Perspectives Online

Avenues of  Accessibility. Cooperative Extension provides communities' Gateway to N.C. State. By Dee Shore

Cooperative Extension is helping create an inventory of historic structures in Currituck County by bringing expertise from N.C. State University.
Courtesy Juliana Strieff and Marshall Dunlap

Centers and faculty members serving all 100 counties and the Cherokee Reservation. A funding partnership putting county, state and federal appropriations along with contracts, grants and gifts from the private and public sectors to work in local communities. Collaboration with land-grant universities and other institutions nationwide. And a network of some 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 volunteer advisors.

Cooperative Extension hopes to expedite long-range planning for Forsyth County's Tanglewood Park
Photo by Daniel Kim
It's North Carolina Cooperative Extension, and taken together it adds up to a powerful force for helping the state's communities connect with problem-solving expertise that stimulates the economy, protects the environment and improves the quality of life for all North Carolinians, no matter where they live or who they are.

Traditionally that network has depended heavily on the resources and the knowledge base of N.C. State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and its sister institution, N.C. A&T State University's School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Its economic development impact has been most strongly felt in the state's food, fiber and forestry industries.

But over the past two years, Extension has put its network to work in new economic and social spheres by tapping the knowledge base beyond the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Gateway County initiative aims to use the Extension model to engage N.C. State and communities in two-way exchanges that lead to problem-solving and innovation addressing high-priority local needs.

Preserving history was the goal of the Currituck County Gateway project that recorded information about these homes.
Photos courtesy Juliana Strieff and Marshall Dunlap
Dr. Jon F. Ort, state Extension director, implemented the Gateway project. Guiding the initiative have been Dr. Wanda Sykes, Cooperative Extension's Southeast District Director; David Stein, until recently a faculty member in the College of Design; and 12 county Extension directors. The projects they've embarked on through the Gateway initiative have been as diverse as the pilot Gateway counties themselves.

In some counties, the focus has been on tourism. In the heavily populated piedmont, Forsyth County Extension Director Mark Tucker is seeking help from the College of Natural Resources in developing a feasibility study and long-range plan for the Arboretum at Tanglewood Park, a 1,100-acre estate willed to the county by tobacco magnate William Neal Reynolds and his wife, Kate. He envisions a visitors' center, gift shop and classroom.

Down east, in Lenoir County, the College of Design helped develop a plan for part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail and helped restore a millpond. The county's economy hasn't yet recovered from the devastating flood of 1999's Hurricane Floyd, but county leaders see potential in historical and recreational tourism tied to the county's many Civil War battlefields and to land the county acquired along the Neuse River, says County Extension Director Tammy Kelly.

In Johnston County, children learn about biotechnology in a "discovery room," also a site for 4-H science workshops.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Preserving history while stimulating tourism is also the focus of a Gateway project in Currituck County, one of the state's oldest and fastest-growing counties. Before time and development erase valuable pieces of the Currituck's history, Extension enlisted the help of two graduate students to record information about 400 structures. In a windshield survey covering every mile of every highway in the county, the students produced needed documentation to meet National Register and state archive requirements.

Creating such an inventory was one of the top priorities of county government and Extension's advisory council, says County Extension Director Rodney Sawyer. "Although we are the oldest county in the state, there's been little historic preservation," he says. "This effort provides public officials and citizens with needed information to promote historic preservation efforts and apply for state and federal funding."

Not too far away, in rural Martin County, students worked with David Stein to develop landscape architecture plans to tie together the relatively new Sen. Bob Martin Eastern Agriculture Center, downtown Williamston and the Roanoke River through a series of trails.

Debbie Reno, a doctoral student in the College of Education, worked through the local school system to study the environment for young people, determining ways to get them more involved, to take more ownership and to be more inclined to return there after college. As a result of that research, she saw students getting more involved on youth councils and community service, and she cites one student whose involvement led her to change her college major to focus specifically on economic development.

Building a brighter local future for young people was also the goal of Gateway projects in mountainous Transylvania and Haywood counties. Rich with natural resources but lacking in high-tech industries, these counties received helped from the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences' Science House, which teamed with Cooperative Extension's 4-H programs to offer workshops aimed at improving science teaching in elementary and middle schools (see accompanying "Inquiring Minds" in this issue).

Beyond the officially designated Gateway counties, enterprising Extension faculty members are also working to find innovative ways to bring the university's expertise to bear on local problems.

In a Dare County Gateway project, Nathan Cashwell (left) of N.C. State's College of Design helped citizens plan for Manteo's growth.
Courtesy David Stein
That's nothing new, says Dr. Joseph Zublena, Extension's associate state director.

"Cooperative Extension is in the business of education and solving local problems, and our faculty members become part of the communities were they live and work. When they see local needs, they reach out and find the knowledge and resources to meet that need, wherever those resources might be," he says.

Case in point: Johnston County.

Ken Bateman is Johnston's long-time county Extension director, and, during a monthly meeting of county department heads a few years ago, he learned from the county's economic development director that a local pharmaceutical company wanted to expand, but the company's leaders weren't convinced that the local workforce had the technical skills to meet the company's needs.

"They wanted to have workers to have associate's degrees in chemistry and supervisors to have bachelor's degrees in chemistry," Bateman explains. "And they were concerned about young people's lack of interest in science."

A Lenoir County Gateway project calls for the hurricane-damaged Kelly Millpond (top) to be restored, as depicted in an artist's rendering (bottom).
Courtesy Department of Landscape Architecture, College of Design
Bateman got on the phone to Dr. Mike Davis, the university's assistant vice chancellor for extension and engagement, to find out if there was anything that N.C. State could do to help. Soon, representatives of the chemistry department, the distance education division and 4-H were talking with the local community college president, the school superintendent and representatives of the county's economic development division and the economic development department. Plans for a $4 million workforce development center were soon under way, with the local community college taking the lead in guiding the project.

Novo Nordisk, a leading county employer and maker of insulin products, offered land for the center, and funding was secured for a so-called "discovery room" designed to introduce school children and others to biotechnology. The community college started offering classes there in August, and N.C. State may offer chemistry courses through distance education. Cooperative Extension has used the site for hands-on

4-H science workshops. Since plans came together, Novo Nordisk has announced its intentions to double its production capacity and hire 187 more workers.

Linwood Parker, chairman of the county's economic development commission, credits Ken Bateman and Cooperative Extension for their roles in helping make the center a reality.

"It's going great guns," he says. "Everybody we talk to praises the skill development aspect of the [workforce development center] for helping with the existing workforce and for preparing a future workshop. The project would not have been as successful if we did not have the connection to N.C. State, and that wouldn't have happened without Cooperative Extension and Ken Bateman."

Such success stories are precisely what university officials had in mind when they launched the Gateway initiative, Zublena says. But long-term, statewide success in bringing universitywide resources to bear on local issues will depend on a concerted effort on the part of the broader university to fully encourage, support and reward faculty, staff and student success in extension, engagement and economic development.

"Cooperative Extension's network uniquely positions N.C. State in communities across the state," Zublena says. "By leveraging that network, N.C. State's extension, engagement and economic development programs can be powerful catalysts for improving the economy, the environment and the quality of life statewide."

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