Urban and Rural Extension
Contrasting Environments, Identical Mission
By: Sidney Hammond and Emily Perdue
Texas is a land of contrasts, and the landscape shifts dramatically across the 268,820 square miles of our state. Several of America’s largest cities are found within our borders, their skyscrapers towering above the horizon. However, Texas is also home to many remote locations where livestock exponentially outnumbers humans. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension serves every county in the state, with a programmatic presence in urban and rural areas alike, just as it has done for the past 100 years.
No matter the local population, the mission of AgriLife Extension remains the same for every county: improving lives of people, businesses, and communities through high-quality, relevant education. Each county agent is able to take a grassroots approach to developing educational programs to meet the needs of the communities in which they live and work.
February’s 14 in ’14 is look at how county agents approach their jobs in both urban and rural settings:
Robert “Skip” Richter is passionate about horticulture. He has served as a county agent for over a quarter-century. He works in Harris County, the largest county in the state with 4.2 million residents. Reaching such a large, diverse population certainly has its challenges. “We really have to rely on our networks and contacts within the county,” he said.
However, Skip notes that working in a large county offers advantages in the limitless possibilities for Extension. “There is never a dull day and everyday something new is happening,” said Skip. “Our goal here is to create programs that are going to make a bigger impact in the community.”
Scott Strawn has served his friends and neighbors as an educator in rural Ochiltree County, having begun his career in more urban Denton County in 1989. With about 10,000 residents, Ochiltree is just a fraction of the population of Harris. However, it boasts a land area nearly half that of its cross-state urban counterpart.
Scott prefers working in more rural areas because “you get to know your clientele on a more personal basis. Your kids go to school with their kids. You see them every day making it easier to spread the word about Extension.” He adds, “I picked this career in college because of the calling I felt to help others. I love my job. I love what I do.”
Both Skip and Scott mentioned the important role that mass media plays in delivering timely information and promoting Extension’s programs. The issues addressed may look very different and the two counties could hardly be farther across the state, but agents in urban and rural counties approach the job with the same enthusiasm and desire to help others.
Skip shared a quote that hung on the wall of his very first job, which holds true about Extension in counties both large and small — “The place to go when you need to know.”
14 in ’14 is a monthly series celebrating the centennial anniversary of the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, the legislation which created the national cooperative extension system. Each month we will feature people, programs, history, and ideas highlighting some of the unique accomplishments of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
14 in ’14 is a joint effort between Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Organizational Development Unit and graduate students from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications at Texas A&M University, under the direction of Scott Cummings, Jeff Ripley, and Kevin Andrews.