Young agents embrace Extension’s bright future

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2014

By Susan Collins-Smith

MSU Ag Communications


JACKSON – For Extension agents, education is more than the exchange of information. It’s personal. It is a connection to their students and a sense of responsibility for the outcomes.

It’s been that way since 1914, when the Cooperative Extension Service was established by the Smith-Lever Act. In the past 100 years, the organization, now known in the state as the Mississippi State University Extension Service, has delivered research-based information to Mississippians that helped them raise crops, livestock and families.

“We’ve always been about delivering knowledge that people need in their everyday lives,” said Kimberly Gowdy, Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Harrison County. “There is still a critical need in our community for general education on every facet of life, from child development to community sustainability.”

From mule-drawn plows and boys’ corn clubs to GPS-equipped tractors and technology-driven 4-H programs, the Extension Service remains essential for improving the quality of life in Mississippi. Gowdy is one of several innovative, young agents who are renewing Extension’s commitment to its motto: “Extending Knowledge. Changing Lives.”

Gowdy and her colleagues are dedicated to helping people gain the information they need. She is a former 4-H’er who grew up learning the importance of the programs Extension offers. Her mom was the Extension home economist for Harrison County for several years.

Gowdy, whose clients are primarily childcare providers and parents, said she tries to fully engage class participants for the best learning experience.

“I like to use fun, hands-on activities and music in my classes,” she said. “Most of the time, people are coming to my classes after working all day. I try to make learning as enjoyable as possible so people are more receptive to the information.”

In an age when information is literally at anyone’s fingertips, Extension remains a trusted, personal source.

Extension offers a variety of expertise and research proven-data that enables agents to help with just about any question or challenge clients bring to them.

Extension education has undergone rapid changes in the past 10 to 15 years. Agents no longer depend on the postal service and physical meetings to deliver information to clients.

“Extension is adapting as technology is progressing, and we’ve done a good job of keeping up,” said Ty Jones, an agriculture and natural resources Extension agent in Madison County.

“But the challenge going forward for us is grabbing the future without leaving any of our clients behind. We still have customers who do not have access to computers.”

The individual service agents provide to communities in a world of impersonal technology is a key strength of Extension, Jones said.