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About Extension

With 39 locations throughout the state, WSU Extension is the front door to the University. Extension builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, businesses and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. Extension collaborates with communities to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs.

A Brief History of Extension

It’s hard to imagine farm life in Washington a century ago, a life devoid of conveniences we take for granted today. There were no telephones, running water or electricity. Light was provided by smoky kerosene lamps. Horses provided transportation as well as draft power. Food was cooked on wood or coal stoves. Clothes were washed by hand in a tub with homemade soap. Farm families faced a multitude of challenges and had few places to turn for help. Hungry for knowledge, thousands flocked to Farmer’s Institutes and demonstration trains staged by the Washington Experiment Station to hear about experiments at the state’s new land-grant college in Pullman.

It was soon apparent, there was a real need to apply new found facts to local conditions. 1913, a year ahead of federal legislation authorizing the present extension system, the state authorized a Bureau of Farm Development headquartered at Washington State College and provided for the appointment and maintenance of agricultural experts across the state. By then, however, George A. Nelson, the first county extension worker, had been on the job for more than two months. Nelson was appointed as agriculturist for Wahkiakum County December 12, 1912. He was absorbed into the new Bureau. Pioneer extension educators established a philosophy that’s still relevant today: “helping farmers to help themselves.”


Year Highlight
1891 An amended act establishes “the agricultural college, experiment station, and school of science of the State of Washington.” The change is made to comply with the Hatch Act, passed in 1887, which provides federal funds for an agricultural experiment station in each state.

A special commission selects Pullman as a site for the new institution.

1898 The Director of the Washington Experiment Station requests a state appropriation for Farmers’ Institutes in the counties to disseminate information gained by the station. The station also uses bulletins and, later, demonstration trains to get information to the public.
1913 State legislature passed law creating extension work at Washington State College.
1914 Seal River Canning Club, the first home economics club for girls, began in Wahkiakum County.
1916 Josephine Arnquist, the first home agent, began work in Yakima County.
1922 Lincoln Lounsberry appointed first Extension Editor.There are 35 agricultural agents, 11 home agents, and 21 state staff members.
1939 The first Extension methods course is taught at the State College by Emmett Robertson.
1948 Shirley Lindahl, became first Washington International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program participant to go overseas.
1949 State law changed to permit extension work in cities above 2,500 population.
1950 First PNW Cooperative Extension publication issued by the states of Oregon, Idaho and Washington.
1951 Settlers’ Assistance Program began. At its height, 28 agents helped transform the desert of the Columbia Basin into productive farmland as irrigation water from Grand Coulee Dam became available.
1955 Extension Horticultural Specialist John C. Dodge is transferred to the Western Washington Experiment Station, Puyallup, becoming the first off-campus Extension specialist.
1958 Area Agent Nicholas Sandar begins work with potato producers in Adams, Franklin, and Grant Counties, opening an era of making more specialized assistance directly available to clientele.
Extension publishes The Change and the Challenge, a report for leaders and agents, to more clearly focus Extension’s responsibilities.
1965 Agricultural Extension Service became the Cooperative Extension Service.
1967 The Community Resource Development unit is formed.
1968 The federally funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Program begins; at its peak, this program for low-income families will operate in 14 counties and employ 140 paraprofessional aides.
1972 Master Gardener Program started. Every state has adopted this concept, which uses highly trained volunteers to answer questions from the public.
1976 Partnership for Rural Improvement Program began.
1977 Washington State University receives a grant to conduct extension programs in energy conservation.

Washington State University becomes part of the Sea-Grant system, managing extension work in the marine sciences on behalf of the lead Sea-Grant institution, the University of Washington.

Ruth VanDeReit becomes County Chairman, Mason County, the first woman to be chairman in a county where there is also a male agent.

1979 Washington State University Cooperative Extension begins a seven-year U.S. Agency for International Development project in the African country of Lesotho.
1996 Extension led the way in the development of six pilot learning centers launched to increase higher education access to under-served areas of the state.
1997 State Energy Office merged with Cooperative Extension to become WSU Energy Extension Program.
2001 Washington State University Cooperative Extension Goes University Wide-Mike Tate named “Dean of Extension”
2002 A series of annual “Tour de l’Etat” (tour of the state) Provost Tours begin with a three-day tour of the SE District in June 2002.
The theme of the All Extension Conference in October 2002 was university-wide extension. This was communicated through presentations by Provost Bob Bates and by Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier who spoke to us via WECN (Washington Educational Conferencing Network) videoconferencing technology on “Connecting: Why universities must foster engagement.”

Dean and Director Mike Tate begins a 60 percent assignment as Chief Education Advisor for USDA Cooperative States Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), in Washington, DC.

2003 Washington State University Cooperative Extension’s name changes to Washington State University Extension.

Extension becomes an Affiliate of the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC).

WSU Extension has now trained 208 facilitators to deliver the research-based Strengthening Families program in 30 counties. Researchers with the Department of Human Development developed a research protocol to document program impacts.

2004 WSU Extension selected as one of seven new states in the national diversity consortium. Mary Katherine Deen is named Director of Diversity and leads the Change Agents States for Engagement (CASE) Catalyst Team.

WSU Extension continued to excel in the procurement of competitive grants and contracts reaching $21.5 million annually at the close of fiscal year June 30, 2004.

2005 Linda Kirk Fox is named Dean and Director of WSU Extension on June 1, after serving in roles as Interim and as Acting dean since October 2002.

Washington State 4-H Agents (WS4HA) hosts 1,400 attending the national conference in Seattle.

2006 WSU Extension’s joint Policy Consensus Center between WSU and the University of Washington (UW) will be named the William D. Ruckelshaus Center and funding raising begins. Ruckelshaus is the first and fifth administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Sources include “The first 45 years, a History of Cooperative Extension in Washington State” by Russell M. Turner and “The Next Twenty-five years: An Update of the History of Cooperative Extension” by Felix Entenmann)