Monthly Archives: October 2014

Is there value in being engaged in your community?

When I was hired as an Extension Agent in the early 1990’s, my co-workers and administrators impressed the value and importance of being actively involved in the community where I worked. It was also expected (at that time) that I live in the county where I worked. There were multiple ways, of course, to be involved in the community. These included things like serving on local committees, church membership, attending school functions, fairs and festivals, and being a member of civic clubs. Because of the relational nature of Extension work, it was seen as important to get connected to people and to show them that you were committed to the county and that you were not going anywhere else anytime soon.

Through building connections and networking in their community, Extension Agents begin to build trust and a reputation for caring about the community and the well-being of the citizens there. Being the “County Agent” becomes more than a job or profession. It becomes an identity and expresses who you are and what you represent. Many people have identified this as having the “Extension Gene.”

Over the years, I continued to hear about the value of community involvement. In counties and cities where there has been frequent Agent turnover, questions arose from stakeholders and volunteers such as “should I invest my time and resources to helping this person and program, if they are not committed to me and this community?” A 2012 article in stated that “ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years.” It also stated that “job-hopping can speed career advancement…and also lead to greater job fulfillment.”

So, what does this mean for someone who has chosen being an Extension Agent for a career? What does it mean for the credibility and sustainability of Extension programs in a community? Does it matter that an Extension Agent is involved in the community that they work in? Is program success connected to community involvement?

What do you think?

Mike Martin

Extension’s role in controversial issues

Recently I came across this abstract in the Journal of Extension:

The CES can make a major contribution to the resolution of environmental disputes in this country if we choose to do so. Quite a few faculty already have the education, skills, and vision to be effective in this arena. Many others, with additional training, would probably be more willing to take calculated risks and devote sustained effort in this direction. We have the potential. Are we ready to take the risk and make the commitment?

So what do think?  What are your perspectives and experiences in dealing with controversial issues?

Oh, and by the way, the author was Emmett Fiske from Cooperative Extension at Washington State University-Pullman. It was published in 1991. Here is the link to the full article:

Mike Lambur

Scholarship: What is that?

For the last five to six years, VCE Extension Agents have been encouraged to improve/increase their scholarship. We have been told by the District Directors recently that there will be more specific emphasis on scholarship in the next round of evaluations. I remember the first time I tried to “answer the scholarship call;” I thought I had become one of the “trend setters” by being a presenter at Winter Conference. Little did I know that first opportunity and simple challenge would peak my interest to further develop my “scholarship skills.”

From that first workshop, I have challenged myself to develop skills I did not even know I had. I have presented or co-presented at national conferences, and the conferences were not just my professional association.   I have learned to partner with a state specialist where we balance and enhance each other’s scholarship skills. We are intentional in our focus to continue to produce quality products and materials (devoting about a day every other month to this work) but in staying focused, we have developed results.

What do you need to do to develop your scholarship skills? First you need quality programming which includes meaningful evaluations that can show impactful outcomes. (How do I develop such evaluations? That is another blog post). If you have not yet developed your programming to that point, then again, partner with a specialist for support. ANR Agents seem to get this concept the most when they partner with an AREC Specialist for research test plots. This model allows field agents to contribute in a meaningful way to research, and often the data is compiled by the specialist. The specialist then submits posters, workshop proposals, and fact sheets based on the research from several contributors. This model allows agents to practice and develop their scholarship skills without being overwhelmed by the process. HOWEVER, I am not an ANR Agent and I do not have that particular partnership luxury.

Consequently, I began partnering with a state 4-H specialist five years ago in a forum that was beneficial to both my professional growth as well as for the specialist. We have presented at one national conference, three state conferences, and next month will present again at our national profession association. We have participated in three poster sessions (state and national levels); and it all was based on the same research. We have continued to enhance/improve the gathering of more data, which in turn has made the research richer.

Additionally, after partnering on the research project scholarship opportunities, we decided to branch out to further scholarship work strengthening the agent/specialist combination. Last year we had two peer reviewed fact sheets published and we have four others in various stages of the peer review publication process focusing on teen programming.

Why do I share this process? I share these thoughts and experiences because if I can overcome my perceived writing inabilities and produce scholarly published peer reviewed materials, present workshops at state and national conferences, create posters depicting the data in a visual manner and foster a strong relationship with a state specialist in developing these products, then I can be sure the opportunities are available for many others. As in many other endeavors, the hardest part is starting!

What are your thoughts and experiences in developing your scholarship skills?

Billie Jean Elmer
Senior Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development
Surry County