2014 is a great year to reflect on Extension's historic community support and to consider our future. It was 100 hundred years ago that the US Congress passed the Smith-lever Act that funded our unique system of outreach from the nation's Land-grant universities. Dubbed "Extension Reconsidered", Oregon State University recently hosted a day-long event as part of a national conversation about how the arts, humanities and design could be a part of how Extension meets community needs. We see this as the first of regular (probably annual) events to seek new topics and techniques that serve Oregonians.
More than 50 people were invited to represent existing Extension faculty, Members of OSU outside of Extension, and community members, many of whom had little or no experience with Extension. After a long day of exploring possibilities together, this group identified many dimensions of how such work could be considered.
Community members who attended reported learning much about Extension. Many agreed that including arts into outreach programming augments the identity and pride that comes with places. When asked about possibilities, respondents identified things including leadership through art, math art, film, urban design, photography, music, and oral histories--among others.
What are some of the barriers and challenges? Of course, we are familiar with limitations of resources-and Extension's current workforce doesn't have many members who are deeply trained in this area. But in true form, our stakeholders are ready to step up, contribute where possible, and help to design and fund a beginning in this area. Especially reassuring were reflective observations made by participants following the event. Among them:
- OSU Extension has a robust network in rural areas that creates a possible partnership opportunity.
- Extension is seeking to broaden its scope, reach, and purpose.
- …awareness of and appreciation for creative/innovative efforts within OSU Extension to connect and engage across disciplines (and R vs L sides of our brains).
- The deep history of extension services. The connection between agriculture and arts.
- OSU Extension's depth of impact in a wide range of communities was greater than I thought.
- It's all about communication. Getting people talking is the key and the beginning point. The exercises modeled at OSU could be replicated elsewhere.
As always, your feedback is welcome.
Vice Provost for University Outreach & Engagement
Director for OSU Extension Service