Rewards of Extension Education

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By: Courtney Schaardt  
On Friday, January 18, I shadowed Mrs. Sarah Purcell at the Otoe County Extension Office in Syracuse, Nebraska. Sarah is the Extension Educator and focuses on 4-H and Youth Development and Agricultural Literacy. Sarah is the head of her county with three other staff members in her office. Otoe County is a large county that stretches from about Palmyra to Nebraska City. I only got to spend half a day with Sarah, but I learned many things from her that I did not already know about extension.

I chose to do this job shadow because I am an Agricultural Education major. I am still trying to find what the perfect career would be for me so I took this shadow in a different direction from my last shadow. When I was growing up 4-H was always a big part of my life and still is. Although I worked in my county extension office last summer, we are small and I wanted to see what it was like somewhere else.

When I first arrived at the office, Sarah was eager to meet me and we began our day by making a project she had in mind for an after school program. I learned how to etch glass and while etching glass we talked about the importance of after school programs and the role extension educators play in youth lives. We talked about how it is becoming harder to get youths’ attention drawn to 4-H when they are already involved in so many other things at school.courtney shadow

After finishing our conversation and our projects, we loaded up promotional 4-H papers and drove to Nebraska City to disperse them to all of the elementary schools. This is when I really got to see and interact with some of the kids. Did you know, Nebraska City has 4 elementary schools and one of them is for the blind and the deaf? I live 45 minutes away and I had no idea! I think it is great that she gets to go to these schools for these kids. Our educators never did anything like this.

On our ride to Nebraska City we did a lot of talking in fifteen minutes. Sarah explained to me that as an extension educator you have to have a focus. I kind of knew about a focus, but I was not positive on what it really could be. Sarah has a focus on youth and family and consumer sciences. She actually owns a quilt shop as well where she helps make ideas for 4-H projects. When Sarah went back to get her masters (because when she graduated it was not needed for the position at the time) she focused on Agricultural Literacy. This is where our conversation took off. It was such a joy to be able to discuss kids, people, fairs, and agriculture with Sarah. This is when I knew that I would love this career choice.

As of now, the Otoe County Extension Office has been relocated to downtown Syracuse while they are renovating their old building. So, while we were in Nebraska City, I was able to help with some of that process. We got to pick out windows for the new office. Sarah really tried to make me a huge part of the process and wanted my opinion on everything. It made me feel special that she went the extra mile to let me help out with everything. She even took me out for lunch.

After I left Sarah, I got an e-mail right away saying how she enjoyed our day and congratulating me on becoming a 4-H Ambassador at UNL (yes, the 4-H office sent out a huge email to everyone about us while I was shadowing!)

Overall, my day with Sarah was great. It met my goals and is truly giving me a deeper look at what extension agents do. I now know that extension is an option. I left her office feeling so happy that I knew I could go back every day. The only thing I was unsure about was if this is really what I want. I loved everything we did, but was it fun because I just love 4-H that much? I cannot wait to job shadow Kyla at the NPPA office to compare these two shadows. Sarah is the nicest lady I have ever met. I would recommend someone to shadow her if they were looking at extension.

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