The state university outreach program that has been best known for working on agriculture issues for more than a century is shifting its focus to something besides 4-H clubs and providing information on planting the right kind of petunias.
The University of Missouri Extension now is moving toward broadening its focus throughout the state. The Extension has an office in each of the state’s 114 counties. Those offices provide research and expertise – traditionally, in agriculture but also offering courses in health care, law enforcement and business development.
St. Charles County provides $100,000 in its annual budget to the county’s extension office for office space and other expenses.
Over the last two years, university officials have been gathering input and rethinking the Extension’s role throughout the state. To that end, Extension specialists came before the St. Charles County Council at its Feb. 26 meeting to talk about changes that are expected to be implemented in 2018.
“The goal is to better impact on the community and to target university resources to specific needs of the community,” said Jody Squires, regional director, urban region, for Extension in the St. Louis region.
“Just has your county governments have changed over time, Extension has changed over time,” said Steven Devlin, business development program director for the University of Missouri. He said Extension now needs to do things in a slightly different manner and look at different ways of delivering Extension programming and engaging with communities.
One of those new ways is creating a new community engagement or county engagement specialist position that may focus on education, health and health care and economic issues. Devlin said this will involve “taking one of our folks, pulling them back from their area of specialty and having them talk to you, the stakeholders in the community, about what your needs are.”
“It’s a lot better for use as an institution to have a good understanding of what the needs are at the local level rather than us walking in and saying, ‘hey, I’ve got a hammer, do you have a nail I can hit,’” Devlin said.
Extension would much rather have an opportunity to interact with a county and look at the issues and opportunities the county is facing and then build the right coalitions and resources to address those issues, Devlin said.
“Traditional Extension has focused on primarily agriculture, 4-H, youth development and home economics and community development,” he said. “Extension could be much more this. We have many other partners across the state, other institutions as well as the University of Missouri that could bring other areas expertise that could help you [the county] in developing new programs, new educational curriculums to try to address the issues that you are facing today.”
That means Extension may try to tap into various areas of expertise not only on the Columbia campus but available at other Missouri campuses including the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“Not to say, that we’re going to walk away from the old models as well,” Devlin said. “There are still a lot of folks that focus on farming in what we consider an urban county.
Squires said she doesn’t expect to see major changes in staff numbers at the county Extension office. “No I think the changes are going to make [staff] more efficient and connect them better with the needs of the community,” she said. “And maybe give us the opportunity to say we’re doing this but should we be doing something else.”
Councilman John White [District 7], who serves as a member of the county’s citizen-member Extension Council, said, “I can vouch that they have served our county residents well.”