100 years of extension

From rail car classrooms
to virtual field days

In the 19th century, governments and universities reached out to rural communities by building mobile classrooms in rail cars. In the 20th century, extension agents helped citizens form rural telephone companies and library districts, and later set up the first distance learning centers.

Today, extension specialists use a variety of communication methods to reach Missourians in convenient, affordable and effective forums. Although poultry farmers prefer virtual field days to avoid bringing diseases or contaminants to one another’s facilities, crop farmers prefer to attend hands-on irrigation field days at the University of Missouri Delta Center to learn how to increase efficiency in their operations.

Sen. Justin Morrill might be considered the father of the U.S. system of land-grant universities and the grandfather of extension. He believed that the key to democracy, peace and prosperity was to provide education for all Americans.

In 1862, after multiple tries, Congress passed the Morrill Act, and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law. The act granted federal lands to each state to fund the establishment of at least one college in the state.

Realizing that not everyone could go to college, Congress established the Cooperative Extension Service with the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. The purpose of the act was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture.”

Over the years, legislation affecting extension has brought about changes. And extension’s clientele and teaching methods have changed. Extension’s mission is still every bit as viable and crucial as it was at the time of its creation — to bring reliable, responsive and relevant research-based information from the university to the citizens of Missouri.

On May 1, MU Extension celebrated its 100th birthday on campus. Extension faculty and staff from across the state shared information with MU students, faculty and staff about how extension programs and services improve the lives of Missourians.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and Michael Ouart, vice provost and director of MU Extension, spoke about extension’s history and successes from the past 100 years and said that extension must continue to look for unique opportunities for the future. One unique opportunity is a new partnership between MU Extension and the student service-learning organization, Alternative Breaks. This group will place students in all 114 Missouri counties over the next five years to conduct community service projects.

Missouri Alternative Breaks encourages students to spend their spare time giving back

Photo: College students painting walls with roller brushes
University of Missouri student volunteers Abigail Straatmann, left, and Catherine Nania at Kingdom Projects in Fulton, Mo.

The stereotype of college students spending their free time drinking and getting into mischief may soon be shattered. It appears today’s college students, the millennial generation, value service more than a weekend party.

A 2010 Pew Research Center study asked millennials about their priorities. Being a good parent, having a good marriage and helping others in need made the top of their list.

“These students want to give, they want to help out, they want to be part of the community,” said Joy Millard, interim assistant vice provost for University of Missouri Extension.

As part of its centennial, MU Extension partnered with Mizzou Alternative Breaks, a group of students who spend weekends, holidays and spring break going into a community to serve a need. MAB has no shortage of student volunteers.

“We had more than enough students to fill all the trips. We had to turn people away,” said Stephen Smith, a senior at MU and director of MAB’s weekend services. “It’s an honor to go on an Alternative Breaks trip, and we’re really proud of that.”

For one weekend in November, the students went to work at Kingdom Projects, a nonprofit organization in Fulton that employs disabled adults.

“We repainted and reorganized the resale shop. We also sorted donated clothes into men’s, women’s and children’s clothing,” said Emily Hampton, site leader and an MU sophomore.

Many students find the experience to be a valuable, eye-opening opportunity to help others.

“I’ve lived in the same small town my whole life. So going to different places and seeing that not everyone does life the way I do life is life-changing. It broadens your perspective,” Hampton said.

The partnership between MAB and MU Extension benefits both organizations, Millard said.

“What I love about this is it’s bringing students into communities, and the communities also give back to the students. It’s this wonderful circle of life,” she said. “It’s what we were created for, making people better, helping them out and making lives better.”

Students volunteer sorting donated clothing
University of Missouri students Luci Pak, left, and Minh Nguyen volunteer at Kingdom Projects in Fulton, Mo.

MAB makes use of MU Extension’s community connections to determine which of Missouri’s counties is in the greatest need.

“MU Extension is our eyes and ears in the community,” Smith said. “Before the partnership, site leaders had to call random organizations to try to find projects.”

MAB’s goal is to help every Missouri county over the next five years. “Here are students who say they want to come help. In a time of limited resources, this is an amazing gift,” Millard said.

Walking through the Kingdom Project warehouse, you see students laughing and working hard.

“The joy that comes from being here is better than any social event that I could be going to this weekend. It’s worth every minute,” Hampton said.

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