To communicate local applied research findings from major agricultural institutions to the general public for practical applications
Cooperative extension specialists work on the cutting edge of university research, helping translate the latest scientific understanding for the general public in a variety of specialized fields ranging from forestry to entomology and plant pathology.
Public education and efforts to improve farm production take the form of informational newsletters, on-site visits, conducting meetings with farmers, administering 4H Youth programs and providing information at fairs and conferences.
Nearly every county across the nation has a cooperative extension program providing off-campus, adult education outreach. Cooperative extension programs divide their resources between research and public education.
Specialists must have a minimum of a master's degree and many have doctorate degrees in their specialty fields. Cooperative extension programs also frequently hire college students during summers and offer opportunities for clerical and field support staff as well.
For scientists, the job offers a unique balance between university research and hands-on field experience. Most specialists spend approximately 30 percent of their time working outdoors.
"For people who are trained in agriculture, working for the cooperative extension is the next best thing to farming," said Hodge Black, an entomologist who worked as director of Cooperative Extension at the University of California in Bakersfield for 19 years.
"One can get in on the ground floor and satisfy one's research curiosity without having to invest in your own farm," Black said.
The position also provides opportunities to help the general public understand and utilize the latest in scientific knowledge, whether it's helping an individual save a tree in their front yard, or helping a farmer preserve or expand an orchard.
Cooperative extension specialists combine a natural scientific curiosity and investigative mind as they work to find solutions for forestry and agricultural dilemmas.
"Whereas in the past we were learning how to use and not use pesticides, now we have new technology, biotechnology and bioengineers who have developed disease resistant plants and crops that are herbicide tolerant," Black said. "The new trend is to use natural parasites and let Mother Nature do the work. This requires more time, more skill and greater decision making."
Requires: Graduate degree. Approximately 70% of work is indoors; 30% outdoors with some travel to state wide meetings.