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Virginia Cooperative Extension’s History is ‘For Virginia’

To showcase Virginia Cooperative Extension’s rich history of advancing the well-being of all Virginians since 1914, an interactive timeline was created to help visualize the many contributions of the 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions.

Funded by an Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences diversity grant, the timeline serves as an inclusive tool that community members and students alike can use to visualize the contributions of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University within a historical context.

The timeline was primarily organized by a team of undergraduate and graduate students in spring 2021 for the cross-institutional course at Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, Introduction to Cooperative Extension, taught by Karen Vines, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership and Education.

“This is an important tool that documents Virginia Cooperative Extension’s rich history of helping communities thrive,” Vines said. “By including students in this project, they were able to learn the history of how the land-grant universities in the state are engrained in every community across the commonwealth.”

Jacob Hodges, a senior at the time from Catawba, Virginia, and Jama Coartney, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Agricultural Leadership and Education, led the team. Laura Dainton, the 2021 Extension intern, assisted and provided the ADA compliant version.

“I was able to see and connect the overarching missions and goals of Virginia’s two land-grant institutions, which wasn’t something that I was aware of before working on this project,” Hodges said.

Connections drove the creation of the timeline. Connections between Extension’s work in natural resources and farming, connections between communities and youth development, and connections between Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is made up of faculty and staff from Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, is made up of experts in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary MedicineVirginia Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Virginia State University College of Agriculture, to name a few.

“Relationships are the foundation of what Extension is – both internal and external,” Vines said. “Extension would not be the organization that it is today without these relationships that we cherish.”

Extension has always brought cutting-edge science and research to people in the accessible medium of the day, whether through pamphlets, newsletters, field visits, or virtual interactions. Finding the right tool to showcase this history was a challenge, Coartney said.

Using her background in digital humanities, Coartney knew of tools that could generate interactive timelines. That’s how the team settled on using TimelineJS out of the Knight Lab – also in use by Virginia Tech’s Special Collections and University Archives in Newman Library.

“This tool had a lot of benefits for our goal for students and community members to visually see the impact of Extension throughout its history,” Coartney said. “This visual timeline makes our history easily accessible.”

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