Today's blog comes to us courtesy of David Jones of Mississippi State University and Chris Knowles of Oregon State University. Readers know that many (most?!) of my posts so far this year have been done with professors of wood science from several different universities. Now, I've been using universities as a resource for years-not just for blog posts-for everything from information on new technologies to marketing to testing services. And I thought it was time to really drive home what a terrific resource they can be for all of us. They have jointly penned a little essay on their work. Gentlemen, take it away:

As faculty members at Oregon State University and Mississippi State University, the question we hate being asked the most is, "What do you teach?" When we tell them that we don't teach, they generally reply with a snicker and ask how they can get a gig like that. We then have to spend time explaining how it is that we can be faculty members and not teach-like we're doing now…

Most people automatically assume that all faculty members at a university teach undergraduate students. While most university faculty members do, in fact, teach undergraduate students, not all do. This begs the question, if a faculty member does not teach, what do they do? Most universities have a three-part mission that includes:

  1. Educating students
  2. Conducting research
  3. Service and outreach.

Consequently, most faculty members teach, conduct research or do a combination of the two.

However, there is still one major responsibility that a small subset of faculty members have that we have yet to discuss: Extension. We both happen to be Extension faculty members. Extension faculty have the job of working with and educating audiences that are external to the university, including audiences such as farmers, foresters, community leaders, youth, business owners, and, in the case of our jobs, the forest products industry. That's right, it is our responsibility to work with the forest products industry (primarily in the states of Mississippi and Oregon) and help connect them with the resources available to them through the University.

So what is Extension? The easiest way for us to explain Extension is to look at where Extension began-in agriculture. Up until very recently, the state of the art research in agriculture was conducted at universities. University researchers worked to solve problems faced by everyday farmers, including increasing efficiency, productivity and survival rates. These improvements in agriculture were useless unless the newly discovered information made it into the hands of the farmers who were actually growing our food. Seeing the need to communicate the results of university research to relevant audiences, Congress passed an act to create and fund the Cooperative Extension Service, more commonly referred to as Extension.

This act mandated a third mission for a small group of universities (known as Land Grant Universities) around the country: to "extend" the knowledge they generate to relevant audiences. This model still holds today, and it is likely that you have an Extension office in the county where you live. Today there are more than 100 Land Grant Universities around the country. You can find the Land Grant University closest to you here.

Extension started in agriculture, and to this day agriculture is the dominant focus. Other large-scale Extension programs that you may have heard of include 4-H and Family and Community Health. The Extension Service at Oregon State University has five primary areas of focus:

  1. 4-H
  2. Agriculture & Natural Resources
  3. Family & Community Health
  4. Forestry & Natural Resources
  5. Sea Grant.

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I'm going to break here for length, but I'd encourage readers to visit both websites to see the impressive list of services these two universities can offer. For example, on the Oregon site, you can find a Shrink-Swell App to help industry professionals determine how much a piece of wood will expand or contract, depending on the air's temperature and moisture. Now that's a handy tool! And did you know that MSU has a state-of-the-art mechanical testing laboratory or that they'll help you with everything from monitoring your mill's emissions to designing the perfect resin formulations?

Next week, Chris and David will give us some examples of specific business outreach they've done for the wood industry.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")