Reflections on a Year of Extension Program & Staff Development Work

By Diane Mashburn, Instructor-Program Planning, Evaluation, and Accountability, Program & Staff Development, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

In terms of Extension years, most people still view me as a newbie. I have been working for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture for almost six years. Up until last May, I was a 4-H agent in a rural county in Southeast Arkansas. May 1st marks the one year anniversary of a huge change in my Extension career, moving from the county to Program and Staff Development. In Arkansas, I am tasked with providing the leadership for our state reporting system, as well as the creation of the NIFA Report of Accomplishments and Plan of Work. When I have told those in other states about these responsibilities, I have gotten a number of different reactions, anything from “bless your heart” to simply laughter. At that point, I knew I better get to know others in Extension Program & Staff Development (PSD) and get their numbers programmed into my phone, quick.

In doing this I learned about the National Association of Extension Program & Staff Development Professionals. I attended our annual conference in hopes of learning from others who are more experienced in the areas of evaluation and accountability. While in San Antonio, I definitely had my eyes opened to how broad a field we work in, despite being a subsection of the ever growing field of Extension. I had the wonderful opportunity of picking the minds of some of our seasoned Extension professionals, as well as sharing some of the experiences I had just in the short amount of time in PSD up until that point. Seeing how other states approach the same task, such as reporting and accountability, has given me such an appreciation of what we do in PSD and the hard work so many people have put into getting us to where we are today. It is fascinating to me to see how we are all working towards the same end goal of improving the lives of people, yet take very different paths.

Since then I have continued to take advantage of opportunities to learn from others, both in Arkansas and out.

As I celebrate my one year anniversary of being an “Instructor for Program Planning, Evaluation, and Accountability,” I want to share a few lessons I have learned about working with people in evaluation and accountability, including:

  • No matter how much you understand how important evaluation is, not everyone understands that.
  • One size (or method or explanation) does not fit all, especially when working with both Extension and Experiment Station faculty!
  • Sitting in your office yelling “Really??” at an email is not going to help someone improve their ability to report accurately. Bite your tongue and calmly pick up the phone to offer assistance, no matter how many times you have talked them through turning off the pop-up blocker…
  • Do not let “that’s how it’s always been done” be an excuse for not at least attempting to improve.
  • At the same time, do not ignore why “that’s how it’s always been done,” as there is lots to be learned there as well.
  • Feel free to ask questions and get opinions and feedback, but at the same time realize everyone’s idea may not work for your situation, program, or state.
  • Take advantage of every learning opportunity you have, no matter how long you have been with Extension.
  • Utilize your previous experiences and unique perspectives you may bring to the table, as those help bring about some of the best solutions.