August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4COM2

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A Diversified Portfolio of Scholarship: The Making of a Successful Extension Educator

In today's academic environment, universities expect that Extension educators will engage in scholarship. Academic leaders have attempted to define the scholarship of Extension for two decades, but confusion prevails about the specific accomplishments required to meet the expectations. The time has arrived for the Extension system to set the standard of excellence in scholarship as well as performance. This commentary proposes that a diversified portfolio of scholarship can assist in establishing and sustaining the standard for scholarship and advocates creating a culture for scholarship continuity and consistency across the system.

Roger G. Adams, Jr.
Professor and Assistant Director
University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System
Storrs, Connecticut

Reginal M. Harrell
Regional Director
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Queenstown, Maryland

Deborah J. Maddy
Assistant Director
Oregon State University Extension Service
Corvallis, Oregon

Dan Weigel
Area Extension Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Reno, Nevada

Many universities, including those of the authors, now have the expectation that Extension educators will engage in scholarship and translate the results, outcomes, and impacts of their work into scholarly products. This expectation is consistent with being considered a bona fide academic peer within the university setting.

Defining the role of an Extension professional in university settings, where the concepts of teaching, research, service, outreach, and scholarship are often misunderstood and confused by faculty and administrators alike, has posed considerable challenges in the evolution of the Extension educator.

Many academic leaders over the past two decades have contributed to defining the scholarship of Extension, engagement, outreach, the integration and application of knowledge, and other academic functions (Alter, 2003; Bushaw, 1996; Campbell, 1991; Norman, 2001; Smith, 2004; Schauber, Aldrich-Markham, Olsen, Gredler, Olsen, & Reichenbach, 1998; Weiser, & Houglum, 1998). Despite the discussions, many Extension professionals still remain uncertain about the specific accomplishments that are needed to meet the expectations of peers, administrators, boards of trustees, and others to be successful in promotion and tenure decisions.

It is time for the quandary to end. Now is the time for the Extension system to control its destiny, not allowing important decisions about its future to be defined by academicians who equate Extension with service. If Extension educators are to be taken seriously within the academy while maintaining relevance for their clientele, the Extension system should set the standard for excellence in scholarship as well as performance.

Deans and directors who are responsible for Extension nationwide must adopt a common understanding of scholarship, with rigor and metrics applied, and hold the system accountable for achieving the standard. We propose that a diversified portfolio of scholarship be considered as a key element of establishing and sustaining the standard for scholarship and create a culture for its continuity and consistency across the system.

Internal and External Clientele

Expectations for scholarly production, grantsmanship, program development, and evaluation are increasing exponentially. How can the Extension educator be successful within universities through the promotion and tenure processes? What will be required?

As a national system encompassing land-grant universities, we can agree that all Extension professionals have internal and external clientele and peers. External clientele are those individuals, groups, organizations, communities, businesses, and other stakeholders outside the university setting with whom educational programming, co-learning, and learner services are provided. Extension professionals generally consider these to be their clientele base and primary stakeholders.

Internal clientele include other Extension professionals, faculty with research and teaching assignments, administrators, and members of boards of trustees within the university setting who may review one's work through various internal processes, such as promotion, tenure, reappointment, post-tenure reviews, and merit awards and decisions.

The types and examples of scholarship and scholarly products best needed by the various clientele and peer audiences will vary based on their perspective and relationship to the Extension professional. Therefore, it is essential that the Extension educator understand the perspectives, criteria, and needs of various clientele groups, both internal and external to the university, and to address them accordingly. Thus, one type of scholarship or scholarly product will not fit all cases--a "diversified portfolio of scholarship" is needed for success.

Education and the Extension Educator

In universities where Extension educators progress through the promotion and tenure processes, an "academic model," often vaguely defining expectations of teaching, research, and service, is followed. In most cases, service is synonymous with Extension, and the third mission of the land-grant university is relegated to second-class status.

In contrast, we believe education is the core function of Extension systems and is represented through the scholarship of integration and application. Application focuses on education and service (Bull, 1998). For Extension professionals, teaching is usually non-formal or not-for-credit, unless offered as continuing education units. Such teaching differs from outreach in that the latter is primarily information or technology transfer with little actual teaching involved. Extension teaching focuses on outcomes, impacts, results, and changes in knowledge and behavior, all of which are quantifiable and, perhaps, require a higher level of rigor than research and teaching peers must achieve. For Extension professionals, teaching is also the primary basis for scholarly productivity.

Extension professionals utilize the literature in their disciplines, other sources of scholarly information, experiential learning, and formative and summative inquiry, and, in some cases, they conduct applied research to discover new knowledge needed to develop new Extension education programs or to further enhance existing programs. In turn, Extension professionals have a responsibility to share their results and findings with colleagues and clientele through various forms of peer-reviewed scholarship (Adams, 1999). Those who do so are more readily accepted as education professionals within academic communities, and their likelihood for success is enhanced. Packaging becomes extremely important for communicating academic rigor and validity.

The Diversified Portfolio of Scholarship

Whether peer-reviewed or popular literature, a crucial component of the scholarship of Extension is the effectiveness of communication that is needed (Olsen et al., 2001). Whether oral or written, clarity of communication of research or community-based knowledge into a format or language easily understandable by a target audience is as much an art as a science and requires the individual to have the "mastery of knowledge" aforementioned. Boyer (1990) stated, "To make complex ideas understandable to a large audience can be a difficult, demanding task, one that requires not only a deep and thorough knowledge of one's field, but keen literary skills, as well." He believed that just as much as providing to the wealth of peer-review literature was important in defining scholarship, communicating to the non-specialist was a legitimate scholarly endeavor.

Boyer further elaborated that while establishing the right standards and identifying proper peers for validation of such work may be difficult, it is nonetheless important. It is vital for Extension, as a culture, to develop its own national standards that define quality and utility. Extension professionals must subject their ideas and findings to critical inquiry and independent review among professional peers. The use of effective communication, regardless of the audience, facilitates the learning of new knowledge and establishes a baseline for evaluating professional competence (Adams, Harrell, Maddy, & Weigel, 2002; Norman, C. L., 2001; Olsen et. al., 2001; Weiser & Houglum, 1998).

To be considered as professionals both in academic and stakeholder communities, all Extension professionals must meet the expectation of the scholarship of application, as defined by Bull (1998. To meet the needs of a diverse array of clientele, the Extension educator needs to develop a "diversified portfolio of scholarship" representing the creativity, products, outcomes, and impacts achieved over the course of his or her career.

The "diversified portfolio of scholarship" may include:

  • Books and book chapters;
  • Peer-reviewed journal articles;
  • Published abstracts and proceedings;
  • Submitted and funded grant proposals;
  • New curricula and courses;
  • Educational manuals/teaching guides;
  • Poster sessions;
  • Fact sheets;
  • Extension bulletins;
  • Magazine articles;
  • Newsletter/newspaper articles;
  • Educational games;
  • Interactive Web sites;
  • New distance education non-credit courses;
  • New computer programs, simulations, and data bases;
  • New videotapes, audiocassettes, and CD-ROMs; and
  • Other creative outputs (Adams, 1999; Adams et al., 2002; Olsen et al., 2001).

A diversified portfolio of scholarship will include many of the examples presented above and must include peer-reviewed journal articles as well as other products. Such a portfolio will likely meet the needs of both clientele and peers, both internally and externally to the university. Without such a diversified portfolio of scholarship, the Extension educator is at risk.

By widely disseminating, through scholarship, the knowledge and experience gained through projects and programs, Extension educators share its significance and findings with those who did not benefit directly from the experience. Extension professionals can make substantial scholarly contributions and gain critical acclaim by communicating methodological innovations, processes, curricular developments, results, impacts, and outcomes to peers who may apply the approaches and findings to wider audiences (Olsen et al., 2001; Schauber et al., 1998; Smith, 2004).

Establishing a "diversified portfolio of scholarship" reflects a level of individual professionalism that is also likely to show through success in grantsmanship and in overall Extension program excellence.

While outreach education is not the same as formal classroom contact teaching performed on campuses of the nation's colleges and universities, it is education in its finest sense, with a distinct pedagogy and unique program design and delivery. It is crucial for Extension educators to be recognized as peers among academic communities and, to do so, requires a paradigm shift in academic and Extension communities, alike.

This translates into the need for Extension employees to understand, develop, and provide appropriate scholarly materials in a format appropriate to learning styles about a wider variety of information than most ever dreamed possible.

Can the Extension educator be successful within universities through the promotion and tenure processes? The answer is--most certainly--yes. As an Extension educator, packaging one's work into an ever-expanding "diversified portfolio of scholarship" will help ensure that the Extension professional will be successful with clientele and peers, both internally and externally to the university. With such success, the Extension educator will receive the appropriate recognition and acceptance of the research and academic teaching communities as a peer in every sense of the word.


Adams, R. G., Harrell, R. M., Maddy, D. J., & Weigel, D. J. (2002). The Scholarship of Extension: Implementing Extension's Vision for the 21st Century. A White Paper by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy Personnel and Organizational Development Committee. Lincoln, NE. Available:

Adams, R. G. (1999). Cooperative Extension Unit (CEU) criteria for promotion, tenure and reappointment. University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System. Storrs, CT. 9 pp.

Alter, T. (2003). Where is Extension scholarship falling short, and what can we do about it? Journal of Extension [On-line], 41(6). Available at:

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Bull, N. H. (1998). Defining Scholarship for the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System. University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System. Storrs, CT. 3 pp.

Bushaw, D. W., (1996). The scholarship of Extension. Journal of Extension [On-line], 36(4). Available at:

Campbell, G. R. (1991). Scholarship reconsidered. Journal of Extension [On-line], 29(4). Available at:

Harrell, R.M., Adams, R. G., Maddy, D. J., & Weigel, D. J. (2003). Packaging yourself as an Extension professional. National Aquaculture Extension Conference Tucson, AZ. Extended Abstracts, 2003: 69-73.

Norman, C. L. (2001). The challenge of Extension scholarship. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(1). Available:

Olsen, C. S., Bowden, R., Langemeier, M., Marr, C., Paisley, S., Stokka, D., & Mengel, D. (2001). Scholarship of Extension. Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service. Manhattan, KS.

Schauber, A., Aldrich-Markham, S., Olsen, J., Gredler, G., Olsen, P., & Reichenbach, M. (1998). Defining scholarship for county Extension agents. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 36(4). Available at:

Smith, K. L. (2004). Scholarship: Shout about it. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 42(5). Available at:

Weiser, C. J. & Houglum, L. (1998). Scholarship unbound for the 21st century. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 36(4). Available at: