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A Vastly Rewarding Experience”: Joseph Donaldson’s Career-Long Commitment to Excellence in Extension Education

“I set my sights on an Extension career early in life”, says Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Joseph Donaldson. It was his county extension director/4-H agent growing up in Tennessee, Phyliss Boyce, who Donaldson says first inspired him to pursue cooperative extension as a career. “She was professional, intelligent, and a lot of fun to be around!”, he notes. Former extension professionals Randall Kimes and Reyes Rich, were also important influences.

Joseph Donaldson headshot. in 2012.

Thanks to those early role models, Donaldson studied Agricultural and Extension Education at the University of Tennessee (UT) for his undergraduate education, which gave him the opportunity to take courses across a variety of agricultural and science disciplines – favorite classes included meat science, greenhouse management, educational psychology, and curriculum and instruction. In addition to gaining technical knowledge in agricultural fields through coursework, Donaldson also completed student teaching to gain teacher licensure and served as a Cooperative Extension intern, both experiential learning opportunities that helped set him up for a successful career in Cooperative Extension. 

After earning master’s and doctoral degrees in Agricultural and Extension Education and Educational Psychology and Research, respectively, Donaldson served as an extension agent, extension specialist, and assistant professor at UT for 20 years. During that time, he organized 4-H in a county program with 2,500 members, 82 clubs, and more than 300 volunteers; led the development of a statewide extension planning, reporting, and evaluation software; and co-led the creation of a statewide strategic plan for UT Extension, among countless other projects. 

“Like all Extension Agents, I worked really hard!”, says Donaldson. “Yet, providing education that improves the lives of youth, individuals, families, and communities is a vastly rewarding experience.” Donaldson says that the experience he gained through 20 years serving UT Extension in county 4-H and statewide initiatives, particularly the competencies he developed in communications, program planning, and inclusivity, have been important throughout his career. They’ve certainly served as an excellent background for his current role at NC State.

Donaldson’s academic specialties are in program development, program evaluation, and research methodologies in the social sciences, and his research focuses on career development, adult learning, and human resource management as a means to understand and strengthen extension education.

“My present research”, says Donaldson, “examines the efficacy of extension programs and undergraduate programs that aim to create workforce-essential skills”. Donaldson has found in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) a friendly and innovative community. “CALS is a great place to work, and I am very appreciative for such supportive leadership and co-workers”, he notes. 

In addition to his research responsibilities, Donaldson also teaches several undergraduate and graduate level courses in the Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE) program, and serves as director of graduate programs for AEE and as undergraduate coordinator for the Extension Education major and minor. He also coordinates the NC State Extension Summer Internship Program, and provides professional development in extension education to North Carolina extension professionals. 

A new initiative that Donaldson is particularly excited to be involved with is Career Pathways in Agriculture for Community College Students (Career PACCS), an academic mentoring program where faculty, graduate students, and industry professionals will mentor community college students interested in agricultural careers. The program is designed for students pursuing an associate’s degree, who have taken at least one lab-based course, who are interested in transferring to complete a bachelor’s degree at NC State. “This program will help selected students to identify their pathways, transfer to an NC State CALS degree program, and achieve career success”, says Donaldson. “I am happy to be collaborating with Misty Lambert, assistant professor, and Gabby Whorley, graduate assistant, on this impactful program!”

Donaldson knows from personal experience how a combination of relevant coursework and experiential learning can jumpstart a successful career in AEE. “Agricultural and Extension Education is a field with rich and diverse job opportunities”, says Donaldson. “I would encourage students to take advantage of internship programs, especially the NC State Extension Internship Program, and other career development experiences – especially being involved with clubs and organizations connected to your academic major. Students should consider graduate school as an opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge, mastery, and conduct original research. 

“The Agricultural and Extension Education major has served me well in my career. Likewise, it helps today’s students prepare for multiple career opportunities. It is a great fit for anyone who wants to work with people and interact with food, agriculture, natural resources, and/or human sciences.”

Courses Taught:

  • AEE 230: Introduction to Cooperative Extension
  • AEE 325: Planning and Delivering Non-formal Education
  • AEE 423: Practicum in Agricultural Extension/Industry
  • AEE 478: Advanced Issues in Extension Education
  • AEE 523: Adult Education in Agriculture
  • AEE 545: Methods of Change in Agricultural and Human Sciences
  • AEE 491: Seminar in Agricultural and Extension Education

Find two of Donaldson’s recent publications below: