This year marks the 100th anniversary of the federal law that established the cooperative extension programs at the land-grant universities, but unlike some centenarians, U. of I. Extension isn't content sitting back and reminiscing about its auspicious past.
Extension recently announced a new initiative that will broaden its engagement with scholars across campus and people throughout the state.
The Extension and Outreach Initiative, a partnership with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the Office of the Provost, emerged from the campuswide Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois project, begun in 2010.
As a result of that process, campus leaders recommended strengthening and restructuring Extension by integrating its research, outreach and communications functions with units on campus beyond ACES.
"Historically, ACES has been our academic home, and some of the programs that have been around a long time have a strong connection with ACES, such as crop production, Master Gardeners and 4-H," said George Czapar, director of Extension and outreach, and an associate dean in the college. "However, the changing demographics of the state are expanding our focus to also include metro areas and urban populations where we can address emerging needs and demonstrate broader impacts."
A committee of representatives from the partnering units requested proposals for collaborative research projects last February and recently announced six projects that were selected for funding. An additional project, a study about community college students and the Affordable Care Act, began last fall and is ongoing.
"We were very pleased with the number and quality of the proposals we received from across campus in response to this initiative," said Robert Hauser, the dean of ACES. "The six projects moving forward are outstanding examples of the impact and value that Extension and outreach can provide to a variety of disciplines throughout the university."
Selected from a pool of 71 pre-proposals, the six new projects will share $1.2 million in funding.
Some of the projects focus on underserved populations in both urban and rural areas of Illinois, "something that's really critical to our mission and ensuring that we help people with the greatest need," Czapar said.
The request for proposals process helped heighten awareness of Extension and its broad outreach, Czapar said.
"Some of the faculty members were familiar with our programs, while others weren't aware that Extension has offices all over the state, a large cadre of professionals in the field or that it reaches 200,000 youth annually through 4-H," said Czapar, who began working with Extension services in Iowa and Illinois during the 1980s and stepped into his current role at Illinois last October. "It's been great just to have faculty members look at our website and say: 'Wow, I didn't realize that Extension did all of these things, and that it works with more than 47,000 volunteers around the state who are willing to contribute their time and money.' That's something that we can really build on and offer to the campus as a whole."
Steve Wald, Extension's director of communications, said Extension offers a broad spectrum of programming and an array of communication vehicles - social media and in Spanish - that reach diverse audiences.
"Our network of educators is distributed across the state, engaged with communities and organizations that may inspire faculty to think about the broader impacts of their research," Wald said. "We'd like the campus to know us as their outreach partner, helping U. of I. research and expertise make a difference for the people of Illinois and beyond."
The principal investigators of the seven research projects will deliver brief presentations about their work at Extension's annual conference in November.
Projects funded by Extension and Outreach Initiative
- "Enhancing Economic Development in Illinois with Digital Tech Hub Creativity Studios," Jon Gant, professor of library and information science, Illinois Informatics Institute, Graduate School of Library and Information Science
- "Designing for Health in Central Illinois," Kevin Hamilton, professor of art and design, College of Fine and Applied Arts
- "4-H Computing Connections," Lenny Pitt, professor of computer science, College of Engineering
- "Marketplace Literacy and 3-D Printing: Enabling Economic Development for Impoverished Communities," Aric Rindfleisch, professor of business administration, College of Business
- "An Artifact Speaks," Kim Sheahan, assistant director of education, Spurlock Museum, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
- "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products: Extending Knowledge and Mitigation Strategies," Wei Zheng, senior research scientist, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute
Another project to receive funding through the U. of I. Extension and Outreach Initiative: