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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Outreach programs emphasized at College of Forestry and Wildlife

By Clara B. Cox

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 4 - September 15, 1994

(Editor's note: In recent years, outreach has become a focal point of many universities--particularly land-grant universities--across the nation as citizens have increasingly looked to institutions of higher education to help resolve society's problems. One major way universities fulfill those expectations is by providing continuing-education programs, which often focus on the training or retraining of employees in a changing environment. At Virginia Tech, continuing education is receiving renewed emphasis across the campus as faculty members and administrators realize its importance not only in economic development, but also to lifelong learning. The article that follows is the first in a series that looks at the various roles of continuing education across the campus and its increasing value throughout the institution.)

Training has become big business in the United States. Last year, business and industry alone spent $48 billion for training, a 7-percent increase over 1992.

Why? "Every business and industry must remain competitive to stay in business," says Gerald H. Cross, coordinator of continuing education for the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, "and that means continuing education. Governmental agencies, on the other hand, may not be in danger of being put out of business, but the public is demanding more efficiency and accountability. The need to upgrade knowledge, skills, and abilities applies to all organizations."

Working through the university's Division of Continuing Education, Cross and his college have tapped into the continuing education market, designing programs for federal and state natural-resource agencies and the forest industry. "Our continuing-education programs are designed to address job needs and to improve job performance," Cross says. Among his clients are the USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Fisheries Society, and The Wildlife Society.

Gregory N. Brown, dean of the college, believes continuing education should be a normal part of the college's educational efforts. "During university and college Commencement exercises, we often remind graduates that graduation is just the beginning of lifelong learning. We feel this commits our college to be a major participant in providing this lifelong learning, i.e., continuing education," Brown says.

Since 1987 Cross has developed and conducted 18 two-week short courses for the USDA Forest Service that drew about 450 professional natural-resource managers from around the country. All were short courses or offered undergraduate credit. "Half the participants already have graduate degrees, and the agencies require rigorous short courses taught at the graduate level," he said.

In addition to the short courses coordinated by Cross, another 10 are conducted by other faculty members in his college. In the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, about a third of the faculty is involved in continuing education programs, some delivering instruction and others developing programs.

Cross works with the university's continuing-education program development specialists in planning and marketing his courses, which are held in the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center. "The participants and visiting instructors always comment on the attractive campus and friendly atmosphere at the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center," Cross said.

While the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources has been successful in the area of continuing education, Cross says his goal is to get more faculty members involved. "There are opportunities out there and the faculty members have the expertise. If we can determine there's a need and a market, we can put programs together."

He also wants to get more faculty members involved because he believes that "scholarship has to be viewed not just in producing knowledge but in applying knowledge and communicating knowledge."

One problem in getting more faculty members involved, Cross said, is that many of them think continuing education is extension. "That's not true. Faculty members can be paid for instruction. They can get valuable information and make good contacts that can help with their teaching and research programs."

Cross predicts an increasingly important future for continuing education. "Advances in technologies and changing social values have made it more important for people to pursue lifelong learning. Things are changing so fast, professionals need some way to keep up. College degrees provide the knowledge and skills to enter a profession, but the half-life of technological knowledge can be short," he said.

He also predicts a change in formal education because "some professionals will be encouraged to work on graduate degrees while they are employed." Consequently, he says, "the future of outreach is going to involve graduate education more. We've been slow here making graduate credit available. More organizations are wanting their employees to pursue graduate degrees while they're on the job."

Meantime, he says, professors should start looking at possibilities for continuing education within their areas of interest. "There are a lot of opportunities," Cross said.