Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - Grants native Paul Gutierrez returns from Seattle, Wash., to oversee his home state's Cooperative Extension Service in December. Through its county agents, the New Mexico State University program runs youth, agriculture and family education programs affiliated with every county government and several tribes in the state. They serve 50,000 4-H members, 14,000 farms and ranches, and New Mexican households.
Gutierrez, 45, is the seventh of 12 children who grew up as a 4-H'er and helped his family run a small cow-calf operation, though his father was a physician. He brings a unique blend of big city and rural experience to the job as associate dean of NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, said Dean Jerry Schickedanz. "Paul offers as complete of a package as I could ever hope for in an Extension leader."
Gutierrez is leaving the directorship of Washington State University Extension programs in King County that encompassed Seattle and a population of 1.8 million-roughly equal to the population of New Mexico.
He earned his agricultural credentials for 14 years helping Colorado ranchers and farmers evaluate production, financial and marketing alternatives using integrated resource management techniques as a farm and ranch specialist for Colorado State University.
"Ironically, agricultural systems work served me well for running an urban program," Gutierrez said. "I learned to listen to people and connect the dots."
"Paul has a reputation for bringing people together to deal with tough situations and he has been successful in turning funding situations around," Schickedanz said.
Gutierrez became well known in Extension Service circles as presenter of a conflict resolution program, "What I Meant to Say," that taught good interpersonal communications.
When asked about plans for New Mexico's Cooperative Extension Service programs, Gutierrez said he would listen to citizens and his faculty members before setting directions. He said he admires the practical applied science approach of the organization he takes over. "New Mexico Extension does as good a job as any of not getting too far out ahead of the people it serves," Gutierrez said. "It has stayed true to its mission."
He feels strongly that Extension will be most effective by collaborating with other groups, including school districts, and that Extension must do a better job of reaching underserved audiences, including Native and Hispanic citizens. "We need to commit to developing relationships with Latino audiences and hire faculty and staff who can build those relationships.
"I have a strong commitment to meeting needs at the county level, not building programs on campus, but relationships that further the work at the county level," Gutierrez said. "I know what it is like to be a county agent."
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