Extension specialists adjust to life in regional officeThe six people hired by South Dakota State University Extension to work as educators at its regional office in Mitchell are experiencing firsthand how the program has changed after major restructuring.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
The six people hired by South Dakota State University Extension to work as educators at its regional office in Mitchell are experiencing firsthand how the program has changed after major restructuring.
After state government budget cuts forced Extension to move services out of county offices and into eight regional offices, 44 field specialists were hired to staff the new offices.
The Extension had cut all 99 of its field specialists earlier in the year as part of the restructuring. Some, but not all, were hired back to work at the regional offices. Many started work recently.
“Given the time frame, the changes were handled as well as they could have been,” said Heather Larson, one of two cow-and-calf field specialists at the Mitchell regional office.
Larson was the Extension educator for Jerauld County before accepting her job at the Mitchell regional office.
Extension Director Barry Dunn said last month that with the restructuring, the program will live within the reduced fiscal boundaries of the 2012 state budget.
The new regional offices — located in Aberdeen, Lemmon, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Winner — officially opened Oct. 25.
Mitchell’s regional Extension office is located at Mitchell Technical Institute’s north campus.
Family Resource Management Field Specialist Carrie Johnson said adjusting to the team atmosphere at the regional office, after typically working with only one other person at a county office, has been an adjustment for all the specialists.
“People will know they can come here and get the specialist they want,” Johnson said. “And if not, we’ve got someone who can get you in touch with them.”
Before coming to Mitchell’s regional office, Johnson worked at the Extension office in Charles Mix County.
“You can tell everybody here had to go through an interview process, so they want to be here,” said Cow and Calf Field Specialist Jim Krantz. “It’s the teamwork here that’s going to make this work.”
Krantz is the former Extension educator for Miner County.
Johnson said the new regional office system has allowed each Extension specialist to focus more on his or her area of expertise.
“Being able to work just in our specialty is a change, but it’s a beneficial one,” she said. “Instead of doing everything OK, we can do one thing great.”
4-H Youth Livestock Field Specialist Megan Nielson said she thinks people will feel more confident hearing an answer directly from a specialist. “The more we let people know we’re here to help, the faster the transition will work,” Nielson said.
Nielson was a graduate student at Ohio State University before taking her job at Mitchell’s regional office.
Making people aware of the changes the Extension underwent was a concern of the field specialists. “There will be an adjustment period for people,” Krantz said. “I did wonder how long it would take to get our first phone call.”
Krantz said the Extension’s increased digital presence will likely mean fewer people actually coming to the office.
iGrow, an online resource featuring Extension reports and research, was developed in conjunction with the program’s restructuring.
The location of Mitchell’s regional office at MTI’s north campus has already sparked discussion between Extension specialists and MTI administrators.
“We feel it will be a really good partnership with MTI,” said Economics Field Specialist Jack Davis. “It’s a great opportunity to share resources on farm management.”
Davis was the SDSU area management specialist in Woonsocket before coming to Mitchell’s regional office.
MTI President Greg Von Wald said he met with the new Extension specialists Nov. 22 to discuss ways the two entities could work together.
“We’re in the process of developing methods of working for the betterment of agriculture in South Dakota,” Von Wald said. “We believe we will be able to enhance the ability of agriculture to succeed here.”
Von Wald said the partnership could begin to take shape in as little as a month.
Extension officials are also in the process of hiring 32 4-H youth program advisers to work in each county in South Dakota. Some counties have chosen to share an adviser.
Alice Nickelson was hired to be the 4-H youth program adviser for Davison and Hanson counties. She began work Nov. 22 at the Davison County Fairgrounds.
4-H State Fair and Event Management Field Specialist Helen Geppert said having a 4-H youth adviser in the county will provide more opportunities for youth development through schools and other programs.
Geppert is optimistic about the future of Extension in South Dakota. “There are better times ahead, and more opportunities for people as we change and grow,” she said.
SDSU Extension employees, from left, Megan Nielson, Jim Krantz, Heather Larson, Jack Davis, Helen Geppert and Carrie Johnson stand in the new Extension regional office at Mitchell Technical Institute’s north campus in this photo from earlier this month.