Associate Dean for Partnerships & Initiatives
When it comes to her role as associate dean for partnerships and initiatives of the West Virginia University Extension Service, Jennifer Williams is looking forward to the new opportunities her role presents. While the position is new, her understanding of partnerships is grounded in her vast experience in program development.
Initiatives and program development are a lot like farming, she explained.
“You plant a seed and then you have to have the patience to watch it grow,” said the former Upshur County WVU Extension agent. “But there are many outside factors that determine the success of that plant. Program development is just the same – outside factors beyond your control will influence the growth of a program or initiative. It takes patience to accept that.”
Williams’ patience has paid off. In 2011, Williams received the Woman in Agriculture Award from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and in 2012, she received the Susan Dew Hoff Award from the West Virginia Women’s Commission. Most recently, she received the Outstanding Extension Faculty Award of Merit in 2015.
Williams learned to develop this patience from an early age, as she witnessed firsthand the impact Extension had on West Virginians. She grew up helping her parents on their farm in Hardy County, where her parents were active in various Extension programs and initiatives. This work inspired her to pursue a career in the field.
“My parents instilled in me a love of the land,” she said. “They taught me to value hard work and to have a good work ethic. Since the time I was young and involved in 4-H programs, I always wanted to be an Extension agent.”
Williams made her dreams come after finishing her bachelor’s degree in animal science and master’s degree in agriculture science from WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. She then served as a livestock marketing specialist with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture before taking the position of Extension agent in 1993.
She spent 10 years working on agriculture, natural resources, community and economic development, and youth development programming in Upshur County. She was then hired for her role as program director for agriculture and natural resources programs, which primed her with the foundational skills to succeed in her current role as associate dean for partnerships and initiatives.
“The values my parents and 4-H instilled in me are what has led me here today,” said Williams. “Extension is what I knew and loved. I never wanted to do anything but that—and with hard work, dedication and commitment, you can succeed in anything.”
Williams work includes a strong focus on collaborations with state agencies and organizations and WVU colleges, as well as helping to establish a stronger Extension presence at WVU’s regional campuses and with WVU’s Mountain State University initiative. She also works to collaborate with partners interested in Extension departments such as Families and Health, West Virginia 4-H and other program units.
“We all have to partner to make this program successful,” she said. “With limited capital, we have to develop a team approach to identifying new programs that address the needs of the state.”
Even after 100 years of Extension having a presence within the state, Williams believes it’s just as relevant today as it ever was.
“We have different delivery methods, but we’re still providing vital programs to those we serve,” said Williams. “Together, we work to identify programs that will provide solutions to issues affecting millions of West Virginians and counting.”