About three years ago, Marshall Stewart, the University of Missouri’s vice chancellor for extension and engagement made the rounds in central Mo., speaking to county commissioners about a new vision for U of Mo. Extension. This was the outreach educational arm of the university that was losing its relevance for being, since it was a function of the land grant college system at a time when everybody was engaged in farming. That’s no longer the case. It was time for reorganization—a time to evaluate the programs, direction and relevancy within the 21st century. In one word—its value. That value in Gasconade County will be on display with the appointment of Lydia Nipper, the new county engagement specialist. Lydia’s specialty is in nutrition and health, an important focus for the area’s rural aging population. She will be working in Franklin County as well.
“I’m a University of Missouri faculty member that is community-based in Owensville,” she said.
The Union, Mo. native is also continuing to work on her Masters Degree in Public Health. Lydia’s day-to-day programming will be the result of hundreds of conversations based on what communities need and how the University can fill those needs.
“I will be helping community members re-think how they do things daily, to improve their health and wellness, overall,” she says. Backing her up will be the University’s powerful research arm.
While on his State tour in 2016, Vice Chancellor Marshall painted a vision of a level of community engagement not seen by Extension for decades, all in a time when the University was budget cutting an0d the mantra was “do more with less.” The Vice Chancellor reminded Missourians that the U of Mo. Extension is an innovative leader — using science-based knowledge to engage people in understanding change, solving problems and making informed decisions. But there was a problem, pointed out by Stewart. Those innovations weren’t trickling out into Missouri’s communities where they could take hold and sprout. With fewer and fewer citizens engaged in agriculture, the mission was getting hazy, if not lost entirely out at the county level. The county extension agents and their councils had taken on a passive role, where consistent community engagement was a rarity.
It was time to see where they’d been and where they needed to go.
The Morrill Act of 1862 established the U of Mo. as a land-grant university. The act gave grants of land to states with the provision that proceeds from the sale of those lands be used to establish public colleges or universities to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts and other practical professions. The Morrill Act of 1890, which established Lincoln University, provided additional funds to ensure that the land grants were open to all citizens without regard to race.In 1887, the Hatch Act established agricultural experiment stations at land-grant universities. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, a partnership among federal, state and county governments allowing universities to extend their programs to all people — not just students.
In 1927, 4-H became a part of cooperative extension. Today, one in five Missouri youths, ages 5 to 19, participate in a 4-H educational program. In 1955, state legislation required counties to establish county extension councils to advise the University of Missouri about educational programming needs. Today, over 1,600 volunteers make up the councils around the state.
In 2018, the vice chancellor serves as the chief engagement officer, leading outreach efforts and working with university leaders at all four U of Mo. campuses to develop an outreach and engagement strategy.
Lydia Nipper’s presence in Gasconade County is a result of the overall strategy. She will be working with Hermann Area District Hospital this September, teaching a course called “Matter of Balance.”
“This is targeted towards aging adults, roughly 65 years and older,” she said, or “anyone who has a concern for losing balance and falling.”
Interested persons will meet once a week for about two hours, over eight weeks.
“We’ll be talking about ways to be active and get out of the house,” she explains. “The research shows the more active you are, the more prepared you are for a longer, better quality life.”
Another course she’ll be teaching at the start of next year is “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy.”
“This is a 16-part series, two times a week for one hour, over eight weeks,” she says. “It will be more exercise-based. It was developed by the University, on Columbia’s campus.”
She says her position is unique because the University is re-focusing the wealth of knowledge and resources they have and presenting it to the community in a new way, one that engages more like a friend—where everybody knows your name— as opposed to a stranger, or “someone with the University.”
“It’s my responsibility to be a part of the community and tap into the existing resources and partnerships to improve the overall health and wellness of Gasconade County,” she says.
What about soil sampling and pest identification—the stuff Extension has been known for in the past?
“Every county has coverage in every specialty,” she responds. “We have access to specialists in agronomy, horticulture, business development, agricultural engineering, economic development, youth programming, housing education and nutrition.”
Lydia is just getting started in the county, but she has hit the ground running.
Do her services need to be requested? For example, how pro-active will this Extension community specialist be?
“You can request me, but I’m going to be coming anyway!”