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USDA honors project led by UW–Madison professor

September 12, 2012 By Jill Sakai

An initiative with Wisconsin roots is being honored today by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Photo: Professor Molly Jahn


University of Wisconsin–Madison agronomy and genetics professor Molly Jahn spearheaded the program, called “Your Two Cents,” while serving as acting under secretary of research, education and economics in the USDA in 2009-10. It has now been selected to receive a Secretary’s Honor Award, the highest recognition bestowed by the department. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will honor Jahn and the program today (Sept. 12) at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Based on a program Jahn piloted while dean of the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, “Your Two Cents” acts like an electronic suggestion box, providing an anonymous mechanism for USDA employees in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to make suggestions and provide comments to improve the workings of the agency.

The primary goal, Jahn says, was to open up new lines of communication within the agency and foster a sense of teamwork and partnership across all levels of a large bureaucracy, with resulting impacts on both employees and other citizens.

“It gives people a safe way, out of the ordinary reporting hierarchy, to express themselves,” she says. “This was a great team effort from all across the agency. People at all levels came together, realizing that together we are stronger and better than any one of us can be on our own.”

Jahn says she is especially pleased that the program arose through connections between the university and USDA, a longstanding tradition. “We benefit tremendously in the university setting from partnerships with federal agencies like the USDA, and especially the Agricultural Research Service,” she says.