Writer: Darrell J. Pehr, 575-646-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org
LAS CRUCES - For decades, New Mexico State University has reached out to New Mexicans through its agents in agriculture, youth 4-H programs and home economics. Now, NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service is working to develop a pipeline that will offer research-based expertise from colleges across the campus to residents in every county.
"This is really about how the university can bring to bear all its intellectual capital and resources to better meet the needs of New Mexicans," said Paul Gutierrez, NMSU vice provost for outreach. "The challenge of universitywide Extension is to lead and to fully utilize the capacity of the entire university to respond to the needs of families and the diversity of communities in New Mexico while maintaining the integrity of Extension."
Gutierrez, who also serves as associate director of Extension, was the keynote speaker here at the two-day Universitywide Extension Conference, which brought together Extension faculty from across the state and on-campus administrators and faculty in a discussion of how to broaden the reach of the university.
"We've got a wonderful university here," said Lowell Catlett, dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. "We have talent that is in abundance in every single aspect, and we can all rise to the occasion, have a bigger vision, take what we have always known about what the Cooperative Extension movement could do for those in rural America and give them so much more. That's what we're about."
Participants focused on existing outreach efforts already under way in the state by Extension offices, colleges and community college campuses. The College of Business, for example, reaches out to entrepreneurs through its Arrowhead Center, designed to foster economic growth. The College of Education's Alliance for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning reaches students and teachers throughout the state in a variety of programs. Taking the next step - coordinating and expanding the outreach - is the goal of universitywide Extension.
"Although there's a lot of outreach going on across the university it really isn't coordinated in such a way that we're reaching the breadth of New Mexicans across the state," Gutierrez said. "Our mission and mandate is to serve to entire state of New Mexico."
Gutierrez said he has found a lot of support for the concept among on-campus faculty who may have been seeking ways to reach out more to residents.
Conference participants studied four prospective areas where outreach could be strengthened - youth; natural resources; community economic and resource development; and family, health and well-being, then discussed methods of collaboration. They identified topics like astronomy, wind energy, aquaculture, robotics, school nutrition and youth suicide prevention programs as areas in which the university has expertise and could more effectively reach out to meet the needs and interests of New Mexicans.
"Look at what you have in common with some of these other colleges and colleagues across campus," Extension Southwest District Director Charlie Siepel told participants. "Look at our strengths and weaknesses. Develop a desire to collaborate, to share. As we move forward into this process, none of us have been here before, so we're going to have as many failures as successes on how we collaborate across this university."
Using the existing Extension Service as the framework and model for the expanded outreach effort is the way to proceed, Gutierrez said.
"We have a lot of strength and a lot of history with Extension, not only in New Mexico but across the country. We also have a statewide presence." Extension offices are in every county in New Mexico, and a dozen Agricultural Experiment Station science centers serve many areas of the state. Other offices bring the total to 53 off-campus sites.
Extension also has an existing state and federal funding mechanism, as well as a wide constituency of supporters who already take advantage of Extension services.
Gutierrez believes that will help when it comes to obtaining more funding to support the universitywide initiative. Having Extension agents in counties who are experts in business, education and engineering enhances the value of the services being offered to residents and state-level funding can be sought to support that function.
Gutierrez plans to bring in experts from Idaho, Oregon and Wisconsin next month to train those who will begin to implement universitywide Extension and define the role of self-directed teams of Extension personnel and on-campus faculty members that will be set up to spearhead the process. A self-directed administration team and a universitywide Extension program director also will guide the process.
"Our vision is that we will make a difference in the communities of New Mexico and there will be clear evidence of that, through innovation, learning and shared leadership," Gutierrez said.
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