Perspectives Online

Conference gets at the heart of Extension

Chancellor James Oblinger and UNC system president Molly Broad (top photo) both addressed the conference. Harnett County's Gary Pierce (center, below) received the Lois Britt Outstanding Extension Agent Award from Dr. Jon Ort ( left) and Dr. Ray McKinnie (right).
Photo (top) by Becky Kirkland (bottom) by Daniel Kim

For three days in March, outreach professionals with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the Industrial Extension Service and North Carolina Sea Grant gathered in Raleigh for training and inspiration at the State Extension Conference.

The week featured addresses by UNC system President Molly Broad, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, N.C. State University Chancellor James Oblinger and N.C. A&T State University Provost Carolyn Meyers. This was the second time that Cooperative Extension and IES have met together for a state conference. Sea Grant joined the two organizations for the first time.

In an opening administrative session, university leaders from N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities described the importance of outreach as part of the land-grant mission and praised the efforts of the three organizations to meet the needs of the state's citizens.

Oblinger spoke to the university's extension and outreach professionals for the first time since he assumed the role of chancellor. The conference theme - Relevance, Responsiveness and Results - speaks to the role of university outreach in North Carolina, he said.

"Your conference theme gets at what the heart of extension is and what distinguishes our land-grant universities from other institutions of higher education. We reach out. We engage people and communities. We teach. And we listen," he said.

Meyers of N.C. A&T described the role that Cooperative Extension had played in her family. It was an Extension agent who first brought her father to N.C. A&T as a student, she said, and since then 14 people in her family have graduated from the university.

Meyers reflected on A&T's long history of outreach, particularly with limited-resource audiences. "Extension at A&T is more than just a program, it is people," she said. She urged the group to "let your light shine. As you let your light shine, you give others permission to do the same."

Following the opening session, the three organizations met individually. Cooperative Extension heard from Dr. Jon Ort, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State; Dr. Ray McKinnie, administrator of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State; and Dean Alton Thompson of A&T's School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In addition, Jane Peeples of Carolina PR discussed Cooperative Extension's change management and marketing initiative. Bob Melville of the North Progress Board shared information about the board's goals and how Extension could help meet those goals for North Carolina.

Tuesday was a full day of training for all conferees. Extension's new interim Learning Management System allowed participants to register for all conference activities and workshops online.

No conference would be complete without a little fun. On Tuesday evening, participants gathered for a barbecue dinner, dancing and the Extension Idol competition. The top prizes went to impersonators: Wayne Tindle of IES won first place with his impression of Elvis Presley. Rodney Sawyer, Currituck County Extension director, and Reba Green-Holley, Gates County Extension director, took second place as Ike and Tina Turner. Agricultural agent Silas Brown of Clay County took third place with his vocal-and-guitar rendition of "Broken Road."

Secretary of State Marshall closed the conference Wednesday, delivering the keynote message. To remain relevant, she said, outreach organizations must respond to North Carolina's changing needs. Among the changes she noted were urbanization, the "information age," a changing agricultural industry and the need to educate young people about healthy minds and bodies. Marshall urged conferees to make their successes heard as she told them, "Let's make sure that everyone knows that you're alive and kicking."

- Natalie Hampton