AUBURN, Alabama —Dr. Barbara Struempler received the Jeanne M. Priester Award in the Leadership May 3 for her exemplary leadership to Alabama Extension and Cooperative Extension nationwide in the area of health and wellness. Her Extension career embodies the use of research generated by land-grant universities to achieve lasting, measurable and practical results, notably the upward mobility of countless millions of Americans – our most vulnerable.
“The Jeanne Priester Cooperative Extension Health Award is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s premier national award recognizing excellence in nutrition and health Extension education,” said Dr. Gary Lemme, director of Alabama Extension. “This award is special to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System because it recognizes Alabama’s native daughter, Jeanne Priester and her national leadership in nutrition Extension.
“Barb Struempler is a leader in developing Extension programs that serve limited-resource families, fighting childhood obesity and improving the health of Alabama communities with high rates of obesity,” added Lemme. “Struempler has served the residents of Alabama for 33 years as an Extension specialist and has been awarded $133 million in competitive grants directed for use in Alabama.”
“I am honored and humbled to receive the Jeanne Priester Leadership Award,” said Struempler. “She was a mentor of mine. It makes it more special to receive an award in leadership when you know the giver.”
“Priester was a visionary. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program that she helped start is still here 50 years later.”
Professional Network Leadership
Struempler secured improvements in nutrition, exercise and health through team building, enlisting the efforts of health advocates and educators both within and beyond Auburn University to improve the eating and exercise habits of Alabamians.
Her teams were the first to develop computer-based assessment, instructional videos and educational apps.
She is distinguished for insisting on fair and informed decision-making and other exacting standards to ensure evidenced-based documentation of her outreach programs. Her standards have served as a basis for building and sustaining these programs in an era of decreased public support and within an exceptionally competitive funding environment.
Lemme said that those who have benefited most from her efforts have been those who deal with challenges linked with poverty – high infant mortality rates, low incidences of breast-feeding and obesity and obesity-related diseases.
Perhaps no other program conceived, designed and implemented by Struempler better reflects her concern with limited-resource individuals than Today’s Mom. Today’s Mom is a prenatal program that addresses Alabama’s high infant mortality rate. For a quarter century, 100 educators have worked with limited-resource pregnant women throughout Alabama to provide successful birth outcomes.
One of Cooperative Extension’s first maternal-infant programs, Today’s Mom, received the national USDA Superior Service Award in 1991.
She developed an offshoot of Today’s Mom called Mom’s Helper. It encouraged breast-feeding among new mothers. Subsequent testing revealed an increase of breast-feeding rates from 6 percent to 35 percent.
In 2014, Struempler was instrumental in securing a three-year obesity prevention grant from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC had never before provided such funding provided to a land grant university. The program, ALProHealth, seeks to prevent and reduce obesity through community coalitions in 14 counties which have obesity rates higher than 40 percent. Its three-year goal is to increase healthy behaviors by igniting grassroots behavioral and policy, systems and environmental changes.
Under her leadership, the Nutrition Education Program (NEP) works to ensure that individuals eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles. NEP’s 35 professionals employed through AU-Extension and approximately 15 individuals employed through agreements with other Alabama institutions, are mostly located in rural Alabama where employment opportunities are scarce.
NEP brings in $5 million federal dollars annually. In fiscal year 2015, 174,875 limited-resource individuals took part in NEP. Every year, about 7,000 elementary youth and 4,000 parents take part in a 15-week nutrition series. Evaluations have documented that participants increase fruit and vegetable consumption significantly.
Body Quest, the flagship NEP initiative, is a childhood obesity prevention program. Its target audience is third graders in schools where 50 percent or more of students receive free or reduced cost lunches. Struempler was instrumental in developing the curriculum, which consists of a battery of interactive, colorful and anime-style materials. The initiative includes seven nutrition iPad apps that reach and energize youth.
In the past five years, BodyQuest has reached more than 25,000 third graders in 55 Alabama counties with interactive learning opportunities. Findings demonstrate Body Quest students consume more fruits and vegetables than students not receiving Body Quest.
About Jeanne M. Priester
The Jeanne M. Priester Award was named after the Alabama native. Priester was an Alabama Extension specialist at Auburn University. In the early 60’s, she led a federal pilot project in Alabama to reach homemakers in low-income rural areas. This project became the national Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in 1964. She joined the National Extension Service as a National Program Leader to duplicate Alabama pilot program’s nationwide.
Priester helped design Team Nutrition to support child nutrition through nutrition education for children and caregivers. This contributed to the present day focus on healthy eating and physical activity.
The annual Priester National Health Conference and Priester Health Award remain ongoing tributes to her and her work. She also received the 1988 Alumna of Year Award from the Auburn University School of Human Sciences.
The Jeanne M. Priester awards were presented at the National Health Outreach Conference Awards Luncheon in Annapolis, Maryland.