Cooperative Extension Road Trip: Phoenix

Aug. 31, 2018
By Shane Burgess, University of Arizona Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension


I have to prepare for serious traffic congestion when visiting the University of Arizona’s Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office at 4341 E. Broadway Rd. in Phoenix. From 1955-1982 this site was part of our 257-acre Cotton Research Center, but today it is an island surrounded by urban development with the sound of commercial jets from nearby Sky Harbor Airport roaring overhead. The downtown skyline looms just six miles away.

The office has grown and adapted, and still remains true to its mission of bringing science to bear on practical problems.

On a recent visit, I was deeply impressed by how 70 people at Maricopa Extension serve a population of more than 4½ million and rising ranging from inner-city to suburban to rural.

Maricopa County Extension Director Ed Martin told me that 22,000 visitors walked through the doors of the building in 2017, an incredible testament to the work everyone has done to make their extension programming relevant to the people they serve.

Building Meaningful Connections

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Pictured: Sheri Semones, Shane Burgess, Pam Justice
Shane Burgess (center) recently met with Shari Semones and Pam Justice of the Maricopa County Extension office to learn more about Arizona Project WET, which has helped schools and homeowners in the Phoenix metro save 4.5 million gallons of water annually.

One great example of this is Maricopa County 4-H, which Area Agent Kim Christman told me is working to step out of the box of traditional programming, resulting in programs like the Entrepreneurship Club, camps, the Wellness YOUniversity in partnership with UA College of Medicine-Phoenix, and robotics, electronics, and science programs for youth from military families at Luke Air Force Base.

I enjoyed listening to Teen Outreach Program (TOP) Coordinators Haydee Pardee, Brittany Alger, and Jennifer Amundsen relate the challenges and successes they’ve experienced. National statistics show that teens who participate in the TOP are 95% more effective in problem-solving strategies, and their work is another great example of extension’s direct impact in communities.

Traci Armstrong Florian showed me how Maricopa Extension is at the forefront of nutrition education, collaborating with the USDA’s SNAP-Ed program to help reduce the rates of obesity and diabetes among Arizonans. They go to great lengths to do this, working out of a commercial kitchen on the other side of town to prepare meals—they’re dreaming of an on-site kitchen. We hope to find the donors who want to make that happen.

I also met with Pam Justice, who has worked with Arizona Project WET for more than 20 years,

helping teachers and students learn about water stewardship—more important now than ever. Pam and her team have coordinated Arizona Water Festivals and developed 30 curriculum guides. Project WET has helped schools and homeowners in the Phoenix metro save 4.5 million gallons of water annually by using faucet aerators.

Maricopa Extension also boasts a crew of Master Gardeners who tend the “plant hotline” They field an average of 10,000 calls per year, plus walk-in visitors, and they have developed a “4thIR” web-based computational solution to track questions and constantly refine their training program for volunteers.

I wish I could have sat down and chatted with each and every one of our dedicated people who apply the extension mission in very diverse Phoenix metro communities and greater Maricopa County. Very many thanks to those who took time out of their day to tell me your stories, and big thanks to everyone for sacrificing your “Pizza Friday” for afternoon tea instead!

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University of Arizona mascots Wilbur and Wilma greet visitors to the Maricopa County Extension office in Phoenix.
University of Arizona mascots Wilbur and Wilma greet visitors to the Maricopa County Extension office in Phoenix.

Media contact:
Joel Badzinski, coordinator, external communications