A WVU student studies in a lounge on campus. (Photo by: WVU)
Providing students with hands-on learning and real-world experience is critical to future success. Undergraduate students at West Virginia University, as well as additional academic institutions across the state, will gain knowledge and expertise in program evaluation, applied research methods and data analysis, while simultaneously providing program evaluation support to WVU Extension program efforts in West Virginia. The program is supported through a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
WVU Davis College faculty, Haley Rosson, assistant professor of agricultural and extension education and project director, and Jessica Blythe, associate professor of agricultural and extension education and co-project director, along with Megan Kruger, WVU Extension evaluation and research specialist and co-project director, will work collaboratively to provide this unique opportunity for undergraduate students and Extension faculty through this joint partnership.
The $750,000 Extension Mentoring IN EvaluatION (MINION) grant will focus on increasing undergraduate students' knowledge and skills related to program evaluation methods and data analysis techniques, as well as developing a system of continued collaboration between undergraduate students and WVU Extension faculty and staff to enhance the evaluation of statewide WVU Extension programs.
As part of the project, 15 student fellows will be selected each year to serve in a two-year cohort (a total of 75 students over the course of five years). Fellows will have the unique opportunity to serve both in the role of student during the first year of their fellowship, as well as that of mentor to the upcoming fellowship cohort during the second year of their fellowship.
Students will engage in a formal learning environment by taking two online undergraduate-level agricultural and extension education (AGEE) introductory extension program evaluation courses, as well as in an informal learning environment through placement at a designated WVU Extension site where they will apply the knowledge gained in the classroom to conduct program evaluations in either individual counties or broader program teams. Students will prepare final evaluation reports and impact statements that will be distributed to evaluation host sites and across the state.
“The experiential learning experiences offered through our grant are important for several reasons, as they offer a dynamic and effective way for individuals to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and gain a deeper understanding of how to evaluate teaching and learning in a very practical application. It reinforces math and statistical practices as well as the development of the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed across careers in today's world,” Blythe said. “In addition to the practical skills and knowledge developed, this grant will foster the collaboration, communication, and interpersonal skills which are essential in any professional setting.”
In addition to the hands-on evaluation techniques and process, students also will gain valuable interactions through this course and broaden their knowledge of education and service provided by extension programs.
"Both the WVU AGEE department and WVU Extension are committed to furthering both the development of undergraduate students, as well as the Extension profession, by immersing students in the evaluative process and thereby demonstrating the far-reaching effect of Extension programming efforts in the state of West Virginia,” Rosson said. “AGEE also helps to serve as a direct pipeline to the Extension profession, developing confident, well-prepared students who are ready to enter the workforce."
WVU Extension agents will submit applications to serve as an evaluation host site and/or program-based working groups such as a 4-H youth development and youth agriculture. Once those have been selected, undergraduate students can apply in spring 2024 to serve as a paid fellow on one of the participating sites. They will take their two required courses beginning in fall 2024.
Students in this course will provide much-needed resources to WVU Extension agents by providing resources to evaluate or conduct research on programs in their county or support unit.
“This project will bridge the gap between university students honing their research skills and extension agents working on West Virginia’s most important issues in their communities. This partnership not only will allow university students to apply their research skills in real-life situations, but it also will allow extension agents to capture meaningful data that can highlight the impacts of their work,” Kruger said.
Those who are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Haley Rosson, project director, at email@example.com.
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CONTACT: Tara Curtis
CONTACT: Lindsay Wiles
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design