ANREP newsletter article: Graduate training in extension

Guaranteeing the Future of Cooperative Extension:  A training program for graduate students

For Extension to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, we need a constant influx of new ideas for methods of delivery and emerging areas of concern. Getting graduate students involved in Extension is an ideal way to bring new perspectives and new people into the profession. While some students are fortunate to have mentors who work with extension personnel, many students seeking an applied, engaged career pathway have never heard of extension. And in an academic department, there are typically few training opportunities for learning the skills needed for extension. In UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), many of our county advisors (agents) and extension specialists are nearing retirement. We are in need a new generation of extension professionals, and in UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources (CNR), there are many students interested in applied, community-engaged work. UC ANR is a network of advisors, specialists, faculty, and staff, working on a variety of applied problems from across a very diverse state, and integrating graduate students into this system can strengthen that network. A group of motivated students (myself included) set out to raise awareness of extension and create training opportunities in order to simultaneously address these needs of UC ANR and CNR graduate students.

We formed a graduate student working group and developed our own informal curriculum for graduate training in extension. We met as a group to discuss ideas for training, informally assessed interest and ideas among other graduate students, and used a series of surveys to evaluate 1) student interest in and awareness of cooperative extension, 2) what delivery methods might make best sense for graduate students, and 3) feedback on the three delivery methods we’ve tried: a yearly Extension Showcase, where we featured extension research in an afternoon-long set of presentations; a semester-long weekly seminar with extension speakers from around the state; and a set of workshops on specific extension skills.

One preliminary outcome is that graduate students have many demands on their time, and in our college they also have many opportunities for seminars, courses, and student groups, so one key to facilitating student participation in extension training was to use a less frequent, more specifically targeted structure. The most effective way to deliver extension training was to develop workshops and hold several of these per semester. We solicited ideas for topics informally and through a survey, and then individually pursued speakers from within ANR to lead the workshops. We have held successful workshops on survey design, social media and blogging, mapping as an outreach tool, and public participation in the scientific process. We are planning several more workshops for the upcoming Spring semester, as well as another Extension Showcase.
We are currently working on developing an institutional structure within UC ANR to support graduate student training, and we’d love to hear how other organizations deliver extension training to students.  Please write to and share your student training programs with us! Incidentally, I was able to attend ANREP 2012, and it was an amazing experience. Many thanks to all the members who welcomed me and my fellow students! I’m looking forward to ANREP 2014 here in Sacramento and hope we can all discuss graduate student training ideas in person.
Figure caption:  Workshop for CNR graduate students on public participation for scientists, featuring Susie Kocher, Kim Rodrigues, and Kim Ingram.
Submitted by Melissa Eitzel
PhD candidate -Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California – Berkeley