As summer nights shortened we reported that Chuck Hibberd, the director of Purdue University Extension, was nearing the one mile mark in his new post. Hibberd began just over a year ago, replacing Dave Petritz, who announced retirement, only to alter assume responsibilities as director for the new Beck Ag Center facility at the Agronomy Research center near West Lafayette.
One of Hibberd's goals when he came here from the University of Nebraska Extension system and western Nebraska was to get a firsthand look at both Indiana and its Extension presence in every corner of the state. And when he said every corner- he wasn't kidding. He vowed to spend time traveling and meeting in every county with Extension people and community folks. The last time we reported his progress, he had visited 75 of the 92 counties.
Well, it's now official. Well before the end of the year, he completed his mission, logging at least one visit in every one of Indiana's counties. All are served by Purdue Extension. Now he's turning his attention to what's next for Extension.
"It was definitely worth it because I got to see the strengths we have, and learn more about Indiana at the same time," Hibberd says. "We have a very strong program."
What makes it strong, he says, is the local buy-in, both from county governments that help support delivery of Extension by paying roughly half the cost of the program, and also by local citizens who use a variety of services. While services vary from county to county, what doesn't vary is that they're tailored specifically to the needs of people in that county.
Two new 4-H programs will help strengthen 4-H, and help expand the reach of that program beyond traditional boundaries, he says. The statewide 4-H program will support new efforts by 4-H nationally to help attract more bright young people into fields of study and work related to science.
Tapping of Jay Akridge as the new Dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture means that the school will likely pull together its new strategic plan for the future within the next few months. Extension will be a part of that process, Hibberd pledges, and will polish off its own strategic plan to coincide with that to be put in place by the College of Agriculture.
Hibberd makes one important pledge after visiting all 92 counties. He knows that local delivery is the background to success in Extension, and he intends to maintain that local delivery process, with as many educators in the field as possible, for the foreseeable future.