August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB1

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Preparing Extension Educators for a Global Community

What amounts of international involvement, including travel, language, and programming experience do Purdue Extension educators in Indiana possess? What types of training do Extension educators feel they need in order to develop international related programming and to work effectively with diverse clientele? How do Extension educators want to learn about international aspects of Extension? What will Extension educators identify as the most significant barrier for integrating an international perspective into future Extension efforts? The study described here reports the findings from 171 Purdue Extension educators in Indiana regarding their staff development needs and international Extension.

Kelli A. Selby
International Extension Program Coordinator

Jerry L. Peters
Professor, Youth Development and Agricultural Education

David J. Sammons
Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in Agriculture

Floyd F. Branson
Professor, Curriculum and Instruction

Mark A. Balschweid
Associate Professor, Youth Development and Agricultural Education

Purdue University
West Lafayette


Changes in evolving demographics are a topic of discussion in most states, including Indiana, where the Hispanic population has increased 144% from 1990 to 2003 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Indiana also has substantial involvement as a producer and exporter of agricultural products and other goods. In 2002, Indiana ranked 10th among all 50 states, with agricultural exports estimated at $1.7 billion (United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, 2003).

Given world events during the past 2 years, characterized both by increased trade and worldwide terrorism, the reality of global interdependence has become widely recognized. A United States Department of Education policy (2002) states, "Vast numbers of U.S. citizens--particularly young Americans--remain dangerously uninformed about international matters. They lack even the rudimentary knowledge of world affairs and cultures beyond our borders that is necessary to lead America in today's global environment." (p. 2).

The benefits of global issue education are diverse and include among many important ones, new markets for farms and businesses, ensuring food safety, preserving environmental resources, and promoting healthy families and democracies. The global intertwining creates opportunities for partnerships, but it also creates vulnerabilities that may range from economic downturns to violence. The vulnerabilities create a need for increased political, social, and cultural sensitivity for everyone working in the food and agricultural sectors, (Andrews, Place, & Crago, 2001).

Currently, ad hoc staff development programs focusing on internationalization or multiculturalism occur at the state level in Indiana when the need arises or when the funds are available. Our programs have included an international theme at an annual conference, strategic planning committees tasked to discern an appropriate global role for Extension, and a variety of 1-day workshops (Sammons, Petritz, Branson, & Cameron-Selby, 2003). In addition, statistics exist for the diversity among Extension educators, however there are no formal records of staff who have traveled abroad or conducted internationally focused programs. Because of the lack of records, Purdue Extension cannot properly utilize these staff resources to further internationalize our programs. As funds tighten on county, state, and national levels, the international staff development opportunities must demonstrate a need by Extension educators.


The objective of this study was to assess the current involvement, staff development needs, and barriers for Purdue Cooperative Extension educators relevant specifically to its international programming. The following research questions guided this study.

  1. What amounts of international involvement, including travel, language, and programming experience, do Extension educators in Indiana possess?

  2. What types of training do Extension educators feel they need in order to develop internationally related programming and to work effectively with diverse clientele?

  3. What are the most preferred methods of in-service training for Extension educators related to the topics identified in question #2?

  4. What do Extension educators identify as the most significant barrier for integrating an international perspective into future Extension efforts?

Methods and Procedures

A needs assessment study was conducted to determine the current involvement, training needs, and barriers for incorporating an international perspective in Extension. The survey population included all Extension educators (n = 260) employed by the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service in September 2003. The participants were employed in one or more of the four program areas: 4-H and Youth Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Consumer and Family Sciences, and Leadership and Community Development. Zoomerang, an online survey research tool, was used to obtain responses. An online survey was used because of its cost-effectiveness and the availability of computers and email to all Extension educators. The instrument for this study was a 17-item, researcher-developed questionnaire. Two questions regarding current involvement and barriers were used in the study and are adapted from a survey conducted by Ludwig (1999).

A panel of experts from international agriculture programs and agricultural and Extension education reviewed the survey items for content validity prior to dissemination to the survey population. To achieve high external validity, the study focused on obtaining a high response rate by surveying the entire population of Extension educators and by making it easy for them to respond. A few questions on the survey instrument were replicated from previous studies in other states to demonstrate the generalizability of this study for other Extension systems or for a different point in time. Responses to the survey were anonymous to reduce social desirability bias. Pilot testing was conducted using a stratified random sample of 12 Extension educators, representing all four program areas. Results from the pilot test were analyzed, and a few changes were made to clarify the wording of the questions.

Data were collected through a letter drafted by the study's authors and distributed via email by the Director of Extension to the listserv for all Purdue Extension educators. A Web address was included in the email to lead them to the survey Web site. A total of 174 responses were obtained, a 66.9% response rate. Three responses indicated "Leadership and Community Development" as their sole program area and were eliminated from the entire statistical analysis because there were too few responses to make any meaningful analyses. A program area category entitled "other" was created for all Extension educators who indicated they are employed in more than one program area. Data were stored and analyzed using SPSS for Windows, v. 11.5. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to examine the data.


The respondents represented all four program categories. Forty-five respondents (26.3%) were categorized as "Other" because they indicated that they work in more than one program area, which may be any combination of one or two of the other program areas (i.e., Leadership and Community Development plus Agriculture and Natural Resources). Categorical demographic variables included gender, race/ethnicity, program area, and years employed in Extension and are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1.
Demographic Information












American Indian or Alaska Native






Black or African American



Hispanic or Latino



Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander









Prefer Not to Respond



Program Area

4-H & Youth Development



Agriculture & Natural Resources



Consumer & Family Sciences



Other (more than 1 program area)



Years Employed in Extension

0 to 4 years



5 to 9 years



10 to 14 years



15 to 19 years



20 to 24 years



25 to 29 years



30+ years



Seventy-six percent of respondents indicated they had traveled outside the United States. There was no significant association between travel experience and program area. Respondents who had traveled outside the United States were asked to indicate all of the reasons they had traveled: 78.5% did so for leisure, while 25.4% had traveled for education/study abroad. The highest response for length of their longest travel abroad experience was less than 1 week. The respondents had traveled to 92 locations, with the highest frequencies to Mexico, Canada, England, and France. Only 13.6% of the 171 respondents indicated that they were able to communicate in a foreign language.

Fifty percent of respondents indicated they had "no current involvement" related to international aspects of Extension. However, approximately 20% incorporate an international dimension into current programming efforts. No significant difference was found between current involvement and program area.

The questionnaire proposed a list of 23 possible staff development topics to strengthen international competence. Table 2 shows the ratings of internationally focused staff development topics within program areas. Extension educators responded to the staff development topics according to their need using a five-point Likert-type scale. Inferential statistics were used to compare responses of training topics to Extension program areas. These analyses showed that there was a significant difference among program areas on training topic score for 19 of the 23 training topics. The most significant difference occurred in the training topic "Family life & childcare issues for new community groups." Overall, respondents in the CFS program area were more apt to rate all of the staff development topics higher than the other program areas, and ANR respondents were more apt to rate the topics lower than the other program areas.

Table 2.
Comparisons of Program Areas and Training Needs








Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)


Demographic changes

3.73 (1.1)ab

3.53 (1.)a

4.21 (.6)b

3.31 (1.0)a


World health issues

3.08 (1.0)a


3.67 (.8)b

2.93 (.8)a


World agronomic systems

2.92 (1.1)a

3.78 (.9)c

3.05 (.9)ab

3.51 (.9)bc


Commercial ag vs. subsistence ag

2.92 (1.1)a

3.59 (.9)b

2.88 (.9)a

3.16 (.9)ab


Global ed. issues

3.52 (1.0)ab

3.03 (1.1)a

3.74 (.8)b

3.22 (.9)ab


Niche market development

2.90 (1.2)a

3.75 (.9)b

3.24 (.9)ab

3.69 (.8)b


World commodity & trade systems

2.65 (1.1)a

3.53 (1.1)b

3.27 (.9)b

3.47 (.9)b


Funding opportunities for international projects & travel

3.31 (1.1)a

2.94 (1.4)a

3.59 (1.3)a

3.40 (1.1)a


Methods of forming partnerships in other countries


3.15 (1.1)a

2.94 (1.1)a

3.56 (1.2)a

3.16 (1.0)a



Role of women in other societies

3.12 (1.2)b

2.39 (1.0)a

3.98 (.9)c

3.17 (1.1)b


Role of religion in other societies

2.96 (1.1)a

2.77 (1.1)a

3.54 (.8)b

3.13 (.8)ab


Utilizing technology to create an international link

3.23 (1.1)ab

2.84 (1.1)a

3.68 (1.1)b

3.42 (.8)ab


Food safety & international tracking systems

2.90 (1.1)a

3.28 (1.2)ab

4.07 (.8)c

3.76 (.7)bc


Issues in the developing world

3.19 (1.1)a

3.12 (1.2)a

3.62 (.8)a

3.55 (.7)a


Communicating across cultures

3.96 (.9)b

3.38 (1.3)a

4.05 (.9)b

3.73 (.8)ab


Conflict resolution across cultures

3.69 (.9)b

3.03 (1.2)a

4.05 (1.0)b

3.50 (.9)ab


Legal issues relative to new populations

3.23 (1.2)ab

2.94 (1.1)a

3.83 (1.0)c

3.56 (.9)bc


Methods to conduct a needs assessment for a new cultural group

3.61 (1.1)ab

3.06 (1.3)a

3.88 (1.0)b

3.49 (.9)ab


Methods to apply an international experience at a local level

3.33 (1.1)ab

2.84 (1.2)a

3.50 (1.1)b

3.29 (.9)ab


Family life & childcare issues for new populations

3.45 (1.1)b

2.48 (1.1)a

4.38 (.8)c

3.42 (.9)b


Cultural impacts on leadership styles

3.73 (1.1)b

2.94 (1.2)a

4.00 (.7)b

3.51 (.9)b


Industry requirements, needs, and expectations relative to non-U.S. citizen employees

3.00 (1.1)ab

2.75 (1.2)a

3.52 (.9)b

3.44 (.8)b


Natural resources & environmental practices abroad

2.92 (1.2)a

3.31 (1.2)a

3.05 (1.0)a

3.36 (.9)a


Note: Programs with the same superscript do not differ from one another.
N ranges from 168-171. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Respondents were given a list of nine learning methods and asked to mark all they would prefer to use for the international Extension training topics. Workshops had the highest frequency of response (96), followed by newsletters (83), and Web pages (82). Case studies were the least preferred method (24). Additional methods were submitted by respondents and included: mentors, hands-on learning, annual staff development conference workshops, and a public Web site that clientele can visit.

Respondents were also asked to identify the one barrier that most inhibits incorporating an international perspective into future Extension efforts. The most significant barrier cited was "not a priority," indicated by 42 respondents (24.9%). Further analyses showed no significant difference in barriers indicated across program area, gender, years in Extension, or previous travel experience. The results of the identified barriers were then compared with the results from the Ludwig (1999) study. Both studies identified lack of time, not a programming priority, and lack of experience as the top three barriers.


A substantial number of Extension educators have international travel experience, mainly for leisure. However, the majority of respondents are not currently involved with incorporating international aspects in Extension programming. No significant difference was shown between current involvement with international perspectives and program area. Respondents indicated that the greatest barriers to their involvement are that it is not a priority, they lack expertise, and/or lack time.

Training related to the demographic changes in Indiana and the U.S. is most needed by Extension educators. A significant difference (p < .001) was found between training need and program area. Respondents in the CFS program area consistently rated training topics higher. It is unclear if this higher rating indicates a greater need by CFS educators for training or if they value the international perspective in Extension as more important than do ANR educators. Workshops, newsletters, and Web pages are the most preferred methods to learn about incorporating international aspects in Extension.


As with any new endeavor, it is important to grasp an understanding of the circumstances that surround the situation before investing human and financial resources. With this research and better understanding of our staff and their needs, the following four recommendations can be developed to appropriately equip Purdue Extension educators with the tools they need to work with international aspects of Extension.

A barrier identified by the study was a lack of experience. The first recommendation is to provide staff development programs, which are necessary in order for Extension educators to enhance their capacity and increase their confidence for working effectively with underserved clientele and with understanding complex global issues. Extension educators need both technical and communication skills to work with clientele, which continues to become more diverse, in addition to an understanding of global knowledge and skills. Staff development programs must be creative in nature in order to provide quality multicultural and international experiences for Extension educators without requiring that they leave the United States in every instance.

Based on another barrier identified in the study, it is clear that Extension educators do not view the international aspects of Extension as a programming priority. The second recommendation is for all Extension leaders to be enthusiastic, provide opportunities for learning, and stress the need to incorporate new clientele audiences in order for the international Extension effort to progress. This effort stretches beyond Extension administration to the county Extension boards that must also become involved in this effort. Both the Extension boards and administration will need to provide fiscal support for curriculum, staff development, and travel opportunities for staff.

Third, it is recommended that Purdue Extension examine their hiring system to determine methods to recruit a more ethnically diverse staff that mirrors the clients served in Indiana. This may include reviewing job descriptions and locations when vacancies are advertised. Opportunities such as job shadowing programs, mentoring, or internships should be considered to introduce Extension as a profession to diverse audiences. Extension educators must also become accountable for international Extension perspectives through their annual performance review. In order for this to happen, district directors and county Extension directors will also need to be held accountable for encouraging the incorporation of international aspects in Extension.

Because such a large percentage of respondents had traveled abroad, the fourth recommendation is for Purdue Extension to assist the educators in applying their personal travel experiences to their job position. This may be done with minimal cost by using opportunities for staff development within the state through the diverse cultural festivals, restaurants, and businesses that currently exist. By having Extension educators visit and work with these different entities, an international and multicultural experience can occur without leaving the borders of the state.

For further research, it is recommended that Purdue Extension administration and Extension boards be independently surveyed and results examined to determine if administration's expectations and ideas differ from those of field staff. A four-point Likert-type scale may also provide additional insight, by eliminating the "uncertain" option for training needs. Another possible area for research is the differences among program areas for staff development needs. Respondents in the Consumer and Family Sciences (CFS) program area consistently rated the training needs higher than Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR). Future research may attempt to determine if this occurred because CFS is focused more on people and ANR is focused more on science or if this occurred because of the gender differences in the program areas.

Other states may find the survey used in the study helpful as they begin to engage in international extension activities and plan for future programming. Cooperative activities between states are encouraged to combine human and financial resources for workshops, curriculum, and opportunities for international travel. Extension internationalization efforts will enable communities to live and work more productively. Once Extension is "internationalized," an international outlook will not be considered an independent focus. Instead, it will be integrated by all Extension educators into all program areas and all programming efforts.


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Ludwig, B. G. (1999). Globalizing Extension professionals. Journal of Extension [On-line], 37, (4). Available at:

Sammons, D., Petritz, D., Branson, F., & Cameron-Selby, K. (2003). Globalization begins at home: Purdue Extension case study. Poster session presented at the National Initiative to Internationalize Extension meeting. East Lansing, Michigan.

STATS Indiana. (2004). Indiana in depth profile. Retrieved January 25, 2005, from

United States Department of Education. (2002). A new international policy for the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 31, 2005, from

United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. (2003). Trade and agriculture: What's at stake for Indiana? Retrieved November 22, 2003, from