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Western region leaders focus on Cooperative Extension Service's changing role

ALBUQUERQUE - Members of the Western Extension Directors Association met in Albuquerque March 27-29 in the organization's biannual meeting to discuss issues facing the agents in 13 states and four U.S. territories.


"Twice a year the directors and deans of Cooperative Extension Service of each western state come together to share our successes and to discuss how we can work together to provide programs on issues that cross our state boundaries," said the chair of WEDA's executive committee, Linda Fox, who is dean and director of Extension at Washington State University.

"We are always cognizant of emerging needs as defined by our stakeholders, or by state priorities defined by governors, executive branch, state legislature, county commissioners or local government's executive branches," she said.

Paul Gutierrez, New Mexico State University's associate dean and director of New Mexico's Cooperative Extension Service, said one of the key topics discussed was how to better communicate the Extension Service message to the urban and rural populations of the western United States, as well as what the agents can do to promote energy and water conservation and Extension's role in helping school-age children succeed in the classroom.

"Urban issues are not often thought of as a priority for Extension because we are thought of being a cows and plows, rural kind of program. But when you look at the population of the western states, they are urban states. Cities are where the population is concentrated," Gutierrez said.

During the meeting the Western Regional Program Leaders Committee reported on Extension in the urban areas in the West.

"Extension's success has been through a lot of one-on-one and nurturing of citizens and residents to help them through a learning process," said Paul McCawley, associate director of Extension at the University of Idaho. "We don't have the ability to work that way in our dense population area. So we're trying to figure out models where Extension can work in larger urban areas in the West.

"It's not the same as working in Cincinnati or Detroit, so we are working on coming up with the elements of an Extension program that would be successful in urban areas and find ways to pilot that in some of our western urban areas," McCawley said of the program leader committee's work.

"What we have recognized is that we need to work more through organizations of which we share common missions and goals. So we should be working more with agencies and non-profit organizations that have poverty, health or education as their mission. We should be able to collaborate with them on programs to reduce poverty or to improve workforce preparation, or whatever the issues," he said.

An example of such collaboration is the Extension parenting and nutrition programs working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to reach those who would benefit from the training.

Gutierrez said another important issue that WEDA is trying to define is Extension's role in K-12 and school-age children's success.

"The gap between those individuals who are well-educated and those who are not having the same opportunities is growing because of technology access, and partly because of parenting issues and socio-economic issues that relate to parenting issues," Gutierrez said.

"There are a lot of things that Extension has the resources and skills to address and deal with, but again we need to emphasize our role in that, so as we move forward on our state and federal agendas, the monetary resources continue to flow to support our efforts," he said.

The Western Extension Directors Association serves New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the U.S. territories of Micronesia, American Samoa, Guam and Northern Marianas. Its members ar