By V. Todd Miller and Meggan Franks
Described as a visionary by colleagues, Saralene Seals was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in an October ceremony in Washington, D.C.
In her nearly two-decade career, Seals had a tremendous impact on thousands of youths and adults through her service to 4-H and the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, serving as a 4-H food and nutrition home economics specialist and project leader, 4-H curriculum specialist, state board advisor, National 4-H health curriculum advisory member and, in retirement, a 4-H judge, donor and ambassador.
A youth development scholar, Seals was a proponent of youth leadership, establishing the Louisiana 4-H Food and Fitness Board in 1999. Seals worked to create a diverse and inclusive board climate as well as allow youth from marginalized populations to recognize their leadership ability. Through her encouragement, she coached youth to pursue careers in industries they would have otherwise thought were unobtainable, including nutrition, dietetics, exercise and food science.
Monique Hebert Sanchez, a 4-H alumna and Acadiana Christian School principal, shared how Seals helped shape her life and career.
“As a former Food and Fitness president, Dr. Seals was instrumental in preparing me for the various leadership roles I would serve in the future, including a 4-H agent and school principal,” Sanchez said. “Her vision for developing youth leaders was always bigger than anything I experienced as a child. From board meetings to lessons and out-of-state trips, she provided experiences that molded our character and prepared us for the workforce.”
One of Seals’ most outstanding achievements was the 1988 development and construction of the Hathorn Fitness and Nature Trail at Camp Grant Walker. With the assistance of the LSU exercise physiology department, she partnered with 4-H faculty across the state to manually install trail stations. As a result, the Hathorn Trail has become a critical component of camp programming.
After earning her doctorate in vocational education with an emphasis in nutrition education from LSU, Seals spearheaded and developed several statewide 4-H individual and team competitions — one of which allowed youth to create a daily menu based on dietary guidelines and present it to a panel of judges, developing knowledge and skills in nutrition, presentation and management.
Lanette Hebert, 4-H coordinator for the AgCenter Southwest Region, considers Seals a mentor and said the Hall of Fame honor is much deserved.
“Dr. Seals has had a tremendous influence on me. As a 4-H member, her encouragement and the opportunities she provided influenced my career choice,” Hebert said. “As a 4-H agent, she was a role model as she is a visionary leader that was instrumental in providing critical professional development for agents as well as establishing programs that are still impactful today.”
For her part, the modest Seals said she is honored by the induction but, true to form, shares the credit with those she has worked with over the years.
“4-H ignited my passion for integrating experiential learning into nutrition education,” Seals said.
“This cherished award is shared with agents and youth who launched my new programs.”