Employees Ignite Their Careers at Inaugural Extension Early Career Conference

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Photo of Conference Registration Table

Nikki Kurdys, Lori Davis, and Eleanor Baker ready to greet attendees at the conference registration table.

On Monday, October 2nd through Wednesday, October 4th, over 170 N.C. Cooperative Extension early career employees with programmatic roles gathered at The StateView Hotel on NC State University’s Centennial Campus for three days of learning and networking. The conference theme was Ignite Your Career.

The Extension Early Career Conference was a result of feedback from the 2022 State Extension Conference at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. The feedback from that conference was that our early career employees wanted to meet annually, so this conference was a result of that feedback. Our conference attendees included Extension Agents and Program Assistants who have worked with Extension for three years or less, many who began their roles during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The goals for the Extension Early Career Conference were:

  1. Create a sense of belonging, community, and connection among early career employees of our organization.
  2. Increase employee engagement and retention among early career employees of our organization.
  3. Enhance communication and collaboration among early career employees of our organization.
  4. Delivery of relevant and timely training.

The conference began with an opening general session titled Start with Why: Fulfilling Extension’s Mission, with remarks from NC A&T State University’s Dr. Shannon Wiley and Dr. Rich Bonanno, CALS Associate Dean, Director of NC State Extension, and Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement at NC State University.

Photo of educational breakout session.

Dr. Daniel Collins teaches about 4-H volunteer management.

Monday afternoon also included breakout sessions focused on program planning and evaluation, as well as volunteer management, broken out by program area. It also included a networking reception with the North Carolina Joint Council of Extension Professionals (NCJCEP) before dinner on Monday evening, where colleagues got to know each other while playing N.C. Cooperative Extension Human Bingo.

Photo of employees playing human bingo.

N.C. Cooperative Extension Human Bingo at NCJCEP Networking Reception.

Tuesday morning included two panel discussions by tenured Extension colleagues, the first titled Interdisciplinary Work within Extension and the second titled Lead Yourself First: Managing for Success.  It then provided an opportunity for attendees to meet Extension Specialists from campus and across the state through a Meet Your Specialists luncheon. Tuesday afternoon included campus tours of the JC Raulston Arboretum, Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory, and Plant Sciences Building. It concluded with dinner and a conference social complete with a DJ, dancing, and Howling Cow ice cream.

Photo of volunteer leading tour at JC Raulston Arboretum.

JC Raulston Arboretum Tour.

Wednesday morning included two breakout sessions, Soft Skills for Success, which focused on working with different generations in the workplace, and Hard Skills for Success, which focused on the technology and tools used within N.C. Cooperative Extension. It concluded with a closing motivational keynote titled The Excellence Loop by John Eades, CEO of LearnLoft and one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management and Workplace.