Dee Ann Benard, Executive Director
Dee Ann Benard joined ARDN as executive director in April, 2009. After earning her B.Sc. (Biology) and M.Sc. (Plant Pathology) from Simon Fraser University, Dee Ann moved to Edmonton in 1994 to work as a Laboratory Scientist with Alberta Agriculture. There, she also spent time as a cereal and oilseed specialist, before joining private industry to manage the Alberta operation of Integrated Crop Management Services (ICMS), Inc in 1998. In 2000, she joined the Alberta Research Council in Vegreville as a plant pathologist, where she worked on canola diseases and managed the cereal disease program. In 2003, her focus turned to the business side of science, when she became the business development officer for ARC’s Life Sciences Division. In 2004, she joined the newly formed Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) as executive director. Under her leadership, ARECA grew from a “one-woman” home-based operation with a one-time $80,000 grant, to a staff of six full-time professionals and an annual budget of over $1,000,000.
Dee Ann has served as a member of the Agriculture and Food Council since 2005, and was the Chair of Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food from 2007 to 2009. She is an active volunteer in her community and in her professional life.
Dee Ann lives with her husband Jim and son Adam on a small farm in Strathcona County beside Elk Island National Park. She is an avid skier and hiker.
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Joy Vonk, Operations Manager
ARDN’s operations manager is Joy Vonk. After raising her three children and doing various part-time and volunteer positions, Joy joined DeVos Brokers as office manager in 1996. In 2003, she earned a Diploma in Office Administration from the Academy of Learning. At that time, DeVos Brokers was sold and became Letal Brokers, and Joy continued to manage the office. In July of 2004, Joy began dividing her time between Letal Brokers and the newly-formed Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA). She worked her way from part-time administrative assistant to full-time executive assistant with ARECA, until she was invited to join ARDN in May, 2009.
Joy continues to partake in learning opportunities, and has taken numerous courses, including event management and accounting training. She has extensive experience with event management, bookkeeping and accounting, scheduling, website maintenance and newsletter production. Joy lives in Edmonton with her husband Ron. They have two adult daughters and one adult son, and one grand-daughter. Joy enjoys playing golf on weekends.
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Paul Watson, Research Director
Paul Watson joined the ARDN as Research Director on September 21st, 2009. Paul earned a B.Sc. in Environmental Science (University of Manitoba) with a math minor in 1994, followed by an M.Sc. in Botany (University of Manitoba) in 1997. After this, Paul worked as a Research Associate at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (1997-2000) doing multivariate analysis of weed community changes resulting from altered tillage practices on the Canadian Prairies. In 2000, Paul returned to the University of Manitoba as a Ph.D. Candidate in Agriculture and received his Ph.D. in 2004. In September 2003, he joined the Alberta Research Council as a Weed Scientist. In addition to traditional weed science and agronomy, Paul also worked on novel projects such as the development of a working economic model for the formation of an Alberta-based company that would grow, extract and refine artemisinin (a cure for quinine-resistant malaria) from Artemisia annua L. Paul continues to upgrade his skills, and is currently working towards his Project Management Professional (PMP) designation. Paul enjoys playing guitar, cards, golf in his spare time.
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Melissa St. Dennis, Communications Manager
Melissa first joined ARDN in May of 2010 as the summer communications assistant. The position was extended and eventually morphed into the full time position of communications officer. After coordinating a team of MacEwan students to fundraise $80,000 and travel to Nicaragua and construct two secondary school classrooms, Melissa returned to ARDN as communications manager in November 2012.
Her Bachelor of Applied Communications in Professional Writing has given her experience in a variety of corporate, narrative, and literary communication styles. She has traveled to Nicaragua twice for community development work and was raised in a very tiny rural community: Wandering River, Alberta.
Thom Yee, Communications Associate
Thom joined the ARDN as Communications and Marketing Associate in May 2012. A third-year student of Grant MacEwan’s Communications program, a NAIT Marketing graduate and an experienced retail manager, Thom has been trained in public relations, advertising, project leadership, speech writing, structural and copy editing, fiction writing, and the Way of the Intercepting Fist. He has the uncanny ability to instantly find errors in any document, no matter how well proofread.
In addition to being a self-proclaimed master of the written word, Thom is also a consumer electronics expert and a comic book historian. When not working on projects, writing newsletters, editing documents, remembering old Simpsons jokes, appraising and re-appraising the value of his Fabergé egg collection, or meditating in heavy-gravity environments, Thom can usually be found test driving experimental racecars. He never drives faster than he can see, and besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.