Welcoming Jerrie Haines
What is it about human nature that draws us to paradoxes and riddles? The allure of the challenge? The mystique of the unanswerable question?
One such question is, “How do you replace someone who’s irreplaceable?” Perhaps this was one of many questions on Jerrie Haines’s mind the morning of June 6, 2022, her first day as program/extension aide for the Northeastern IPM Center—a position that had recently been vacated when the incomparable Nancy Cusumano retired after nine years.
Undoubtedly, getting up to speed in any new job entails a certain learning curve and period of unknowns, regardless of the legacy left by one’s predecessor. But if one thing was certain, it was that Jerrie came into the position with the same determination that led her to pursue it in the first place. She had the background, the skills, the interests, and the desire to make the most of this new opportunity.
Family Heritage and Local History
Jerrie has deep connections to the Ithaca, New York, area where Cornell University—the Northeastern IPM Center’s host institution—is based. She is from the small community of McLean, a mere dozen miles from the university campus.
“I have a brother, a sister, and three stepsisters, and I’m extremely close to my family,” she says. “And my husband of 13 years, Steve, and I are immeasurably proud of the blended family we’ve successfully raised together. I have a daughter, who lives in Florida, and a stepson, who’s in the Army. He and his wife recently welcomed a new baby.”
The Haines family were potato farmers who moved to the area from Maine. History tells that they were a prominent Quaker family that helped run the last stop on the Underground Railroad before Canada, just northeast of Maple Grove, Maine.
The other side of Jerrie’s family is just as rich in history, as she is a descendant of Ezra Cornell, who founded the eponymous university in 1865. “My grandfather could have gone to Cornell for free,” she says. “Ezra was his great-great uncle.”
The Service and Early Career
After high school, Jerrie was undecided about how she wanted to further her education, so she “chose to go to the school of hard knocks,” as she describes it, and joined the Army, much as her stepson would later do. She was stationed in Germany as a communications specialist for the brigade. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time while serving,” she says. “To this day, I thank the Army for my discipline, team spirit, and work ethic.”
Following discharge, she attended a two-year school where she pursued business and computer science.
Earlier in her career, Jerrie mainly held office-type positions, until she was made a field manager for a now-defunct local tree farm. From there, she got into greenhouse work, which fortuitously provided a primer on integrated pest management—both what it is, and why it makes sense.
“Once I was in the greenhouse environment, I really gravitated towards the integrated pest management portion of my job,” she says. “I was fascinated by ‘good bugs eating bad bugs’ and learning about the different aspects of IPM. And the cherry on top was that once I developed my IPM skills, I no longer had to suit up and spray pesticides. My good bugs were doing their job!”
A Career Change and an Opportunity at the Center
At the time the program/extension aide position at the Center became available, it dovetailed with the direction Jerrie was considering taking her career. “I was hoping to find somewhere that I could contribute my IPM knowledge but return more to the office and administrative side of things,” she says. “When I saw the position at the Center posted, I was beyond hopeful that I would be considered.”
“This position has given me new ways to feel I can really make a difference.”
Jerrie’s bifurcated background in both office and field work—including personal experience using IPM—made her a unique candidate for the Center. The mission of the regional IPM centers is more about facilitating and fostering IPM than it is about implementing it, and IPM expertise is generally not a prerequisite. Center staff tend to specialize in areas such as grants, communications, web administration, and evaluation, and we work to support, fund, inform, and coordinate among IPM researchers and practitioners within the region.
However, a background in IPM and field work combined with administrative and communication skills honed earlier in her career meant not only that Jerrie had the tools to succeed in the position, but also that she had a personal connection to the Center’s mission. She knew firsthand what it’s like to manage pests in a field or greenhouse setting and how IPM encourages a science-based, least-risk approach.
Now about a half-year into the position, Jerrie is sufficiently far along to reflect on the experience so far. “The administrative side of the job has just been a gradual refamiliarization with methods and processes I’d used before,” she recalls. “There were times early on when I felt a bit overwhelmed by the wide variety of tasks, mainly because I found myself in an ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ situation. But my new coworkers have always been happy to lend me tips and pointers, while the documentation that Nancy left has been valuable beyond words. She was my Rand McNally and she left me a map like no other!”
“Variety of tasks” is key. The program/extension aide is sometimes misperceived as an administrative assistant position, which it does subsume to a large degree, but there is an abundance of additional roles and responsibilities. This includes some communications tasks, such as day-to-day management of social media and the IPM News and Events Roundup weekly e-mail newsletter.
“I think I worked the hardest to get up to speed on the Roundup,” Jerrie says. “I had never managed a publication before, and I could tell from shadowing the production process for a little while after I started that it’s a significant undertaking that can require a lot of time. However, with practice and repetition, one gets into a certain rhythm and becomes more efficient at the process while also finding ways to put their own stamp on it.”
From New to the Team to Part of the Team
While navigating the expected challenges that come with any new position, Jerrie is settling in and has proven herself to be a valuable—and valued—colleague. And she’s pleased to have earned this opportunity to take her career back to its roots while incorporating what she’s learned along the way.
“The Center did well to find Jerrie Haines. I’m confident I speak for everybody by saying we’re beyond pleased to have her on the team.”
– Deborah G. Grantham, director, Northeastern IPM Center
“I enjoyed my greenhouse work, and the experience broadened my perspective, but it was mostly manual labor and I often felt underutilized,” she says. “Now, I’m back to using my brain full-time at work. It has given me new ways to feel I can really make a difference.”
Joining the Center has allowed Jerrie to evolve her career, but as with any member of such a small team, her presence has also helped shape the Center itself. “As I keep growing in my career, I always want to be an important part of whatever team I am working with. I’m motivated by being needed and by stepping up and filling those needs,” she says.
“Nancy Cusumano’s departure left big shoes to fill, but I firmly believe the Center did well to find Jerrie Haines,” said Deborah G. Grantham, Center director. “Her interests, skills, and experience make her a natural fit, and I’m confident I speak for everybody by saying we’re beyond pleased to have her on the team.”
Please join us in warmly welcoming Jerrie Haines to the Northeastern IPM Center, thanking her for her contributions so far, and wishing her continued fulfillment as part of the team.