June 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW2

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Building External Linkages for Extension Programs

Building a successful partnership with a private university outside the land-grant system has provided excellent educational programming opportunities for two Extension 4-H professionals. By developing working relationships with other academic institutions, Extension can expand its resource base and find help in meeting some of the new demands placed on it. Extension staff at all levels should look at the opportunities that exist to build relationships with other academic institutions. These can provide both short- and long-term benefits as professionals work to meet the needs of an expanding clientele.

Kenneth R. Lafontaine
Assistant Professor
Extension Agent
4-H Youth Development
The Ohio State University Extension
Kenton, Ohio
Internet address: lafontaine.1@osu.edu

During the first 70 to 80 years of Extension programming, the nearly exclusive linkage with land-grant institutions provided a sound resource base for state, district, and county Extension programs. The colleges of agriculture and home economics, 4-H program staffs, and other affiliated academic departments within the land-grant system traditionally provided researched based information and supported field staff needs as they conducted Extension programs.

In the past 10 years, we have seen this traditional resource base down-sized, reorganized, and readjusted in response to financial shortfalls and changing academic priorities. Thus, as field staff face new issues, audiences, and program demands, they have found these traditional academic divisions struggling to shift their focus while at times neither equipped nor appropriately staffed to provide all the research based information or technical support demanded by this new wave of issue-based programs.

During this period of change, some Extension staff have looked outside the land-grant system for help. They have often found people, resources, and facilities readily available. In this age of coalitions, collaborations, cooperation, and working relationships, some non-land-grant academic institutions have become partners who have greatly enhanced the ability of Extension to more fully achieve its mission and goals.

A successful 4-H program called "Ohio 4-H Aerospace Adventure Camp" has proven to be an excellent example of how creating a positive working relationship with a non-traditional partner can provide benefits to youth participants in the Ohio 4-H program. The partner in this successful program was Ohio Northern University (ONU), a liberal arts university with enrollment of approximately 2,800 graduate and undergraduate students located in Ada, Ohio.

From its beginning, "4-H Aerospace Adventure Camp" had four basic objectives.

  1. To provide an exciting learning experience for middle school aged youth where they would learn about space and flight in a fun atmosphere.

  2. To expand and enhance the image of the 4-H program in Ohio so that it would include a broader perspective of current youth development efforts.

  3. To develop an educational package that could be repeated in other locations throughout the State of Ohio.

  4. To develop a positive teaching relationship with a privately funded university.

The educational focus of the camp was hands-on exploration and personal growth. Participants were given a chance to explore and experience science through a variety of aerospace based components during a three-day residential camp held on the ONU campus. The actual camp program was developed by working directly with the Dean of ONU's College of Engineering. This linkage helped provide access to the civil engineering, industrial technology, and computer departments and to interested faculty and staff.

As partners in the camp, the university provided facilities that were perfect for the action-oriented focus of the camp. A state of the art computer lab allowed freedom to teach computer skills and explore space flight through simulation exercises. Available engineering labs and equipment meant campers could participate directly in demonstrations highlighting concepts related to flight.

The staff of the university also provided technical expertise Extension staff could not provide. Faculty and staff with engineering, biology, computer science, and industrial technology training were instrumental in planning and conducting subject matter sessions.

To date, 240 youth have participated in five camps. Evaluations indicate campers found the experience both personally and educationally exciting. It also showed the 4-H "Learning by Doing" format of experiential education is a viable method for exciting young people about science education.

Through cooperatively organizing this camp, a long-lasting relationship has been built between Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Northern University. It is hoped that this program will serve as a model for other relationships built outside the present land-grant system.