CFLE in Context: Cooperative Extension
When I started with University of Missouri Extension, seventeen years ago, it was my third career. I started my career as a Vocational Home Economics teacher in two high schools in the southeast part of the state of Missouri. I had this job for eleven years and loved it. My husband had a job transfer, so I went back to school for my master's degree.
My previous advisor and department chair at Southeast Missouri State University, gave me a graduate teaching assistantship, and I finished my master's in two years. I continued at Southeast as professional staff, teaching and working on an outreach grant for four and half more years. I received my Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) designation in 1990. My grant project funding was insecure. I applied to Extension and started my job with University of Missouri Extension in January 1992.
For the past 17 years, I have found my work with Cooperative Extension as challenging, rewarding, flexible, and a great career. In Missouri, the Cooperative Extension's model is one in which each of the regional staff specialists has a field of study. That means we have a "headquartered" county which provides office support and space. The majority of my programming is conducted in this headquartered county because of geographic and monetary reasons. In the other four counties I have been assigned, I have programming responsibilities and travel when the request arrives. My title, Human Development Specialist, means I teach parent education, sex education, daycare provider training, relationship enrichment, and anger management. Others in the state teach divorce education. I work in the schools with puberty education and an abstinence education program taught by teen leaders whom I have trained. I also have a grandparent support group which meets monthly, and I am adviser and trainer to the Extension Homemakers who are now called Family and Community Education.
As a community educator in my field of child and family development, I bring the resources of the University of Missouri (UM) and my knowledge of community resources to the table. I serve on many community committees with others in my social services area. I have been President of the local Community Caring Council. With my work with the community parent committee, the Building Strong Families: Challenges and Choices curriculum developed by MU Extension is being used community-wide by numerous community partners. These community partners are now trained facilitators to help us realize our dream of weekly high quality parenting education.
In the beginning, the travel with Extension was difficult for my family; a 9 year-old girl, 13 year old boy, and my husband. However, after the first year, orientation travel slowed down and most trips were day trips. There were still trips to the yearly state-wide conference, in-service education, and the occasional national meeting. When my daughter became a freshmen at the University of Missouri, my supervisor suggested I volunteer for a state committee. I had previously avoided these because of the travel. With more trips to campus to attend my day meeting I was able to take my college student daughter to dinner in the evening.
Cooperative Extension allows flexibility in hours, programming, and work-load. An agent or specialist may work many evening hours, make an 8 hour round trip to campus for a meeting and drive a long way for a program. An understanding regional director makes it easier to take time off for family responsibilities. A person who may find Cooperative Extension a good fit will need to be a self-starter and have a depth of subject matter expertise. I am not sure I would have been ready for this career straight out of college. Here in Missouri, the specialists all have master's degrees and many of the younger staff has advanced degrees. The ease of balancing work and family and the changing job responsibilities has kept me in this job with University of Missouri Extension.
Mary Groshe, M.A., CFLE is a Human Development Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, Headquartered in Cape Girardeau County.