MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – A University of Tennessee Extension professional has been recognized nationally for her work with local Master Gardeners. Rachel Painter (pictured), Master Gardener coordinator with UT-TSU Extension in Rutherford County, has been honored with the National Master Gardener Distinguished Early Career Award.
Over the past three years, Painter’s efforts have helped the volunteer retention rate go from 30% in 2016 to close to 75% in 2019. She has helped pioneer the use of new technologies in Rutherford County, including new outreach efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. From Instagram to Google Drive, Master Gardeners in Rutherford County have been trained by Painter to use technologies to their benefit and to grow the program. She has also led efforts to involve Master Gardeners in TV and radio appearances to showcase volunteer opportunities and program impacts.
Painter has focused on recruiting and retention by leading a dedicated ‘growth team.’ This team is responsible for mentoring new volunteers and serves as a leadership pipeline. She also initiated and co-led listening sessions across the state that formed the foundation for a new statewide Master Gardener strategic and volunteer leadership development plan.
Jennifer Salter, president of the Rutherford County Master Gardener Association, nominated Painter for the award. “Rachel has inspired, motivated and revitalized our whole group from the day she arrived and I am excited to see what the future holds as she continues to mature in the position,” commented Salter.
“From her very first day, Rachel has been a passionate, organized, dedicated and visionary leader of her local UT Extension Master Gardener group,” adds Natalie Bumgarner, UT Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences. “Her leadership has transformed a struggling county group into one that is positively impacting their community and serving as a leader in the state Master Gardener program.”
The award is presented on behalf of the Extension Master Gardener National Committee and recognized the contributions of a coordinator with fewer than 10 years’ experience in the position. The Distinguished Early Career Coordinator Award is presented at the organization’s annual conference, taking place virtually this year in September 2020.
A Lebanon, Tennessee native, Painter has been with UT Extension since 2017. Painter holds a master’s degree in agricultural economics and a bachelor’s in natural resources and environmental economics, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The UT-TSU Extension Rutherford County office is jointly staffed by agriculture and family and consumer science professionals from the University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University.