Interview with an Extension Agent

Starting off my series of interviews with extension and educational staff in North Dakota, I wanted to interview an Extension Agent whose job I would potentially see myself doing for a career, and I immediately thought of my home county’s 4-H agent Carrie Knutson. Carrie is one of those people who have inspired me to have a career in extension from the beginning. Besides being fantastic at her job and improving the Grand Forks County’s 4-H program during the time she has been there, she has always been a mentor for me. She has written me countless reference letters and recommendations, has always answered my questions about anything and everything I asked, including being willing to answer my interview questions for this article! When I interned in the Grand Forks County Extension office this past summer, she was not my officially assigned mentor, but Carrie was a fantastic resource in assisting me in completing my internship notebook and other duties and always happy to do so.

 I had a pretty good idea of what her job entailed after working with her for a summer, however, some of the things she mentioned she was in charge of still surprised me. Besides doing the obvious 4-H programming and education, she also goes into Elementary and Middle schools and has started a school garden program with several other agents in the office. She has her Bachelors and Master’s degree in Horticulture from NDSU, and this is one of the ways she is able to incorporate her background into her job with 4-H. Additionally, she teaches 4-H science and gardening camps during the summer geared towards school age, and workshops on the weekends with more of an adult focused audience.

One word that was brought up during our interview was the word “Collaborate”. I thought that this was a fantastic word to be used in Extension, and also in the education industry as a whole. Collaborating with other extension educators, collaborating with the county commissioners to apply for grants and funding, collaborating with schools and teachers, and collaborating with other states and counties to get ideas for programming and workshops. I think that this was fantastic, as there is so much variance to how 4-H is run in each state, and even differences between counties. The 4-H program is so expansive that it is able to be tailored to the specific wants and needs from each country, and then continue to be re-evaluated as needed as the current youth age out and new ones join. Where the future of extension is heading, and an issue that is in the forefront of many extension agents and county educators minds.  This correlates to a large percentage of the community not knowing what Extension was, or even that it existed. It could be argued that if more people were able to know and benefit the resources Extension has to offer that it could potentially benefit the budget by having more grants and donations become available to them. Carrie said that they are working on their marketing, and using social media and online sources to spread additional information with a larger demographic. One thing she said that particularly stuck with me was “We (The Extension Service) are not just a source of information, but education that transforms lives”. There are very few people I have met in Extension who are as passionate about their jobs as Carrie is. In her 10 years with Extension, she has gone from graduating from NDSU, to be married with children and she is still able to put a priority on her work with Extension.

 I had spent a majority of my summer grilling her with questions of what the best degree route, internships, certificates, and even clubs to be in to try to position myself to do the best in Extension possible. Her advice than matched her interview answer, of always be ready to learn more and network with citizens in the county and state. This is one of the things that has also made a career in Extension appeal to me. Being able to continuously learn about an industry I love, and then to be able to turn around and teach it to my community is absolutely a dream job.

When asked about the educational opportunities she foresaw coming soon, and it mostly based on going back to basics of teaching the mid and younger generation lost life skills. Things such as food preservation, growing and preparing your own food, and additionally budgeting and handling money effectively. Personally, I think that one of the challenges with Extension is that they have fantastic programming on topics youth and adults need to know in today’s generation, however they almost seem to have to entice them to begin a relationship with their county agents with things such as advertising with “hot topic” conversation pieces such as organic gardening that would appeal more to a young to mid-adult group, and programs such as computer programming and robotics to appeal to youth. What I have noticed as a theme with Extension, is once a person becomes involved in one part of the programming, they will continue to become more and more involved with their county agents, and soon will be using extension to its full potential.

When we got to questions relating to why Carrie enjoys her job with Extension, as she has just finished her 10 year anniversary of working with NDSU Extension, she had a list of reasons as to why. Extension as Carrie explained is a family. A group of individuals all working towards the same common goal. She also went on how Extension is a positive impact on people’s lives, and how she loves being a part of that impact. She is impressed with what Extension’s values are, and puts importance on the same aspects of her life. Professionalism, life-long learning, and personal growth and development is something that Extension values, and it shines through its agents and specialists. There are not many people who could handle a job that required you to be in a barn for 90 hour a week in the middle of July supervising children and their animals. The kind of job where you drive across the state to participate in a workshop, and then go back to your office and develop a program to implement it in your own county. Taking on extra events and responsibilities outside of your area of expertise to help another agent who is getting a new program started.

It is easy to get discouraged about a career with the Extension Service when all you consider is budget cuts, legislative laws, and having to fill out piles of paperwork. Being able to talk with someone who has such a large passion for their work, and that takes every opportunity given to them and their programming is inspiring. This interview did not exactly teach me anything unheard of about her work with Extension, but her enthusiasm and passion for NDSU Extension was definitely inspiring, and a great thing to remember about my future career.

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