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Investing in UT Extension’s Human Capital


Become the employer of choice to attract and retain a diverse and highly qualified workforce.

Outcome: Statewide Mentoring Program

Created a statewide peer mentoring program for agents and administrative assistants featuring mentor training, a mentor toolkit internal website, and mentor recognition.

The team was charged with implementing a mentoring program in order to support and encourage employees to enhance commitment and engagement.

Team Chair: Creig Kimbro

Committee Members: Debbie Joines, Anthony Carver, Cindy Tietz, Scott Senseman, Rob Augustin, Barbara Berry, Anthony Tuggle, Heather Wallace, Judy Kovach, Tonya Bain, and Vickie Clark

The Mentoring Program consists of five components: the assignment process, the mentor toolkit, mentor training, evaluation, and mentor recognition.

Employment Process: All new agents and administrative assistants are assigned a mentor. New employees are referred to as protègès. The mentoring relationship begins on the first day of the assignment and continues for one year. Assignments are made based on program area, geographic location, and information provided by the mentor and the protègè in an online form.

Mentor Toolkit Website: An internal website houses the Mentor Toolkit, which contains expectations of mentors and protègès, a checklist and timeline for addressing topics with a protègè, a glossary, and other relevant information that mentors need in order to successfully complete the mentoring relationship with their protègè.

Mentor Training: All employees who wish to serve as a mentor must have a minimum of three years of service with UT-TSU Extension and be approved by their county director and regional director or department head prior to being invited to a Mentor Training. The one-day training covers the tools available in the Mentoring Toolkit and provides an overview of the program in order to fully equip mentors. After the training, participants may choose to complete a Mentor Agreement and biographical sketch to be added to the pool of mentors. Between 2016 and 2019, approximately 200 mentors were trained. During the same time, 118 new employees completed the program.

Evaluation: Mentors and protègès complete an online evaluation of the program after six months and after one year.

Recognition: All mentors who complete the training will assume the role of a certified mentor and receive a certificate of completion. Mentors can be nominated for special recognition after one full year of service as a mentor. The All Star Mentor Award is given each spring. Mentors may be nominated by their protègè, their peers, or their supervisors. A subcommittee of the Mentoring Advisory Committee selects winners. Awards are presented at professional association state meetings.

Outcome: Healthy Lifestyles Initiative

Created a wellness program, “Healthy Lifestyles,” to help UT employees select their personal health focus, set goals, build camaraderie by identifying support materials, and incentive strategies to promote healthy lifestyles. The program includes activities, an internal website, a project calendar, email messages, workshops, and wellness champions.

The team was charged with promoting healthy lifestyles for employees in order to support and encourage employees to enhance commitment and engagement.

Team Chair: Beth Bell

Team Members: Betty Greer, Janice Hartman, Jeff Lannom, Hilda Lytle, Natalie Owens, Janie Pedigo, Charlotte Smith, Kim Smithson, and Jessica Taylor

Video Healthy Lifestyles

The Healthy Lifestyles Initiative is Extension’s employee wellness program. The initiative launched in 2014. After conducting employee focus groups across the state, the Healthy Lifestyles team identified key health areas most important to Extension employees: Be Active, Choose Foods, and Tame Stress. In 2016, the initiative transitioned to a standing committee, the Healthy Lifestyles Committee, which strives to support life balance for Extension employees through education, information, and challenges. The three areas work together like gears to foster a workplace culture of wellness and support employee wellness and life balance.

The committee plans and implements special opportunities for employees to promote health and life balance, such as Marathon Month (approximately 250 employees participate annually), Walk Across Tennessee (resulting in over 250 people walking collectively 30,500 miles), Thrive!, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshops, and provides an opportunity to access a Body Composition Scale at the state Extension Conference.

Outcome: Developed LEAD95 Training Program

Developed LEAD95, which is a comprehensive face-to-face training program for county directors in order to increase competency and performance, increase job satisfaction, and establish consistent leadership and direction among county directors. The program includes a mentoring component, 360-degree leadership assessment, and an online toolkit accessible to UT Extension employees.

The team was charged with conducting a comprehensive training program for county directors in order to develop a world-class Extension team.

Team Chair: Janet Cluck

Committee Members: Theresa Allen, Bob Ary, Greg Austin, Walter Battle, Tim Campbell, Chris Hicks, Jerry Lamb, Becky Muller, Allisen Penn, Shannon DeWitt, John Ricketts, Jeff Via, and Tim Woods

Lead 95

The team launched the comprehensive training curriculum for new county directors, Lead95, beginning with a two-day face-to-face training in 2016. The first cohort of county directors consists of those appointed as county director since January 2013. The training includes an internal website with resources, online learning modules, quarterly face-to-face training, mentoring, and a 360-degree assessment. The new comprehensive training curriculum aims to help county directors increase competency, improve job satisfaction, and establish consistent leadership across the state.

The training has been well received by new county directors. After the first session, 94 percent of participants indicated that they would recommend the program to other county directors. Between July 2016 and 2019, over half of the county directors completed the training.

Outcome: Developed a Competency-based System

Developed a competency-based system, Extension Competency E-Learning for Success (EXCELS), to guide professional development of agents, including a scenario-based assessment, guidebook, and corresponding courses.

The team was charged with establishing a competency-based system to guide personnel actions in order to develop a world-class Extension team.

Team Co-Chairs: Shirley Hastings and Brandi Berven (2017-2018), Tomi Rogers (2014-2016)

Committee Members: Mitch Beaty, Ann Berry, Elizabeth Renfro, Karen Franck, Matt Horsman, Rita Jackson, Cristina Martinez, Milton Orr, Tom Samples, Daniel Sarver, Jim Stewart, Ron Treadway, and Martha Jo Tolley

Using the results of a Delphi study conducted in 2015, the team identified seventy-two top competencies an effective Extension agent should demonstrate. These competencies mainly address the soft skills needed in the following seven areas: Professionalism, Communication and Interpersonal Skills, Leadership, Educational Design, Organizational Systems, Partnerships, and Volunteers. Scenario-based assessments were developed in partnership with Skillsoft. Those assessments, along with the corresponding courses, are housed in K@TE. EXCELS is an expectation for all new agents and is introduced semiannually at New Employee Orientation.

Outcome: Expanded and Strengthened Extension Volunteers

Expanded and strengthened Extension volunteers through in-service, a handbook, policies and procedures for protection of minors, and an internal resource website.

The team was charged with expanding and strengthening Extension volunteers.

Team Co-Chairs: Shirley Hastings and Brandi Berven (2017-2018), Tomi Rogers (2014-2016)

Committee Members: Carmen Burgos, Janie Burney, Chris Cooper, Kathy Finley, Jamie Harris, Martha Pile, June Puett, Tom Broyles, and Frank Hale

Volunteers are an integral part of Tennessee Extension. Tennessee Extension volunteers expand our reach and programming efforts to help us achieve the educational mission of Tennessee Extension.

The Tennessee Extension Volunteer Model was developed to outline the philosophy, components, and process for how Tennessee Extension works with volunteers. A five-part volunteer application and screening procedures were put in place to address requirements for UT policies for Programs for Minors.

Handbooks for volunteers were developed to outline the policies and procedures for volunteering with Tennessee Extension. Handbooks for Extension staff working with volunteers contain policies, procedures, best practices, and resources.

An internal website was developed to house resources for working with volunteers. Some of these resources include: recruiting strategies and brochures; volunteer orientation online module; volunteer recruitment video; volunteer training outlines, handbooks, and onboarding checklist; Level 3 Volunteer Training online module; recognition ideas; screening procedures and forms; template and best practices for writing volunteer job descriptions; and volunteer competencies and self-assessment.

An in-service training was developed. Training outlines were also developed for new agents at New Employee Orientation and for county directors at LEAD95.

Outcome: Enhanced the Quality of Teaching

Enhanced the quality of teaching by Extension agents and specialists through development of e-learning modules and a face-to-face in-service program, BEST (Building Exceptionally Skilled Teachers).

The team was charged with providing high-quality, future-oriented professional learning opportunities for all employees in order to develop a world-class Extension team.

Team Chair: David Mercker

Committee Members: Michele Atkins, Shelly Barnes, Lori Gallimore, Andrea Ludwig, Rebekah Norman, Neal Smith, and Holly Williams

Video BEST Initiative

BEST online modules in K@TE and face-to-face trainings were developed with a goal of being simple, yet effective. BEST includes three stages. To graduate as a UT Extension “BEST Educator” requires that all three stages are completed. Likened to legs on a stool, the three stages include:

  1. Preparation Leg – Composted of seven online training modules. These modules will help in the preparation of educational programs.
  2. Presentation Leg – Includes a series of in-service trainings that will improve confidence in public speaking.
  3. Professionalism Leg – Addresses a topic paramount to all of our Extension efforts.

    Starting with those hired in 2013, all Extension educators are required to complete the program. All new agents and specialists are introduced to BEST semiannually at New Employee Orientation and have one year to complete. Eight educators have earned the recognition as a BEST educator by completing all three components, and several more will complete the requirements at the scheduled trainings.

Strategies and Action Steps

Strategy: Develop a world-class Extension team.

Action Steps:

  • Implement a staffing plan that balances needs and funding across the state.
  • Establish a competency-based system to guide personnel actions such as hiring, promotion, and training.
  • Provide high-quality, future-oriented professional learning opportunities for all employees.
  • Conduct a comprehensive training program for county directors.
  • Increase accountability at every level.

Strategy: Support and encourage employees to enhance commitment and engagement.

Action Steps:

  • Hire and retain diverse and talented employees.
  • Implement a mentoring program.
  • Support and encourage work and personal life balance.
  • Apply policies, rewards, and incentives consistently.
  • Recognize and reward outstanding performance at all levels of the organization.
  • Promote healthy lifestyles for employees.

Strategy: Competitively compensate employees and provide advancement opportunities.

Action Steps:

  • Provide total compensation to employees that is comparable to the upper third of Extension peers.
  • Define and communicate benefits to current and prospective employees.
  • Improve the performance review and promotion processes and establish additional promotion levels and tracks.

Strategy: Expand and strengthen Extension volunteers.

Action Steps:

  • Recruit and retain a culturally diverse, active volunteer workforce.
  • Create well-defined volunteer job descriptions and expectations.
  • Work together as volunteers and staff, demonstrating mutual respect.
  • Enable learning and growth of volunteers.
  • Establish a volunteer recognition program.

Healthy Lifestyles Initiative
200+ Employees | BMI screenings
Building Exceptionally Skilled Teachers