Cummings, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Organization Development Unit Takes Leadership at Second Annual NAEPSDP Conference

By: Mollie Lastovica

With a focus on professional development, employee development, organizational development and evaluation and accountability, ten representatives of the ALEC Department traveled to Denver, Colo. Dec. 11-13 for the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals’ Second Annual Conference.

Among the group were Associate Department Head and Program Leader for Organizational Development Scott Cummings, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist Jeff Ripley, Ph.D., Extension Associate Michelle Payne, Extension Assistant Katy Weber, Management Analyst Tom Payne, Software Engineers Curtis Krajca and Cory Phillips, Extension Specialists Paul Pope and Susanna Coppernoll and Extension Graduate Assistant Kevin Andrews.

The NAEPSDP was founded in 2011 after a group of Extension professionals in the Southern region, including Cummings, identified the need for a professional organization in their field.

“In 2007, we decided to hold a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where we brought everyone in from the region that does what we do,” Cummings said. “This kick-started the idea to do a national association and it took almost four years to make it happen. After a lot of planning throughout 2010, the organization officially accepted members in 2011.”

The annual conference offers both networking and professional development opportunities for attendees, while also serving as a location for industry experts to share their practices through formal presentation sessions.

“Some of the best interaction you can have with people in similar positions is one-on-one and you do not get that unless you are face-to-face,” Ripley said. “We come out of the conference with so many good ideas from other groups and see different training techniques and models that work to bring back to Texas.”

While in Denver, Cummings was named President-Elect for 2013 and will take over the NAEPSDP as President in 2014. His current position makes him responsible for policy and resolutions of the organization and also allows him to prepare for his upcoming year as President. His role on the executive board requires extra commitment to the group and its members during the year.

“We try to do up to three webinars [for members] throughout the year from the programmatic standpoint leading up to the annual meeting,” Cummings said. “As part of the executive board, we meet every month and meet face-to-face once in the summer to prepare for the conference.”

During the 2012 conference, Ripley facilitated a panel discussion entitled “Best Practices in Extension Agent Performance Appraisal Systems,” and also gave a presentation on “Training Members of Advisory Boards and Planning Groups.” Cummings noted that, prior to the conference, a call for proposals goes out to professionals across the nation and the NAEPSDP program committee selects presentations from submitted proposals.

“We have one of the largest planning groups in the nation in regard to sheer numbers,” Ripley said. “The program was on how we orient and train volunteers to serve on boards and committees across the state and I gave the same presentation I would give to County Extension Agents when training them on how to work with volunteers in such capacities.”

Both Andrews and Tom Payne took part in the Share Fair Sessions where a number of booths were set up and conference attendees could learn about current techniques being put into practice.

“This conference is critical because there are not many of us [in the industry,]” Cummings said. “It is a lot more informal than some because we are small, but it offers two great things … networking and sharing. People come back to the office charged up and excited.”

Ripley sees the conference as greatly benefiting all attendees, but distinguishes its importance in the lives of new hires such as Phillips, Krajca, Tom Payne and Weber all of whom joined the ALEC department in 2012.

“They get to see the big picture and see some of what is being done in other states,” Ripley said. “They see what organizational development really does.”

Cummings, who has chaired both NAEPSDP conferences and also chaired the Southern Region conference in 2007, has witnessed tremendous growth in the few years since the organization’s fruition. In 2011, he said, the organization had about 60 members and 40 who attended the first conference in Atlanta. As of 2012, the organization is home to over 80 members and over 80 attended the Denver conference.

“We are a relatively small group because there are a limited number of professionals in this field,” Cummings said. “It is really important that we work together. We are all dealing with the same issues.”

Ripley agrees that membership in NAEPSDP is essential for those who work in Extension organizational development.

“I am excited about the organization,” Ripley said. “It is one that has been needed for a long time.”

To learn more about the NAEPSDP and its annual conference, visit their website.

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