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East Coast USA, United States
Lowcountry porch sitter. Appalachian Mountain lover. Finger Lakes dreamer.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Six degrees of separation from the Cooperative Extension System

Recalling the moment I received my award for photography from Eastman Kodak at the Cabell County 4-H Camp and Conference Center in Barboursville, West Virginia brings forth a smile in the recollection of camp fires, new friends and character building activities.   In  many ways it foretold the role Cooperative Extension would play in my life.  Throughout my life.

First the obvious. I spent my club time in Huntington, West Virginia focused on an enriching activity that my mother encouraged me to pursue because of my ability to tell a story.  For many years I read books and kept a journal, but she prodded me to visualize my thoughts "capture the moments you find so easy to craft into words on film." I took those talents a bit further later in life and combined the two activities into a passion for public speaking. What's significant about the award I received is the company, Eastman Kodak. Several years after receiving the photography award our family moved to Kingsport, Tennessee which housed Kodak's second largest facility (now Eastman Chemical, a spin off of the parent company).   Somewhat prophetic when I think about how a young girl in one state lands in another state in a town whose primary employer recognized her photography achievement. 

Now I wish I could say my understanding of the significance of the Smith-Lever Act  prompted me to engage in a 4-H program, but the truth is my parents' participation as volunteers, former 4-Hers themselves finding a way while living poor to give their daughters summer vacations and extracurricular activities made it an ideal environment.  In fact, their personal investment reaped many rewards beyond the time and talent they shared during those early years. 

Fast forward through many life passages~ I graduate from high school, go to college, graduate, secure a job in higher education, get married, get divorced, and then move to Ithaca, New York to go to graduate school. Here's where my Extension story gets interesting.  I attend Ithaca College as an adult student in the Roy H. Park School of Communications to complete a masters in Corporate Communication (also lacking the then current technical skills found in mainstream media), buy into the library privileges at Cornell University so I have the best resources available to me, fall in love with the nineteen libraries at Cornell (easy for a book worm to do) and then graduate. When it came time to locate employment where my previous experience and newly developed skills could go to work my mentor/professor Diane Gayeski  (interestingly enough now dean of the Park School) suggested I look at Cornell, the land grant University for New York state. I also consulted the reference librarians at Mann Library (which services the learning in life sciences, agriculture, human ecology and applied social sciences at Cornell) who I'd gotten to know quite well during my two years of graduate study. It was they who forwarded a notice about an opportunity with Cornell University's Cooperative Extension as the Director of Public Relations and encouraged me to apply. 

My employment at Cornell University was one of the most rewarding and rich experiences of my professional career. Not only did I get to spend time working with the University's Extension agents and academic professionals I also captured a keen understanding of each of New York state's 58 County Extension offices, their respective elected officials, the people of New York and attended most all the county well as the annual state fair in Syracuse. It was here that I was introduced to the profession of public affairs serving in the Government Affairs division at the University and later performing a Cooperative Service Agreement (CSA) as an employee of Cornell with CSREES  in 4-H Youth Development (now USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture). 

It's the people connected to Cooperative Extension that make the difference. I met Cathann Kress at Cornell as the Director of 4-H Youth Development and later worked with her at USDA. She now serves as the Vice President for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University. I worked closely with Kathryn Boor and her Food Safety Lab at Cornell. She was then a professor of food science and I enlisted her to participate in a topical seminar on BioTerrorism with the then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She now serves as the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell. For me, these Extension professionals symbolize the greatest asset of the system, its people serving the public needs through research and outreach. Living the land grant mission out loud.

All good things don't have to end, but a family death and a parent in decline necessitated my return South and departure from Cornell. What's the first thing I do when I land in Beaufort, South Carolina? I look up my local agent at Clemson Extension and ask for assistance in getting familiar with my new home town.  

Life continues to intersect with Extension. I served as a board member in its infancy for what is now the most successful farmers market in our region (Farmers Market of Bluffton). Clemson Extension was there providing expertise and assistance in placing the market on the map at its start. I get a dose of the Master Gardner program at the Port Royal Farmer's Market each week. I follow the careers of my former colleagues, applaud the accomplishments of USDA sponsored programs and marvel with pride at the success of the system in connecting its efforts to real people despite a myriad of changes to its structure, budgets and the unfolding times.

From a passion for photography to a profession and livelihood in civic and public affairs to continuing to rely on its people to give me the information I need to be successful, Cooperative Extension one hundred years later delivers the mission of its intent and continues to go on strong.

Happy 100 Years Extension!

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Life Enrichment is like a travel and learn program...offering infusions that make every day life thereafter far more interesting! ~ Ann-Marie Adams, Reflections on a Meaningful Life