DAFVM Spotlight Employees

The administration for the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine (DAFVM) plans to spotlight two employees each month. All benefits-eligible professional and support staff employees within the Division qualify as part of the pool from which employees will be chosen. Highlighted employees will be randomly selected and given his or her choice of a $50 prize from DAFVM to be claimed from specific vendors at MSU. See Guidelines.

Catherine Hepner
Catherine Hepner
September 2016

Office Associate
MSU Extension Service
Newton County

Years in Position: 1.75
Years of Service to MSU: 1.75

Having the opportunity to become more involved in her community is what sparked Catherine Hepner’s interest in working for the MSU Extension Service.

As an office associate for Newton County Extension, Catherine concentrates on community outreach through newsletters, social media and press releases. She also initiated a weekly agent column in a local newspaper.

“I’m the first smiling face our clients encounter when they call, email or come into the office, so I make sure they receive timely service,” Catherine said.

Catherine said dealing with people is the most enjoyable aspect of her job with Extension.

“There are so many talented and interesting people in our local community and the university,” Catherine explained. “I especially enjoy seeing the children who participate through 4-H.”

Previously, Catherine worked as a computer programmer specializing in materials management and integrated manufacturing systems for 11 years while living in California. After relocating to Idaho, she helped establish a local newspaper. Her family lived in Idaho for 10 years before moving to Mississippi. She was working part time at the local newspaper, the Newton County Appeal, when her current position became available.

Volunteerism and community outreach has always been a very integral part of Catherine’s life.

“I’ve always been interested in contributing to the welfare of my community, no matter where I live,” she said. “Working together with other interested individuals is a great way to get to know people.”

In California, she was involved in her church and delivering programs to aid pregnant teens. While in Idaho, she served as a volunteer art instructor for her daughter’s school and helped organize support groups for grandparents-as-parents (relatives who have custody of children when their biological parents are unable to care for them). Currently, she serves as secretary for the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce and manages the “Decatur News” Facebook group.

Catherine, who has been married for 30 years, has a 15-year-old daughter and four grown stepchildren.

Judias Neal
Judias Neal
September 2016

Research Technician
Department of Poultry Science
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 5
Years of Service to MSU: 8

Working with people has always been Judias Neal’s favorite task in his job with the Department of Poultry Science at Mississippi State.

“When I get up in the morning, I’m excited about going to work,” Judias said. “My supervisor and coworkers really make my job enjoyable. That’s key—having a good working relationship with other employees.”

As a research technician for the MSU Poultry Unit, Judias’ responsibilities include overseeing three houses on the South Farm. One house is dedicated to hatching chicks and caring for them during their brooding period (the first eight to 10 weeks after hatching). Older chickens are housed in the second house, and the third house is for raising turkeys.

Judias is no stranger to the university. Before his bird work, he harvested catfish from the ponds on the South Farm.

“I became interested in working at MSU because I heard there was good retirement, a great working environment and even better people,” Judias explained. “Now, I’m able to live comfortably and work with some of the nicest people.”

Having students come back and express their appreciation for his work with the poultry unit is what Judias considers one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

“It’s a joy to know that more young people are getting involved in poultry production,” Judias said. “With controversial issues in the media like steroid usage, it’s so important that we show students the truth about how we raise our chickens. Just giving them the opportunity for hands-on learning helps with that and gets them excited to learn more. With technology and facility upgrades, I can’t wait to see what the future for the state’s poultry industry holds.”

In 1998, Judias was called to the ministry and has been preaching at New St. Peters Baptist Church in West Point ever since. A Starkville native, Judias lives in Pheba with his wife of 20 years. He is a father of six and a grandfather of four.

“I love that my kids always come to me with problems and seek spiritual advice,” Judias said. “I thank God that my family is God-fearing and prides themselves on doing the right thing.”


  • The drawing for the DAFVM Staff Spotlight recognition will take place the last week of each month and be announced the first working day of the upcoming month.  Names are pulled randomly from a pre-populated Banner list.
  • To be the highlighted staff for any given month, the employee must have acceptable recent performance evaluations on file. Those evaluations will be reviewed prior to acknowledgement of the employee and awarding a prize. The evaluation itself will not be viewed but rather HRM will provide a general recommendation based on the employee’s past reviews.
  • The selected employees will be notified by letter from Dr. Greg Bohach, Vice President, DAFVM.
  • A required photo and a brief  interview of the recipients will be posted on the DAFVM Staff Council Web page www.dafvm.msstate.edu/advisory/spotlight/. This information will also be displayed on the monitors of the first floor of the Bost Building, as well as in other MSU locations and publications.
  • Each recipient can choose one of the following prizes:
    • $50 gift certificate to the University Florist
    • $50 gift certificate to the MAFES Sales Store
    • MSU apparel item ($50 value)

At each annual DAFVM Summer Celebration, the Staff Spotlight recipients from the previous year will be acknowledged. The DAFVM website will have an archive of all winners listed by month/date.

An employee cannot be chosen more than once during a two (2) year period.