What a difference a decade makes



December 17, 2019 - 10:20 AM

As we draw near to the end of a decade, I can’t help but reflect on the changes within our local Extension services .

In 2010, the Southwind District was formed between Neosho and Allen counties. Elected officials, board members, agents and countless community members had the foresight to see this would be a viable option for meeting the challenges of changing rural communities. Only a year later, Bourbon County was added.

Since then, our programming presence has grown and agents have embraced specialization.

Krista Harding went from being the Neosho County ag agent to focusing on horticulture and expanding the Master Gardener program. Bourbon County was able to hire Christopher Petty to focus on livestock and forage management and Joy Miller is always busy with family financial management by offering SHICK counseling and marketplace consultations. Jennifer Murphy was hired to be a District-wide 4-H agent which positioned the District to better embrace online 4-H enrollment and a new record keeping system.

I am always grateful for her attention to the 4-H detail. It is frequently a time-consuming component of the extension system.

Kathy McEwan went from being a general FCS in Allen County to focusing her programming efforts in food and nutrition. The shift allowed us to expand the grant-funded SNAP education by hiring three nutrition educators who work across the district. 

Just when we thought we had the District model figured out, Woodson County joined Southwind in 2018. Dale Lanham has the most staff tenure at 45 years in extension and a respected wealth of knowledge with regard to sheep and goat production. Barbara Stockebrand has improved the lives of our aging population by teaching life skills.

Prior to the Southwind District, office professionals did a little bit of everything to manage the local office. The District model allowed them to specialize their time and talents. Andrea Hilyard is in Yates Center and manages our website and communication efforts, which are becoming more and more important to our Extension footprint. Pat Simpson uses her 4-H background and experiences in Fort Scott to serve as the 4-H program manager, develops our monthly 4-H Newsletter and keeps our volunteers monitored throughout the District. Kari Smith is the administrative office professional in Iola, and is our financial specialist who was deservingly awarded the 2018 K-State Research & Extension Office Professional of the Year. We expect to hire a new office professional in Erie who will manage our social media and marketing efforts. Finally, as District Director, I manage the overall program and coordinate our programming efforts to offer a balanced educational program that reaches new, traditional and underserved audiences.

The District-model has allowed our 4-H members to participate in state, national and even international contests as they participated on blended teams with youth from all four of our District counties. Our kids are already connecting with youth from across the area, and it only seems natural to allow those with a common interest to work together to accomplish big-time goals and secure their future as advocates for agriculture.

K-State Research & Extension has changed over the last decade, and I anticipate the next decade will be full of new opportunities. Technology continues to drive our presence and opens new doors to the sharing of research-based information. It should not be a surprise to you in the next decade when you see the Extension Office utilizing social media outlets like YouTube and offering meetings in person and through virtual channels like Zoom. To be honest, technology is overwhelming to the Southwind District staff that has over 245 years of professional experience! We are proud to have been serving our local communities for this amount of tenure, but it comes with challenges because we are also trying to serve new audiences and embrace non-traditional Extension users who want to receive information through electronic alternatives.

If you are looking for research-based information, the Southwind District will continue to be your local resource through K-State Research & Extension. The next 10 years will likely be just as exciting as the past 10, and we look forward to taking the ride with you! For more information, you can find the Southwind District at www.southwind.k-state.edu