Harvard Yard: Extension school focused on working Professionals

Cooperative extension programs, agricultural experiment stations and aggie outreach services are embedded in the central mission of land grant institutions dating back to the 1800s.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

The word “Harvard” likely conjures up an image of Cambridge, America’s quintessential college town – hallowed ground of Harvard Square, and importantly, home of Harvard Yard. Yet, UB readers may not know about the Harvard Extension School – imbued with a distinctive mission to serve lifelong learners ranging from high school aged to post-retirement age. These Harvard Extension School programs target many professional fields including management, information technology, sustainability, and biotechnology. Across its more than 100 year history, the Extension School has inspired the larger global community, reaching a local, national, and international audience through on-campus and online courses.

These extension courses, certificate programs and degrees provide students with practical skills and foundational knowledge grounded in the liberal arts to prepare for careers in a variety of industries. Fast forward to 2014, and one will discover that the Extension School offers twenty Graduate Professional Certificates which can now be completed in class or entirely online.

Over the past decade, Americans have developed a resurgent interest in food, farming, urban landscapes, and environmental sciences. This focus is affirmed by environmental television programming like PBS NOVA and The BBC’S Planet Earth.

Beyond Harvard, major extension programs have been offered for over a hundred years at places like Cornell, Texas A&M and Colorado State University.

In fact, cooperative extension programs, agricultural experiment stations and aggie outreach services are embedded in the central mission of land grant institutions dating back to the Morrill Act in 1862. These historical roots first concentrated on improving agricultural yield and productivity on farmlands. Funded largely by federal and state grants as well as research and development contracts, public and private extension programs have furthered sustainable agriculture, food and farming, soil, insects, plant life and veterinary and animal sciences.

Though a private institution, Cornell serves as New York State’s lead agricultural extension service. Today, Cornell Cooperative Extension provides, among other programs and services, knowledge and applied research in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability, agricultural and social well-being. Cornell’s focus cuts across several high demand program areas—including Agriculture and Food Systems, and Community and Economic Vitality.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary, U Mass Stockbridge is riding a wave of change, and working smart to help students, farmers and food scientists to be better prepared for a sustainable agricultural future. As part of its special mission, Stockbridge provides evidenced-based research, information and data to farmers, green-industry professionals, equine industry players, public policy-makers, and other agricultural thought leaders. These agri-opinion makers are now well positioned to develop and promote innovative solutions to existing and emerging problems related to managed ecosystems. In recent months, U Mass has announced its plan to create a new Stockbridge East campus in the MetroWest Boston area—with the hope of future collaborative relationships with County Aggie Tech High Schools and Community Colleges in sustainable agriculture.

James Martin and James E. Samels, are authors of The Sustainable University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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