Dean Helene Dillard and professor Dianne Beckles talk as students work during a genetics and biotech lab class.
Dean Helene Dillard and professor Dianne Beckles talk as students work during a genetics and biotech lab class.

Dean Dillard receives ‘community champion’ award from the African Continuum at UC Davis

Helene R. Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is the 2021 administrator recipient of the Walter A. Robinson Community Champion Award. She was honored recently in an online ceremony hosted by the African Continuum at UC Davis, along with four other awardees.

The award was established in 2019 to honor the memory and legacy of Robinson, who was the associate vice chancellor of enrollment management. He was known for working tirelessly to bring under-represented students to UC Davis, especially those of the African Diaspora.


“I can’t think of a more deserving honoree to receive this year’s award than Dr. Helene Dillard,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary May in a video message. “She’s a world class administrator, educator and researcher. She’s proven that she’s the perfect person to lead the No. 1 agricultural program in the nation.”

Dillard was selected for her extraordinary commitment to making UC Davis a better place by strengthening its programs and growing international stature. The chancellor cited the college’s role in a number of top university rankings and the dean’s contributions to the UC Davis success story.

“She’s a role model and a mentor,” May said. “She’s committed to helping the African Diaspora and other under-represented students succeed. We see this in her commitment to ensure funding programs like Aggie Jumpstart, which helps to address barriers facing underserved and first-generation students.”

The chancellor described Dillard as a powerful campus voice for social justice, and lauded her for creating and leading a college committee on diversity, equity and inclusion. Separately, colleagues, alumni and friends also praised Dillard’s work in leading the college in a thoughtful, kind and accessible manner.

“Her efforts have also brought focus and clarity to diversity efforts,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, “including creative and engaging work to address barriers to incoming students who are coming to the college as first-generation, low-income and underserved learners.”

“Helene is unceasing in her commitment to our students,” said animal science professor Anita Oberbauer, CA&ES associate dean. “Her particular emphasis on both recognizing the challenges and then creatively supporting the needs of the African Diaspora students to ensure success is remarkable.”

“Dean Dillard’s leadership has inspired modern agriculture to re-engage with UC Davis,” said alumnus Ernie Farley, a partner with Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. “She has shown that the answers to the challenges we face in the coming decades lie in the minds of the diverse community of students and educators she guides.”

“She has championed diversity, equity and inclusion practices within the college in ways that actually address systemic challenges, and she is not afraid to tackle those challenges, even when the path to change may be complicated and difficult,” said alumna Caren Weintraub, director of communications for the college.

“She is a role model for our campus in helping build communities,” said Michael Lairmore, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “Her ability to relate to people through her research and her life’s story appeals to the younger generation and changes their career perspectives. We are all very proud of her as a colleague, academic and friend.”

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