Smith also said the system has worked through the years – and will continue to do so – because leaders recognized early on that local buy-in was vital.

In Texas, Smith said, AgriLife Extension partners with 254 county commissioners’ courts and includes some 570 county agents, 260 specialists and more than 43,000 participants at the county, regional and state level to identify the priorities that they feel will add economic value to their region.

“So needs are identified by the people we serve; our agents and specialists also provide input into the process based on their expertise and training. If the issues are within Extension’s mission and the research is currently available, the agents and specialists package the educational programs and deliver them to the clientele,” he said.

“If the research is not available or is only partially so, then the agents and specialists work with research scientists to develop or enhance the necessary knowledge. Thus the model not only informs Extension, it also informs the teaching and research functions.”

Smith also noted there are more than 107,000 volunteers trained by AgriLife Extension who then support agency efforts toward reaching millions of people in Texas.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Extension program development model can be classified as a principle that is timeless and unalterable,” he added.

Smith cited several attributes that future Extension leaders nationwide must have, including:

  • Selfless service –having the integrity and ethics to put the institution above personal matters or ambitions when making decisions.
  • Complete understanding of what makes “Extension” unique—what makes it different from outreach, engagement and service.
  • Value for all components of the land-grant system: teaching, research and service in addition to Extension. “Understand that the value of the total system is greater than the sum of the parts,” he said.
  • Passionate support and ability to interpret the relevance, value and impacts of Extension.
  • Commitment to uphold local program delivery based on the priorities identified by the constituency.
  • Desire to deliver programs in an alternative and consequences approach. “Families, businesses, communities and state and federal governments are too complex to be prescriptive,” Smith said. “We must deliver the best science with enough practical information that the decision-maker can make an informed decision.”