 refereed papers in scientific journals.

In addition, the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, which she has led since 2013, conducted 250,000 tests in 2016.

Angela Pillatzki, an assistant professor in veterinary science who supported Christopher-Hennings’ nomination, credits her “unwavering resolve” in pressing forward on the need to upgrade and modernize the lab, which was last updated in 1993. Near the close of the state legislative session, procedures were approved to make construction of the two-phase, $58 million project a reality.

Her nominators also note Christopher-Hennings’ success in a traditionally male-dominated field and note she has become a role model for other females, which now make up 80 percent of the students at veterinary schools.

Joe Cassady, head of the Department of Animal Science, added, “In addition to her professional accomplishments, she has succeeded as a wife and mother. She and her husband Brad have a daughter who recently earned a four-year college degree and is beginning her own career.”


Faculty: Crystal Levesque, assistant professor, Department of Animal Science

Levesque was selected for her work in the design of the university’s new Swine Education and Research Facility and management of research there.

In addition, she was one of nine scientists nationwide to receive the inaugural New Innovator in Food Agriculture and Research Award from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The grants, given to faculty in the first three years of their career, support creative, potentially transformative research projects that address today’s food and agriculture challenges.

Levesque will evaluate the dietary requirements of pregnant sows to develop precision feeding recommendations through the five-year, $600,000 grant, which includes an institutional match.

She also was part of SDSU’s group that presented 10 research abstracts at the Midwest Section of the American Dairy Science Association and the American Society of Animal Science.

Erin Cortus, an animal science associate professor who supported Levesque’s nomination, added, “Dr. Levesque’s graduate students are an excellent reflection of the quality of support she provides, both technical and personal. Her students are engaging, courteous and excited about their role in shaping the swine industry.”


Professional staff: Dianne Nagy, grant proposal specialist, Office of Research Assurance and Sponsored Programs

Nagy was cited for the key role she plays in helping the university achieve one of its strategic goals of increasing outside research dollars.

She is responsible for reviewing and submitting all final grant proposals to federal agencies. In fiscal year 2016, the office supported 703 proposals, nearly 60 per month.

“From inspiring collaborations between researchers across campus to leading training sessions in external funding procedures, to the nitty-gritty of navigating and editing complicated grant proposals, Dianne consistently exceeds the requirements of her demanding job description,” according to Mary Carlson, the grant proposal specialist with the colleges of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions and Arts and Sciences.

Her nominators also cited her development of D.C. Boot Camp, which she started when was grants coordinator in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering, a position she served from 2010 to 2014.

The boot camp was designed to help a faculty member identify a federal agency program manager in his field of expertise, contact the person via email, create a white paper, develop a rapport with the program manager and culminate with a face-to-face visit in Washington, D.C.

“This program was successful in our college and, when Dianne transferred to the university-level office, the program was immediately implemented for the entire campus,” according to Dennis Helder, associate dean for research in the Lohr College of Engineering.


Civil service: Veronica Shriver, senior computer specialist, Department of Animal Science

Shriver’s service to our area and nation are common themes in her nomination letters.

A 26-year member of the South Dakota Air National Guard, Shriver was deployed several times. In addition, she is a longtime volunteer for the Red Cross and the Brookings County Democrats.

Shriver has done all of this while being a valuable resource for the Department of Animal Science, where she has worked for almost 17 years. Her skills in computer-related issues allowed her to assist in the installation of the feeding system in the Cow-Calf Education and Research Facility.

Carol Kleinjan, an information assistant in the Department of Animal Science, said, “Our department is unique in that several of our animal education and research units are located off-campus. One day Veronica may be at work coordinating cameras to record foaling at the equine unit and then traveling to our swine finishing barn near Colman to adjust its computers.

“Back in our office environment, she answers questions on computer and laptop programs from faculty and staff. Whatever the issue, she will work until it is resolved. She is constantly updating her skills as new technologies come to campus.”


Student: Karla Rodriguez-Hernandez, doctoral student, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences

While pursuing a doctorate in biological sciences with a specialization in dairy science production, Rodriguez-Hernandez is heavily involved in research opportunities.

Her work on carinata meal has led to five abstracts for presentations at national conferences and other articles. In addition to her research, she is a mentor to undergraduate students and participates in SDSU Dairy Club activities.

Rodriguez-Hernandez, a native of Mexico who began her doctoral schooling here in 2014, also volunteers with “Semillas for the Future,” a SDSU Extension program that teaches Latino children about their heritages and instills in them a sense of community.

Jill Anderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Dairy and Food Science, said, “Karla is a true scholar and puts forth a great deal of effort to do well in her coursework. In her 2 ½ years of study with very demanding coursework, she has maintained a 3.88 GPA despite some initial challenges with English.

“She truly wants to learn and understand all the concepts and theories from her classes. She also does a great job at seeing how her coursework applies to the research we are conducting.”