Earlier this week Paul McKenzie, an Agriculture Extension Agent in Vance & Warren Counties in North Carolina posted a rebuttal to my controversial blog post entitled, Extension is Broken. He provides critical insight into why Extension professionals need to adapt in using new technologies or risk becoming less relevant. Read Paul's post here.
Here's the comment I wrote in reply to Paul's blog post:
Thanks for reading my blog posts about Cooperative Extension being broken. I know, it's a harsh thing to say, but I didn't think I'd get anyone's attention if I didn't word it that way.
When I read the the Cooperative Extension Brand Value Research report by Copernicus I couldn't help pulling my hair out over how terrible Extension is at communicating the value we provide to our communities. Not only that, but as an organization we are very slow to change. Wait, I thought we are supposed to be agents of change? To me, that's broken: An organization of change agents that are afraid of change. In a 2006 TED talk, Seth Godin said, "If I say it's broken, it's broken."
I'm 30 years old. I've been an Extension Agent for 2 years. Before USU took a chance on me I had never heard of Extension or Land-Grant Universities before. I knew about 4-H - but figured it was all about cows, plows, and sows. Before Extension life I managed a small marketing and design company. I was an active in my community directing races and I had a group of kids I mentored in business by teaching them how to print and sell custom t-shirts (I was already a proponent of the Experiential Learning Model). I enjoyed teaching business courses as a graduate assistant in my MBA program, but wanted to figure out a way to fuse education with hands-on experience...and eventually someday make a living doing so.
Then one day, totally by chance, I saw a job posting for a 4-H Agent. I did my research and was completely enthralled...and upset! I thought, "You mean to tell me the solution to so many of society's problems already exists in the Cooperative Extension System and yet I've ever even heard about it?!" After talking with more of my contacts I discovered I was not alone. The rest is history, but my life's work thus far has been in improving the organizations I work for.
I'm paid to serve the people Washington County, Utah. Like you and many other agents out there I spend way more time working than I actually get paid for, but I absolutely love what I do and the people I serve. In a sense, it's not really like "work." I don't have to tweet, post to Facebook, Instagram, or Google+ etc. I don't even have to write a blog. But I do because I believe in the power of personal brands. I also recognize a major problem with Cooperative Extension and I believe we are smart enough to fix it. Yes we absolutely need to adapt. We will NEVER be replaced by technology. What we do is so very critical for the advancement of our country (just look how far we've come since 1862, we deserve so much credit!). But now it's time to step it up and amplify our expertise because now we have the infrastructure to serve more clients, both locally and around the globe.
I have a colleague that is an FCS Agent. She is absolutely phenomenal! She is the best canner I know. She is recognized nationally for her remarkable work in emergency preparedness. In addition to serving Washington County, she made a video, "How to use a steam juicer," which has had more than 6000 views. Just one example of how we can take our expertise to the next level and reach more people by working smarter and using new technologies.
You are right Paul, this Internet and social media stuff does make our jobs more challenging. However, it's our opportunity to get relevant and reach people that have never even heard of Extension. They are clients too. We can help them improve their lives. I missed out on 4-H in my youth. But my kids won't and no one in my county will be able to say they didn't know about 4-H or weren't invited by Paul Hill.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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