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Local UF-IFAS Extension Agents Honored

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Two Hernando Extension Agents, William Lester, and Brittany Hall-Scharf say that they find rich rewards in their extensive environmental studies, projects, and accomplishments. And now, both have received additional rewards, in the form of highly competitive Professional Enhancement Awards at the University of Florida.  

The 2020 Sadler Distinguished Extension Professional and Enhancement Award is the latest in a long line of achievements for Brittany Hall-Scharf, a native Floridian and Marine Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County. Administrator and originator of the Florida Sea Grant College Program, she has won no fewer than a dozen grants and awards this year alone–everything from Best New Programming, Florida Sea Grant Director’s Productivity in Pandemic Award to the Silver Award for Team Promotional Materials, Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP), First Place in the Team Promotional Materials, Florida Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (FANREP) to the Technology Grant, UF/IFAS Central District (Co-PI: $2,000). 

Her program, according to a prepared statement, “aims to conserve coastal and marine resources and enhance economic opportunities for the people of Florida. Focus areas include: Sustainable Fisheries, Healthy Coastal and Marine Environments, Resilient Communities, Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development.”

On a daily basis, Hall-Scharf can be found undertaking a number of projects related to these broad categories, including fish and wildlife, science education programs, scallops, salt marshes, oysters, horseshoe crabs, red tide monitoring, aquatic nurseries, with studies conducted everywhere from Pine Island to Bayshore. 

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“During her early career as Extension faculty, Brittany has developed science-based programming that has a tremendous impact in Hernando County. Brittany’s programs have been recognized on a state and national level,” said Jim E. Davis, UF/IFAS Multi-County Extension Director. “She and her team developed the popular Bite Size Science webinars for youth, and gained international participation from multiple countries. Brittany is also part of the Drone Team which teaches students drone flight operations and testing.”  

And, in the wake of recent global events, she also has instituted virtual extension programs that center around educational courses and webinars.

“My work involves natural resources, the marine and coastal components,” she said. “Collecting data about what’s out there.”


The work comes naturally to Hall-Scharf, a sixth-generation Floridian who calls the water her second home.

“I grew up in the setting of old Florida. My dad was a bass fisherman and he would drag us along on fishing trips,” she said. “The boat is my happy place. The water is second nature.”

Davis takes great pride in Hall-Scharf’s accomplishments.

“This award provides a term professorship and program support to state or county Extension faculty members who have developed an exemplary education program for citizens in Central Florida,” he explained. “In order to be awarded, Brittany had to complete an application describing her achievements towards her Extension programing. Applications were judged by a committee of her peers of previous award winners. This is a very competitive process, in which Brittany competed with other Extension faculty and Extension Specialists who applied in the Central District (9 Counties). This award is well-deserved.” 

Native Florida is also literal second nature to William Lester, residential/commercial horticultural agent of the UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County, winner of the Master Gardener Distinguished Extension Professorship Award (which provides a term professorship to a dedicated and outstanding Extension faculty member working in the Florida Master Gardener Program), and co-author of the book Growing Up Florida-Friendly: http://ifasbooks.ifas.ufl.edu/p-1538-growing-up-florida-friendly.aspx.

“Dr. William Lester holds a graduate degree in Plant Medicine from the University of Florida….Combining a mix of horticultural knowledge and management skills, his current responsibilities include teaching the public and working closely with county and professional clients,” read a prepared statement. “As a frequent guest on radio and writing for local newspapers, his goal is to put complex scientific findings into language that can be understood by school age children and the general public alike.”

Indeed, Lester devotes each day of his work to familiarizing Floridians with the wonders and complexities of our natural habitat.

“I help both homeowners and professionals with lawn and garden questions,” he explained. “I conduct master gardener programs and do a lot of different things.”

Lester, a certified landscaper, has contributed to the creation of multimedia educational materials to support the Hernando County Fertilizer Ordinance and the recent Noxious Weed Ordinance. His frequent educational programs, delivered live and online, focus on the protection of Hernando County’s fragile Nature Coast ecosystem and the reduction of the harmful toxins present in the environment.  

“As the coordinator for almost 100 Extension volunteers,” read a prepared statement, “Bill believes that education and providing an opportunity to serve local residents are the keys to attracting and maintaining a highly motivated group of individuals.”

When addressing the questions and concerns of gardeners in the area, he tackles topics that include how outside elements like insects and bacteria affect plants, the particulars of tree trimming, maintaining fruit and vegetable gardens, plant, soil and wood science, food safety, and many more. 

“I always aim to get to the bottom of people’s gardening and landscaping problems,” he said. “And if I don’t have the answer, I’ll find it.”

His previous honors include Best Horticultural Abstract and Best Horticulture Abstract and Poster from UF/IFAS Central District Symposium. And while he says he’s thrilled to accept this latest award, he still claims his greatest reward in helping others.

For this honor, explains Davis, “Dr. Lester had to complete an application describing his achievements towards the Master Gardener Program and be judged by a committee of his peers. This is a very competitive process, competing with other Extension faculty applicants throughout the state.”

“Dr. Lester winning this award is well-deserved,” Davis continued. “His commitment and dedication to the development and training of Master Gardener volunteers is exceptional. Dr. Lester’s programs have been recognized on the state and national level. Dr. Lester is also requested by other Extension faculty for his innovative programs such as the state’s first distance educational training for Master Gardeners. Dr. Bill Lester has recently been granted permanent status from UF/IFAS Extension and promoted to the rank of Extension Agent III (rank equivalent to Associate Professor) from the University of Florida.”

In winning this latest honor, Lester hopes to raise awareness for the extension program.

“We strive to be part of the community,” he said. “I hope, above all, that this award will raise awareness that we are here, and of what we have to offer.”


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