Starting a new century

On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that extended the land-grant university concept beyond university campuses to reach into communities across the United States. That legislation is one that created the Cooperative Extension System (CES) as a partnership between the federal government, state governments and county governments. That legislation continues today as the key authorization legislation for the work of Michigan State University Extension. The legislation, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, carries the names of its two primary sponsors, Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia and Representative A.F. Lever of South Carolina. The act’s stated purpose was “. . . to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and to encourage the application of the same, there may be continued or inaugurated in connection with the college of colleges in each State, Territory, or possession . . .”

The Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), which serves as the governing body of the land-grant university Cooperative Extension System, has commissioned an ad hoc committee to plan celebrations of the Smith-Lever Centennial in 2014. At the Galaxy IV Conference in Pittsburgh last week, several sessions and a reception took place to launch the year-long celebration. Some of the highlights of the national celebration can be found at the 100 Years of Extension website and will include a Capitol Hill Reception in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 5 (hosted by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan). This is scheduled to occur at the conclusion of the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) Conference so that citizen delegates to that conference can celebrate the centennial with senators, representatives, congressional staff, administration officials and stakeholders of the national CES network. Then on Thursday, May 8, ECOP will host a convocation of speakers to celebrate the history of Cooperative Extension and to articulate visions for the next century of Cooperative Extension. You can also follow the celebration on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Extension100Years

Although it’s great to have celebrations in our nation’s capital, it seems just as important to celebrate the centennial of Smith-Lever at the state and county levels as well. With that in mind, I’d like to invite your thoughts on how we might celebrate this milestone event. I’m particularly interested in highlighting some of the history of Cooperative Extension in Michigan with our future vision for MSU Extension in the next century. Please take some time to reflect on how we might celebrate Smith-Lever locally and statewide in the first five months of 2014. Share your thoughts with others, and if you’d like to share them more widely, please do so through my blog. Thanks for giving this some thought and for sharing your great ideas with the rest of us. I welcome recommendations from staff, retirees and stakeholders!

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