Rachel Painter, Master Gardener coordinator with UT-TSU Extension in Rutherford County, has been selected for 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 percent in 2016 to close to 75 percent in 2019.

Master Gardeners in Rutherford County have been trained by Painter to use online platforms like Instagram and Google Drive 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.

Painter has focused on recruiting and retention by leading a dedicated “growth team” that is responsible for mentoring new volunteers and serves as a leadership pipeline. She also 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.

“From her very first day, Rachel has been a passionate, organized, dedicated and visionary leader of her local UT Extension Master Gardener group,” said 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 by the Extension Master Gardener National Committee and recognizes the contributions of a coordinator with fewer than 10 years’ experience in the position.

Painter has been with UT Extension since 2017. She holds a master’s degree in agricultural economics and a bachelor’s in natural resources and environmental economics, both from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

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