In nearly every state, the Cooperative Extension specialist is considered a member of the professional staff of the state college of agriculture. The specialist’s constituency is off-campus, and includes industry practitioners, homeowners, and 4-H youth.
The purpose of the Cooperative Extension Service is to process the latest information from universities and private research firms worldwide into a form that can be understood and used by the Service’s
figure 18-1. The Cooperative Extension agent (right) advises a greenhouse grower who is having a bedding plant problem. (Courtesy USDA)
constituency; then to disseminate that information. Cooperative Extension is a university outreach service, and its specialists need skills appropriate to the task (Figure 18-1).
Specialists must be university educated and have industry experience. They must read well and be able to organize and simplify complex material. Cooperative Extension specialists must enjoy organizing and leading workshops and tours. They must be comfortable with public speaking, and they must write well. Like teachers, Extension agents must have an above-average mastery of all communication skills.
People are at the center of the Cooperative Extension effort: people with problems and questions, people of all ages and intellects. Predictably, many of their questions are the same, so agents must also have patience and the desire to help.
Some Cooperative Extension specialists work from offices, responding to homeowners’ questions by telephone. Others are traveling troubleshooters responsible to growers in several counties. Still others work through radio, television, and the news media. The particular location and constituency usually define how the agent must work to reach the greatest number of people.
Most Cooperative Extension specialists have bachelor’s degrees in their fields of specialization, and many have master’s degrees.