of a County Extension Agent
As an education agency, Texas Cooperative Extension
(TCE) has a mission "to provide quality, relevant outreach and continuing
education programs and services to the people of Texas.” In fulfilling this
mission, TCE has been a facilitator of change and problem solving, and a
catalyst for individual and community action for 90 years.
Critical to Extension’s capability is a corps of
skilled educators called County Extension Agents. In Texas, these resident
educators are positioned in 248 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 offices across the state. Together, the agents and specialists have
expertise and conduct public programs related to the broad areas of food and
fiber systems, environment, natural resources, family and consumer sciences,
4-H and youth development, and community economic development.
Cooperative 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 states
and appropriated funds to help establish Cooperative Extension as part of the
land-grant university system of teaching and research.
Today’s Texas Cooperative Extension was established
in 1915 when the Texas
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 Texas
Cooperative Extension, 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, county Extension
offices have one or more agents, hired by the commissioners courts in
collaboration with an Extension supervisor. Typically agents are employed to
work within in a particular program area such as agriculture and natural
resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H and youth development, or
community development. Once on the job, the agents also work together on issues
that cut across these areas.
Depending on the situation in specific counties, an
Extension agent may serve in a specialized position in areas such as integrated
pest management, horticulture, marine sciences or communication.
qualifications to be a County Extension Agent are:
in agriculture, family and consumer science, education, science/technology, or
other field relevant to the mission of Extension. Applicants with a bachelor’s
degree will be considered based on their agreement to complete a master’s
degree within seven years of employment.
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.
Today, many relevant degrees are offered outside the
traditional colleges of agriculture and home economics, such as degrees in
environmental science, childhood development, education, family economics,
biotechnology, and water management. Certainly degrees in agriculture or home
economics will continue to be the most desirable for many county positions.
However, other degrees and combinations of experience
may be warranted, particularly in light of the diverse and complex issues that
Texans face. It is imperative for Extension county faculty to possess the
technical skills and educational background to be effective Extension
TCE 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 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 called
the Texas Community Futures Forum, and through citizen-led program councils 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 county Extension 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.
Kyle Smith, Associate Director ? County Programs, Texas Cooperative Extension