August 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB5

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Globalizing Extension Professionals

The article reports the results of a study of all Extension professionals in a midwestern state to identify activities and attitudes relative to incorporating global perspectives into local programming. The implications related to professional development of Extension professionals to understand local events in a global context are significant. Results indicate over 60% of Extension professionals are interested in incorporating an international perspective into programming. Lack of time, uncertainty that globalizing is a programming priority and lack of expertise or information were the primary barriers identified to adding a global perspective to domestic programming.

Barbara G. Ludwig
Associate Professor and
Acting Assistant Director
Ohio State University Extension
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address:


Are today's Extension professionals and their local programs becoming global in character? What barriers prevent Extension professionals from incorporating global perspectives into programs and offerings to clientele? The world in general, and the educational world in particular, are in a period of change. Jack Welch, in an interview indicated: "The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure that they have training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future." (Gregersen, Morrison & Black, 1998, p. 22).

Likewise, Extension leaders are being challenged to increase their local county professionals' ability to function in a world that includes Global Positioning Systems, Internet access to all points of the globe, and an era where Sesame Street reaches seven million homes per week, helping children in more than 140 countries learn their letters, numbers, and shapes. It is also a world where the chasm between rich and poor grows as Rosenberg (1998) points out citing a United Nations Development Report.

In the summer of 1997 a study of all Extension professionals in a midwestern U.S. state was undertaken. The goal was to determine the current level of activity and interest of Extension professionals relative to globalization of programs for local clientele. The study also sought to identify barriers that may limit professionals ability to incorporate global perspectives into local programming. A 1998 report by the International Agriculture Section of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges presents an Agenda for U.S. land-grant universities and indicates, "we urgently need to find ways to increase the level of engagement of our resident teaching faculty, research scientists, and Extension agents in addressing global dimension" (Globalizing Agricultural Science and Education Programs for America, 1998, p. 1).

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of the study was to identify Extension professionals, activities, and attitudes toward three international dimensions. It examined current involvement in international programming activities, interest in incorporating international dimensions into future Extension programming, and barriers which exist.


The target population consisted of 823 Extension professionals employed by Ohio State University in May 1997. The population included all faculty and non-faculty program professionals and administrators with an Ohio State University Extension assignment.

A mail survey instrument was developed. Content validity was established by a panel of experts. To help control measurement error, the instrument was pilot tested and field tested using 26 Extension professionals. Test-re-test reliability (1 month) was assessed. Reliability coefficients met criteria (Nunnally, 1967) established for reliability. A five point Likert-type scale was used to measure the level of interest in incorporating an international dimension into future Extension efforts. Fifteen barriers were identified through a review of literature and interviews with Extension faculty and professionals.

The questionnaire and a personalized cover letter were sent by campus mail to all program professionals. Questionnaires were coded to identify early and late respondents. Non-response error as assessed using late respondents as a surrogate for non-respondents (Miller & Smith, 1983). Using a t-test at the .05 alpha level, no significant differences were found between early (n = 562 ) and late respondents (n = 92) on the domains of interest.

Results and Conclusions

Six hundred fifty four of the survey instruments returned were usable. An additional 65 were insufficiently completed to be used in the study or were returned with a notation that the individual was no longer an Extension employee. This represents a total return rate of 87%. Responses were coded for computer analysis using SPSS (Norusis, 1993). Descriptive statistics were used.

Who Responded?

All administrators and all employees with program assignments including state specialists, agents, program assistants, EFNEP educators, and Extension Associates were surveyed. Of the total respondents, 42% were male and 58% were female. Extension professionals working at county or district locations represented 70% of the respondents while state-based professionals represented 30%. Returns by primary program assignment closely approximated the proportions in the population: 25% agriculture, 24% family and consumer science, 21% 4-H, 5% community development, and 4% administration. The highest level of education reported by each respondent showed that 17% did not have a college degree, 23% had a bachelor's degree, 43% had a master's degree and 17% had earned a doctorate. Twenty three percent (151) of the professionals had lived or worked outside of the United States. Vacation travel was not included in the results reported.

Current Involvement

Fourteen different types of activities were identified. Most activities involve contact with individuals from another country, but only limited evidence of program (teaching) activities or curriculum development by Extension professionals was evident. One hundred sixty one (25%) professionals reported they were currently incorporating an international dimension into programming efforts. Within the past eight years, 415 (63%) of the professionals reported international activities ranging from hosting an international visitor (25%) to involving clientele in international activities. Twenty-five percent have communicated by e-mail with an international colleague in another country, 21% have served as a communication link between people from different countries. Only 10% could recall creating an Extension program based on an international issue.

Interest in Globalizing Programming for Local Audiences

Four hundred and twenty five professionals (65%) would like to in incorporate an international dimension into future Extension efforts. A Likert-type scale was used to assess level of interest. Scores ranged from 1-5, with 1 indicating slight interest and 5 indicating high interest. The distribution of ratings had a mean of 3.1 (SD 1.16) which indicated moderate interest. Over one third expressed high interest in globalizing programming for local audiences.


Fifteen potential barriers were listed on the instrument and respondents were asked to identify the three which were most likely to prevent them from incorporating an international dimension into future Extension efforts. The most frequently identified barrier was lack of time, which was reported by 40% of the participants, 35% did not see incorporating an international dimension as a programming priority, and 28% identified a lack of experience as a barrier. Least mentioned barriers included fear of negative career impacts (3%), lack of reward in annual performance appraisal (4%), not recognized in promotion criteria (4%), and cultural barriers (4%).

A Few Implications

Although the study focused on one state, the implications have wider significance. Ohio State University Extension for the past ten years, with the help of an Extension International Committee and supportive administrators, has developed an atmosphere and culture that enables interested faculty and staff to move forward with globalizing opportunities. Other states may want to assess their current situation as they engage in futuring and strategic planning activities for the coming century.

This points to the need for Extension program leaders to continue to communicate the importance of incorporating global perspectives into ongoing Extension programs. Issues related to world food supply, environmental quality, and knowledge that at current growth rates trade between nations will exceed total commerce within nations by 2015 (Daft, 1997) provide a rationale for globalizing programs in U.S. Colleges of Agriculture. Extension, as a major part of a university's outreach component, needs to examine its response to this challenge. Change requires new approaches and re-examination of past decisions.

If Extension educators have the responsibility to help clientele develop a better understanding of the complexity of global issues, a variety of strategies to effectively develop global leadership skills in Extension professionals should be considered. Based on recommendations of the GASEPA task force, professional development opportunities might focus on enhancing global competitiveness of U.S. agriculture. Because of Extension's close tie with the agricultural sector, development and dissemination of information about markets, trade, and business opportunities should be encouraged. Promotion of trade, global economic development, establishing mutually beneficial global partnerships, and creating a greater awareness and understanding of global environmental concerns are also suggested by the Globalizing Agricultural Science and Education Programs for America (GASEPA) task force.

Initiating the concept of leadership development in a global context and human capacity building might start with traveling outside the U.S. Foreign travel has the ability to immerse future leaders in a new culture, particularly if the traveler takes detours by staying in non-western hotels and visiting rural areas, markets, schools and homes.

Overseas travel may be one approach, but creating cross-cultural competency and understanding through local activities may be more practical for many Extension systems. Invite international visitors and students into a local community, arranging for local families to serve as hosts. Pre-plan a visit by an international guest to a farming operation to be more than a "show and tell" experience. Incorporate an opportunity for dialogue with local advisory committees, community leaders and educators about issues of shared interest and concern.

Increasing the level of engagement between international visitors, local Extension agents and constituents is achievable and will have long-term benefits for both. International visitors often ask questions that challenge paradigms and stimulate people to look at what they take for granted in new and different ways. Partnerships between institutions are the result of relationship building between individuals. Campus faculty and county agents must work together to facilitate these opportunities.

In-service education programs involving action learning projects to challenge participants to look beyond the local situation are needed. As Extension professionals begin meeting and hosting international experts, the impetus to participate in workshops and other development opportunities to improve cross-cultural competency or increase expertise in global economics and decision making will occur. With changing U.S. demographics, learning how to work in teams with individuals from diverse backgrounds is essential. Developing the necessary sensitivity and skills to lead multi-cultural teams requires both additional experience and training.

Extension educators incorporating global perspectives into ongoing programs requires more than a brief study tour to another country or a single workshop. Having small grants available to foster individual development or the infusion of international modules into existing programming is suggested. Policy mechanisms that support travel abroad, professional leaves, participation in Fulbright programs, and international assignments will further enhance efforts to internationalize the curriculum. Recognition and reward of achievements must become an integral components. The new millennium will offer many challenges to Extension. Recognition of the global community we inhabit and share with partners around the world will become an increasing priority.


Daft, R. (1997). Management. New York: Dryden.

Globalizing Agricultural Science and Education Programs For America Task Force (1998). International Agriculture Section, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Washington D.C.: Author

Gregersen, H. B., Morrison, A. J., & Black, J. S. (Fall, 1998). Developing leaders for the global frontier. Sloan Management Review., pp. 21-32.

Miller, L.E., & Smith, K. (1983). Handling nonresponse issue. Journal of Extension 21(45).

Norusis, M. J. (1993). SPSS for Windows: Base systems user's guide (release 6.0). Chicago: SPSS, Inc.

Nunally, J. (1967). Psychometric theory. McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Rosenberg, J. (1998). Winning the global game: a strategy for linking people and profits. Free Press.