I’m the new Director of the Northeastern IPM Center, which is located on the Cornell campus. As our name implies, we cover the 12 states from Maine to West Virginia and DC with information and programming related to IPM or integrated pest management. Our vision is to commit to improving quality of life: healthy people, functioning ecosystems, and sustainable communities through effective pest management.
Much of what our Center does is similar to what Extension does and the exercise that is being conducted in part by CCE to reconsider Extension is both exciting and fearful. The question of how can CCE continue to be relevant, engaged, accessible, and valued in its work with NYS families and communities in the 21st Century is similar to the one that I have been asking in regards to the Northeastern IPM Center. Why would we ask this question and what do we expect to learn? A myriad of responses arise, such improving our image, reaching a wider audience, forging into new territory, and the list goes on. It is important to remember that Extension is different. What do I mean by this? If you take an historical view of Extension, you will see the very first programs were focused on education and providing knowledge to farmers and rural folks about growing crops and feeding people. Research was conducted and results were translated to practical information upon which clientele made decisions and could think about what they were doing and ways to do it better or more efficiently.
The early days of Extension were designed to make people think. Fast forward to today and the approach has largely remained the same, but society has not. There is an increasing demand for quick and simple solutions with the click of a mouse or use of an app that does not require a lot of thought. It is more difficult in this day and age to engage the general public in thinking critically and in a systems manner to address many of the problems and issues that now have expanded beyond just agriculture. Because we want quick answers and more private sources are willing to provide them, Extension, with its focus on knowledge generation and dissemination, is not always out in the front and is often slower to respond, which puts us in a less than desirable position in today’s increasingly competitive world.
There will never be a time when education and knowledge is not important, but the bigger question beyond CCE being relevant, engaged, accessible, and valued in its work with NYS families and communities in the 21st Century is how are we, including the Northeastern IPM Center going to maintain our focus on producing and disseminating knowledge and not loose our impact because the solutions we provide require systems thinking and broad approaches. More than anyone else, Extension contributes to a science literate society, which benefits everyone for both the short- and long-term. Can we maintain or dare I say expand this? We have to. There is no other option and I have some ideas on how.