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Service, budgets motivate Extension's restructuring
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Changes in clientele needs, technological advances and tighter budgets are prompting a major restructuring of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Joe McGilberry, director of the MSU Extension Service, said in-depth plans for restructuring have been developing for more than a year. The plans will enable the Extension Service to continue to deliver quality educational programs and assistance throughout the state.
"Budget shortfalls in the past few years were part of the incentive to change, but not the only reason," McGilberry said. "Today, Mississippians are facing more complex problems and need more specialized expertise to solve them. Technology and the public's ability to use it have been advancing rapidly and opening doors that were not available to us in the past. We must provide services and meet needs in more efficient and effective ways."
MSU-ES Program Focus Areas Agronomic crops Animal science/forages Horticulture Forestry Risk/farm management Aquaculture Environment/nutrient management Wildlife/fisheries Nutrition and food safety Health Child and family development Family resource management Leadership development Enterprise and community development
"The new plan will provide a core staff in every county consisting of a county director, a 4-H agent or 4-H program assistant, and one or more secretaries. In some cases, the county director will serve as 4-H agent," McGilberry said. "This core staff will serve as a link in every county to the educational resources of Mississippi State University."
The reorganization will provide each county access to area agents with multi-county assignments and more specialized training in 14 program focus areas. The areas are agronomic crops, animal science/forages, horticulture, forestry, risk/farm management, aquaculture, environment/nutrient management, wildlife/fisheries, nutrition and food safety, health, child and family development, family resource management, leadership development and enterprise and community development. Every county will have a staff member with 4-H responsibilities.
"We want the state's residents to continue to have personal contact with Extension agents, but it just isn't possible for a broadly educated agent to address all the complex problems in their general subject area," he said. "It is not reasonable to expect an agricultural agent, for example, to have in-depth knowledge of row crops, forestry, marketing, livestock and catfish production, to name just a few subject areas. Area agents with more in-depth training will be able to better meet those needs ."
In reassigning personnel, agents were asked their preferences for geographic and program area. McGilberry said efforts were made to accommodate those preferences in assigning agents to positions to minimize disruptions while meeting Extension's program delivery needs. Agents will undergo additional training to expand their knowledge in their assigned subject matter.
"Each county director will provide leadership in assessing local needs and coordinating program delivery. He or she will call on area agents to plan and deliver programs based on local needs in the 14 different focus areas," he said.
McGilberry said Extension will continue to deliver quality programs, but not all delivery will be carried out by traditional methods. Mississippians now have better access to the Internet and to distance education opportunities through two-way teleconferences. Publications, once available only at county Extension offices, now can be found on the Internet as well.
"We have the information Mississippi residents need and want to improve their personal lives, their communities and this state's economy," he said. "Our web site at MSUCares.com was visited more than 2.4 million times in April. We've been learning to do more with less, and technology provides part of the answer."
"We don't have enough people to go to every county and deliver all our programs, but through distance education capabilities, we can set up an interactive video and have one person at one location providing training or education to multiple sites at the same time," he said. "This format allows people within a county access to statewide programming and educational efforts without traveling any further than their local MSU Extension office."
McGilberry said he believes restructuring, coupled with greater use of technology, will be a wiser use of Extension's funding and also make programs more accessible to all Mississippians.
"We are providing high quality programs by the use of modern technology, but we are also very much dedicated to sustaining the county Extension office where people have gone for years for help, advice and educational programs," he said. "We don't have the manpower we once did, so we are going to have to be sharper in how we serve the state's residents. We will continue to be easy to find and ready to serve, but in ways that adapt to today's lifestyle and needs."
MSU-ES Program Focus Areas:
- Agronomic crops
- Animal science/forages
- Risk/farm management
- Environment/nutrient management
- Nutrition and food safety
- Child and family development
- Family resource management
- Leadership development
- Enterprise and community development