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Embedded Extension “sentinels” bring MSU research to every corner of the state

Michigan State University Extension Director Jeff Dwyer joins Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman on the MSU Today podcast.

Dwyer discusses his career path at MSU that began in 2006 as associate dean for research in the College of Human Medicine. He tells how the Flint Water Crisis was “when I had the privilege of becoming the director of MSU Extension. A lot of people thought, ‘Huh, this is odd. A sociologist who has spent the last decade in a College of Human Medicine with Extension.’ I think a number of people were sort of wondering how all of that worked, but I think it all comes down to the connection to the community.

Credit Michigan State University
Jeff Dwyer

“Flint's a good example of that. I actually took on this role in Extension right when the Flint water crisis became so public and actually within the first couple of weeks dug in. We were able to focus our people that were already working in Flint and Genesee County over that first year. We nearly doubled the number of people we had working in Flint because of the importance of the things that we were doing there around nutrition and around working with youth and many, many other things.”

Dwyer tells Beekman how MSU Extension works in all 83 Michigan counties.

“I think that's important because the way we are able to reach literally potentially all residents of the state of Michigan is because we have this 100+ year history and people know us and people expect us to be there. We're truly embedded in communities. I have a little north of 600 faculty and staff all over the state. And they're not just doing a job there, but they're sitting in the pew at church with people, they're at the grocery store, they're often elected to roles in their city or township or county. They’re really an embedded part of the communities in addition to bringing the resources of a great land-grant university to that community. I really think about our staff and Extension as being sentinels in the public health sense of sentinels who really know what's going on in communities.

“They really know what we need to be paying attention to and that has been important in our ability to address many, many different topics and issues and emerging issues of importance around the state. We work in so many different areas like agriculture, 4-H, and health and nutrition. And we work with communities on strategic development.”

Dwyer talks about how Extension pivoted its programming to address the pandemic and how MSUE itself helped to fight the virus.

“We’ve been able to continue to have an impact in at least three different ways. Early on we were positioned very well in communities throughout the state, including on-campus and in the Lansing region, in being a part of collecting PPE and getting it out to the health providers who truly needed it in those early days. We developed a protocol for decontaminating N95 masks that's very effective. Our staff made over 3,500 calls to businesses all over the state of Michigan to determine their need for PPE and to make them aware of those suppliers that might be able to assist with that need. So those are just three examples of things that we would not typically have thought of ourselves doing, but because of our statewide footprint, because of our embeddedness in communities, and because of the talented people that we have willing to jump in really on a moment's notice and address emerging issues, we've been able to play a key role I believe.”

MSU Today airs every Sunday morning at 9:00 on 105.1 FM, AM 870, and however you stream at home. Follow and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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