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James Grieshop, UC Davis specialist, retires from 33-year career

James Grieshop retired from UC Davis Department of Human and Community Development and Cooperative Extension in July after nearly 33 years as a community education development specialist. For the past three years, Grieshop has also served as director of the UC 4-H Center for Youth Development.

Grieshop, who lives in Davis, was a key member of the team that launched UC’s statewide Master Gardener Program in Sacramento County in 1980.

“Jim Grieshop’s community development work, his work on immigrant leadership, his activities with the 4-H Center for Youth Development, and many other numerous contributions have helped build strong links between the university and communities within California,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “His work with these communities has created opportunities for many individuals to improve their leadership skills, and through these leaders we have better communities. Jim will be missed.”

A highlight of his career, Grieshop says, has been working with farmworkers, Mexican immigrants, CE colleagues and students on campus.

On campus, he taught upper division and graduate level courses related to community and extension education and communication strategies for creating change, involving students in community projects.

Grieshop has published nearly 200 articles in popular publications and peer-reviewed journals, in both English and Spanish, and three books with national and international publishers. He also developed innovative teaching tools including videos, CDs, photo-novels, and games that have been used nationally and internationally.

Among his creative projects was the highly successful La Loteria de Manejo Seguro program, designed to promote safe driving among farmworkers. This program, which Nationwide Insurance Company recognized with its national award in 1998, used an innovative, educational game and mass media to engage and educate Spanish-speaking drivers in California. With cooperation from Radio Bilingue and the newspaper Vida en el Valle, hundreds of Spanish-speaking Fresno County residents played the bingo-like game that tested their knowledge of motor vehicle laws and regulations. Two-thirds of the participants surveyed reported that they or a family member had changed their driving behavior as a result – such as reading road signs and not speeding.

In Fresno and Madera counties, Grieshop worked with local schools, police and health organizations to diffuse community conflicts with Mixtec immigrants from Oaxaca in the 1990s. As part of a cultural awareness program, his team produced the documentaries“Invisible Indians: Mixtec Farmworkers in California” and “Teaching Traditions: Maestros of Mixtec Culture.” (The videos can be viewed at

More recently, Grieshop has initiated a multi-campus, bi-national campaign to warn and educate people in the Seaside-Monterey area of the high levels of lead contained in food sent from relatives in Oaxaca, Mexico. Without making a person feel ill, elevated levels of lead in the blood can trigger subtle changes in health such as hearing loss and aggressive behavior. Working with colleagues at UC San Francisco, Ohio State University, San Diego State University and other organizations in California and Mexico, Grieshop is trying to identify and document the sources of lead exposure.

“Among Jim’s most memorable characteristics are his warm smile, impish grin, and outreached hand,” said Lovell Jarvis, UC Davis divisional associate dean for Human Sciences and professor of agricultural and resource economics. “He’s always got an innovative thought about a program that needs to be implemented, a collaborative suggestion about how to put a team together to accomplish a task, and a willingness to take on the work to achieve a goal. He also always seems willing to buy a cookie for a friend. It is not surprising that he is well-liked as well as widely respected.”

In 1994 the UC Davis Academic Federation honored him as the first Cooperative Extension specialist to receive the UC Davis James Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1984-85, he received a Fulbright Fellowship for work on risk perception and community-based education in Ecuador. In 1992-93, he was awarded a second Fulbright Fellowship to study risk, health and community-based education in Oaxaca.

Grieshop said he has felt blessed to get paid to teach and to address real-life problems, working with wonderful colleagues.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of areas with many groups and people,” Grieshop said. “It has been a real joy and I hope to continue with it. This has never been ‘work!’”

Born in Chickasaw, Ohio, and raised in the equally rural Ohio town of Rockford, Grieshop earned his B.S. in biology from Marquette University, served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador for two years, and earned his M.A. in anthropology at State University of New York, Binghamton. While earning his doctorate in Foundations of Education at the University of New Mexico, he worked with a program to educate farmworkers. Before joining UC in 1975, Grieshop served as a statewide CE specialist at New Mexico State University for two years.

He has received emeritus status and will continue to lead the 4-H Center for Youth Development part-time during its search for a successor. In retirement, he and his wife plan a bike trip around Ireland. He also plans to continue working to educate people about health, food and culture in creative and innovative ways.

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