Leadership Fellows Cohorts


Leadership Fellow:  Rhegan Derfus

Mentor: Evelyn Whitmer

Rhegan is currently working as a Program Coordinator, Sr. for the Cochise County office.    

Rhegan’s Goals for the Fellowship:  Expand leadership skills with the goal of becoming an Agent within Cooperative Extension.  This requires learning and applying grant writing skills, engaging workgroups, growing through mentorships, participating in research and needs assessments, produce higher quality publications, and implement planned programming in Cochise County.   

Outlines/Highlights on How Rhegan will Achieve Fellowship Goals:

  • Develop a “Screen Smart” campaign designed to educate caregivers on safe screen time & decreasing screen time to promote more physically activity. 
  • Assist in a needs assessment to better understand the County’s transportation needs to access healthy foods.
  • Produce joint publication with Cochise County Health Department “Relationships: The Key to Collaboration in Rural Communities.”
  • Take lead supporting role to promote increase in breastfeeding friendly environments in Cochise County by collaborating with a worksite wellness program, promoting and publicizing breastfeeding resources to shift environments and community perceptions; produce a publication “Breastfeeding Friendly Environments and Stronger, Healthier Communities.”
  • Amplify current committee roles to develop and implement Statewide programming related to early childhood
  • Attend grant writing workshop series offered by Cochise College


Quote from mentor:  “ … [Rhegan has] demonstrated remarkable understanding and dedication to the University of Arizona’s core missions and values.  I am continuously impressed by the diverse array of projects Rhegan can both implement and coordinate within her program and with outside partnerships.” 


Leadership Fellow:  Dr. Molly Hunter

Mentor: Dr. Donald Falk

Molly is currently working as a Research Scientist in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, with a specialization in fire science.

Molly’s Goals for the Fellowship:  Support for the advancement of her career by completing the training program required for qualification as a Public Information Officer (PIO) on wildland fire incidents.  She will be able to communicate the concerns of range and forest management more effectively with stakeholders.

Outlines/Highlights on How Molly will Achieve Fellowship Goals:

Translating the science of forest and fire management is necessary to bridge what we research and teach in academia to the public.  Molly is working to become an effective communicator, in both directions of listening and describing, through the PIO qualification program.  Scientists must serve as the bridge with the public to have a positive impact.

“… If funded [through the Fellowship], my colleagues and I will work with PIOs to collaboratively develop public wildfire educational videos that are science-based and communicate key agency wildfire priorities or strategies.  Becoming a certified PIO will allow me to gain further insight into the common practices and needs of public communicators and how scientist and extension personnel can best inform and address those practices and needs.”


Quote from mentor:  “Dr. Hunter is an internationally-recognized expert in forest and fire management, and she is unequivocally qualified for this step-up to a stronger leadership position.



Leadership Fellow:  Esther Turner

Mentor: Cathy L. Martinez, Ph.D.

Esther is currently working as a Program Coordinator, Sr. for the Pinal County office.

Ester’s Goals for the Fellowship:  Esther has received training in the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  She will use this Fellowship opportunity to expand leadership skills with the goal of building and fostering the movement of ACEs awareness and trauma education County and Statewide. 

Outlines/Highlights on How Esther will Achieve Fellowship Goals:

Pinal County Cooperative Extension will be a trauma informed organization, sharing ACEs knowledge with other Counties and organizations. 

• Expand the network of individuals and organizations involved to help grow the ACEs effort and secure resources to bring additional documentaries and films regarding ACEs and trauma informed care to our Arizona communities.

• Engage volunteers in this effort, expanding our program to create new and more volunteer opportunities within the Cooperative Extension.

• Participate in formal leadership development training via the Hispanic Leadership Institute.


Leadership Fellow:  Ashley Patricia Parra 

Mentor: Jeremy Elliott-Engel, Ph.D.

Ashley is currently working as a Program Coordinator, Sr. for the Arizona 4-H State Office.    

Ashley’s Goals for the Fellowship:   With the support of this Fellowship, Ashley will utilize the skills acquired in the University of Arizona Data Analytics Bootcamp to support the expansion of Arizona 4-H and achieve the goals set in the 20,000 by 2025 strategic plan. She will use her newfound knowledge of statistical modeling, data management, and data analysis to evaluate the 4-H program statewide and understand the experiences of First Generation 4-H Youth Members.

Outlines/Highlights on How Rhegan will Achieve Fellowship Goals:

  • Successfully complete the UArizona Data Analytics Bootcamp and receive certification.
  • Lead a collaborative program evaluation/research team in understanding the demographics and barriers of First-Generation 4-H Youth Members.
  • Impact recruitment and retention efforts of Arizona 4-H with an understanding of the first-generation experience .
  • Present at state-level and national-level conferences on the results of this evaluation to better inform best practices on engaging youth and family populations new to 4-H.

On June 5, 2020 at 10:22PM a lightning strike started the Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains northwest of Tucson, Arizona on the Coronado National Forest.  2018/2019 Fellow, Dr. Molly Hunter, working in her role as Public Information Officer for the Incident Management Team managing the fire, was featured on several local news channels KVOA 4 & KOLD 13, (links also below).  Molly's fellows program offered support as she reached for, and succeeded in her goal to step into that role.  Molly's outstanding achievement represents a unique partnership between the UA and Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.  Thank you, and congratulations to Molly, for her continuing outstanding work with the UA, and in her role as PIO for the AZ Department of Forestry.

From KVOA 4 news Tucson “Residents are reminded to be aware of firefighters as Bighorn Fire grows to 14,686 acres” 

From KOLD 13 new Tucson “Researchers say there are positive benefits to wildfires” 

From KOLD 13 new Tucson “Impact of monsoon after wildfires” 

From KGUN 9 news Tucson “Breakdown of the ‘behavior’ of Bighorn fire”