Last week I was in Pittsburgh at Galaxy IV - a national conference for all the industry professionals in the Cooperative Extension System. It was me (a disruptive millennial) and all my (baby boomer) colleagues who have been in their jobs longer than I have been alive. Needless to say, I don't exactly 'fit in.' I get the feeling I make some of them very nervous and they often ask me, "Why are you even in Extension?"
Ah, nice to work with you too...my general response is something like, "Are you kidding? I was born for this!" I love using science to improve people's lives. I'll be honest, I didn't even know Extension existed before I started working for Utah State University a few years ago. But the reason I accepted my current role is because I recognized the system is broken and saw an opportunity to change it.
What does it mean to be broken? Well, if I think it's broken...it's broken.
How did Cooperative Extension get broken? The world changed.
It's been 100 years since the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and at our national gathering we're talking about how to stay relevant...hey folks, we're not relevant. When was the last time a 25 year old came into your office to ask you a question about gardening, canning, leadership, or growing alfalfa? That's right, they googled it and got the answer from a site unrelated to Extension. Was it the right answer? Was it research-based? Will it improve their life? Do you care?
If you do, keep reading.
How are we going to change? How are we going to reach a new generation of clients in such a dynamic world? How are we going to share our research with people who need it, but don't even know we exist?
I see enormous potential to make the system work again. But we have to become the most tech-savvy people with the ability to harness the power of the Internet, social networks, smart mobile devices (this includes things coming down the pipeline i.e. Google Glass, iWatch), the cloud, augmented reality, leap motion, speech recognition and so much more. Some of my colleagues agree, but many do not and are fine with the status quo. Over the next 100 years we have the opportunity to deepen relationships and make even greater impacts. I know we can scale it faster if we share information and work together.
We must reject complacency, imagine what can be, and then try it! We must generously share, question everything, tell stories, produce remarkable impacts and scientific breakthroughs while connecting people and inspiring others to do the same.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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