Lassa: UW-Extension Touches Lives in Many Ways
By State Senator Julie Lassa, Special to the City-Times
There’s an institution in Wisconsin that teaches people to can vegetables, and that helps turn cutting edge university research into jobs at growing new companies. It conducts scientific research on Wisconsin geology and produces award-winning TV programs. This institution trains the next generation of information technology professionals and coaches returning military veterans on their finances. You probably know its name, but may not realize all the ways it touches your life.
It’s the University of Wisconsin-Extension. When we hear that word “Extension,” many of us may think of the county ag agent helping farmers overcome challenges and implement new techniques. And UW-Extension does provide agricultural services through offices in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. But the UW-Extension also has a much wider impact on our state as well.
Because the Extension does have such a varied and important role in our state, I thought it would be valuable to use two of my weekly columns to summarize the work they do and the many resources they make available to Wisconsinites from all walks of life.
This history of the UW-Extension goes back to 1885, when the Legislature gave its first appropriation to the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture to create Farmers’ Institutes to give farmers the practical training they needed to help diversify their agricultural operations. Driven by the “Wisconsin Idea” that the university’s mission was to promote learning to improve lives throughout the state, the fledgling Extension was soon offering training for industrial workers and teaching urban families how to avoid disease through sanitation and proper nutrition.
In the 40’s and 50’s, the Extension developed among the nation’s first public radio and television networks. The Extension was instrumental in creating UW-Milwaukee as well as UW Center campuses around the state. It coordinated the first statewide manufacturing extension, as well as Small Business Development Centers to help entrepreneurs thrive. By 2012, more than 500 UW-Extension programs served 1.6 million interactions throughout the state each year.
Perhaps the most well known of the Extension’s divisions is the Cooperative Extension, which develops practical educational programs tailored to local needs and based on university knowledge and research. That includes a vast array of agricultural research and training, as well as programs in family living, community economic development, and natural resources management. The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, which researches and reports on the state’s soils, land forms and groundwater, is part of this division. It also includes Leadership Wisconsin, a program that teaches leadership skills through working hands on with issues that challenge our community. And the Cooperative Extension is the home of Wisconsin’s 4-H Youth Development program, which has been taught leadership, citizenship and life skills to generations of young people for the past 100 years.
Public Broadcasting is the other very visible face of the UW-Extension. From its start with the oldest radio station in the nation, Wisconsin Public Radio now has 32 transmitters and translator stations that broadcast two networks of programming, which can also be streamed online from anywhere in the world. Wisconsin Public Television has six local stations around the state, as well as a growing number of cable television offerings. Along with the great educational and cultural programming our public radio and TV networks provide, they are among the few remaining sources of news reporting that focus on state government and other statewide issues. The Extension’s Broadcasting division also houses Instructional Communications Systems, which provides video conferencing and other communication support for schools, nonprofits, and government.
UW-Extension offers a rich variety of resources for Wisconsin citizens, local governments and businesses. My next column will share more of how this important institution contributes to the quality of life in our state.