County Extension Agent
When Texas residents interact with a County Extension Agent, they are interacting – by extension – with the Texas A&M University System. That became clearer with the addition of “A&M” to the name of the agency that oversees County Extension Agents, now called the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The change became effective Sept. 1, 2012, by action of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
As an education agency, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has a mission “to improve the lives of people, businesses, and communities across Texas and beyond through high quality, relevant education.” In fulfilling this mission, AgriLife Extension has been a provider of lifelong learning and problem-solving for nearly 100 years.
Critical to Extension’s capability is a corps of skilled educators called County Extension Agents. In Texas, these resident educators are positioned in 251 counties to serve families, youth, and communities in all 254 counties.
This local presence is supported by a group of Extension Specialists and other professionals at Texas A&M University and 12 district centers across the state. Together, the agents and specialists have expertise and conduct public programs related to the broad areas of food and fiber systems, natural resources and the environment, human nutrition and health, family and consumer sciences, 4-H and youth development, and community economic development.
AgriLife Extension arose from the concept that practical, research-based knowledge should be made available to people throughout their lives. The federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914 authorized Extension education as a function of the land-grant university system of teaching and research.
Extension education in Texas originated in 1915 when the Texas Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution No. 2 to accept the federal provisions and assign Extension functions to both the state’s land-grant colleges, namely Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University. In 1917, as indicated in Article 164 of Vernon’s Civil Statutes, County Commissioners Courts became cooperators with AgriLife Extension’s predecessor, thus forming the county, state, and federal partnership that continues today. Nationally, this unique structure is known as the “Cooperative Extension System.”
Depending on local circumstances, Extension county offices have one or more agents, hired by the Extension supervisor in collaboration with Commissioners Courts. Typically agents are employed to work in a particular program area, but once on the job, agents work together to address issues that cut across these areas. In some counties, an Extension agent may serve as a specialized educator offering programs about subjects such as integrated pest management, horticulture, and marine sciences.
It is imperative for Extension county faculty to possess the technical skills and educational background to be effective Extension educators. One qualification is a master’s degree in agriculture, family and consumer science, education, science/technology, or another field relevant to Extension programming. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree will be considered based on their agreement to complete a master’s degree within eight years of employment.
The position also requires a desire to work with people of diverse backgrounds and to grow and develop as an Extension professional; ability to work independently and as a team member; character and personal traits that merit a position of public trust; and ability to become an effective teacher of youth and adults.
AgriLife Extension has researched the competencies needed for success in staffing a wide range of agent positions. For specific positions, the hiring supervisor will analyze these findings and local needs, and determine the educational and professional qualifications that best suit each vacancy. County Commissioners Courts are directly involved in making the final selection to fill a vacant position.
Commissioners Courts as well as county residents also provide critical input in the planning of local Extension programs. Residents in each county decide what Extension should do for them and guide the planning of implementation. This is accomplished through a periodic needs assessment and through citizen-led advisory boards and program committees. More than 12,000 citizens serve on these groups annually, working in coordination with County Extension Agents.
In addition, Extension engages in ongoing communications at all levels with commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and local and regional planning groups and leaders.
Based on identified issues and priorities, key educational areas are determined in which to focus development of new Extension program pilots, curricula and resources, all of which are available to each Extension county office. However, the combination of programs implemented locally may range from “traditional” to “cutting edge,” given the varying needs, stages of adoption, and creativity of local citizens and communities.
County Extension Agents historically have employed demonstrations of new technology, including applied and/or adaptive research, on farms and ranches as well as in the home. Several methods are used to facilitate learning for large audiences, including meetings, field days, workshops, short courses, newsletters, teleconferencing, online interactive programs, and the use of volunteers and the media.
In addition, County Extension Agents are supported by a diverse array of program models, land-grant university resources, and an Extension organization with broad experience, all dedicated to education and committed to enriching lives and building better communities.
For more information on the role of County Extension Agent or other county government topics and issues, please contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service through its V.G. Young Institute of County Government.
– By Darrell Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, and Jeff Ripley, Associate Director for County Operations, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service