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Extension as a Catalyst to Community-University Engagement: Community of Practice


June's Dynamic Discussion engaged a panel of Extension professionals to discuss the topic, "Extension as a Catalyst to Community-University Engagement." This session served as a starting point for a community of practice to share ideas on how Extension has led campus engagement efforts.

Session Overview

Jentry Barrett kicked off the session by emphasizing that community-university relationships are at the heart of the Land-Grant University mission. Many Extension missions state that we should connect our state to the resources and research of our institutions, not just what aligns with our programmatic area. Extension work also requires us to know our communities and campuses well enough to create partnerships. This work can be challenging due to barriers such as the history of campus partners being extractive from communities, grant deadlines and demands, and limited time or space to build meaningful partnerships. However, we can also recognize the many benefits of leveraging Extension's expansive networks to partner with campus resources to reach our communities.

This community of practice was started to provide support, resources, and a space for professionals engaged in this work to come together.

Panel Insights

During the session, we heard from a panel of Cooperative Extension professionals who shared how their programs have been leading and coordinating aspects of their university’s community engagement, even beyond their programmatic areas. The panelists reviewed the community engagement structure at their institutions and the novel ways their universities are using Extension in their community engagement strategies.

Examples of this work included:

  • Karly Black, University of Nebraska-Lincoln shared many examples including Master Murals: A collaboration between Nebraska Extension, students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, local business owners, and Beatrice youth, creating murals that link the past and present of Nebraska.
  • Rich Bonanno, NC State University shared from NC State Engagement & Extension the "Extension and Engagement with Constituencies outside the University" task force, which is one of the six realms of faculty responsibility. They develop pathways and guidelines for faculty, department heads, and deans to create an environment where Extension and Engagement can flourish and be rewarded in the reappointment, promotion, and tenure process. There is an annual bus tour for new faculty and staff that introduces them to industry, education, Extension, and non-profit partners in the Piedmont region.
  • Alison Copeland, University of Missouri, shared engagement initiatives including the UM System Broadband Initiative and their Digitally Connected Community Guide Course, and statewide scalable tele-mental health programs.
  • Pam Foster-Felt, University of Wisconsin-Madison shared Wisconsin's initiative, Wisconsin Idea Collaboration which states that education should influence lives beyond the classroom. Efforts include Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grants, Wisconsin Idea Internship Program, and the Wisconsin Idea Budget Task Force exploring ways to incentivize community engagement.

These examples are just scratching the surface of Extension-community engagement efforts! What are some things you are doing at your institution that support university engagement?

Origin of the Working Group

The idea for this discussion and the development of a community of support stemmed from a presentation by Karly Black and Jentry Barrett at the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development (NAEPD) conference in Salt Lake City. Their presentation reviewed how Extension has been tasked with leading Nebraska's community engagement efforts for the entire university, and others identified similar responsibilities at their universities. Hearing this feedback, they decided to create a space to share ideas, learn from each other, and build a community of practice.

Next Steps: Join the Community!

The Dynamic Discussions host announced that they will continue this topic discussion and share resources in a Connect Extension subgroup and at quarterly meetings. To join this community of practice, see the resources below:

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This website is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of use at

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