Extension specialist receives national award for promoting the good life

Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel pointing to bulletin board
May 19, 2021

Lincoln, Neb. —Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, an Extension specialist for Rural Prosperity Nebraska, has received the Distinguished Career Award from the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals for her nearly 40 years of service to community development. The award ceremony, which honors one recipient annually, concluded NACDEP’s 2021 conference, which was held virtually this year. 

Based out of the Scottsbluff Research and Extension Center, Burkhart-Kriesel began working for the University as a community development specialist in 2001. Prior to that, she had worked as a community development educator since the early 1980s. “I wanted an opportunity where you make a difference,” she says about why she felt drawn to community development. “The classic line from Nebraska is ‘The Good Life.’ You can help continue that good-life mentality.” 

“Cheryl exemplifies how education, research, and Extension can positively impact communities,” says Marilyn Schlake, a fellow Extension educator who nominated her for the award. “Through her leadership, colleagues have further embraced community development as a recognized and honored professional field.” 

In addition to helping bring “The Good Life” to Sidney, Chadron, Ogallala and other rural communities across Nebraska, Burkhart-Kriesel has worked in 10 states, including Hawaii, making the title of the conference, “Open Spaces, Endless Possibilities,” apropos for how she sees her career. “Anyone who works in community development is a life-long learner,” she says. “A constant learner.” 

However, her focus is not on the places, but rather the people. “The memorable piece is the interaction with the people,” she says. “It’s seldom easy, but when you have good people working together, it’s very satisfying.” 

Burkhart-Kriesel says, “I was thrilled and humbled and honored,” to receive the award. But she recognizes she can’t make an impact by herself. “My colleagues put in lot of the work, and I appreciate their efforts.” 

When asked what she will do after the award ceremony, she says, “Work! There’s a lot of work to do.” 

Rural Prosperity Nebraska brings together Extension professionals, faculty from across the University of Nebraska system and student fellows to work with community leaders to help  make Nebraska’s rural communities more vibrant. Rural Prosperity Nebraska is housed within the University’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For more information, visit ruralprosperityne.unl.edu.