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AHS Published Research for Spring 2024

The dedicated faculty members of the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences have contributed to the academic landscape by authoring a multitude of insightful articles throughout the current quarter. Their commitment to research has led to the creation of a diverse body of work that showcases their expertise and furthers the collective understanding of agricultural, extension, and human sciences domains. We invite you to review the comprehensive list below, which highlights the titles and abstracts of their impactful publications. Additionally, for a deeper dive into their research, we encourage you to click on the provided links to access their respective studies.

Katie Sanders

Using cognitive dissonance to evaluate extension impact in rural communities

Authors: Tatevik Markosyan, Catherine Sanders and Alexa Lamm


New approaches are needed when working in rural communities to identify and communicate holistic evaluation impacts related to community-based health promotion efforts of Cooperative Extension. Specifically, there is a lack of recorded long-term programmatic impacts of these programs, including behavior changes related to consuming nutritious and healthy food. The current study explored rural community members’ experiences with cognitive dissonance in relation to decreased adult obesity and the adoption of healthier food consumption practices related to an extension health promotion program, as cognitive dissonance can help explain several motivational components of potential behavior change. Through a qualitative research design using a thematic analysis of focus group data, the authors observed an overall positive association between community members’ experiences with cognitive dissonance, resulting in the acceptance of healthier food choices over inherited unhealthy practices, increased knowledge and awareness about nutrient-dense food, and increased physical activity. The cognitive dissonance framework revealed positive indicators of long-term programmatic impact related to food choice and consumption patterns. However, the analysis also indicated that while interventions improved access to resources, socio-economic barriers still existed that would ensure sustainability and depth of positive changes leading to long-term behavioral change in rural communities. or 

Exploring Community Garden Coordinators’ Perceptions of Climate-Smart Adaptations to Support Local Food Systems

Authors: Olivia M. Erskine, Alexa J. Lamm, Catherine E. Sanders and Kevan W. Lamm


Extreme weather events, increased intensity of droughts and floods, and changes to growing seasons are results of climate change that impact horticulture, agriculture, and food systems. In the United States, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina experience similar impacts caused by climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme heat. In these states, community gardens can be a source of local, fresh foods, especially in areas experiencing food insecurity. The goals of this study were to identify garden coordinators’ perceptions of the need for climate change adaptation, perceptions regarding the five perceived attributes of climate change adaptation, and where community garden coordinators stand in the innovation–decision process when it comes to climate change adaptation. The findings show that participants valued relative advantage and low levels of complexity when adopting and implementing climate-smart practices into their gardens. This study found that the community gardens were all implementing some form of climate-smart adaptations even if implementation was not for climate-related reasons. All participants noted that the largest barrier to adopting new practices was a lack of extra money. The findings from this study should be used to inform environmental education and communication strategies that encourage adoption of climate-smart practices.

Using dialogue-centered approaches to community-engaged research: an application of dialectical inquiry

Authors: Catherine E. Sanders, Abigail Borron, Alexa J. Lamm, Ellen Harrell & Barbara Worley


Rural communities across the United States experience increased risk and prevalence of chronic diseases associated with both individual and community-based factors. Thus, there is a need for rural capacity development for chronic disease prevention. Traditional health promotion and intervention approaches often focus on diet-related health disparities from a positivist, evidence-based paradigm. To counter positivist bias within health promotion research, a hybridized approach is proposed using a critical-constructivist paradigm incorporating dialectical thinking, appreciative inquiry, and dialectical inquiry to address cultural and structural barriers, as well as community-based social norms, through evaluation of community-based health promotion interventions. Three dialectical models were identified through interviews with community coalition members: social ties, infrastructure, and worldviews, examining underlying assumptions and counter assumptions. By revealing the dialectic assumptions and counter assumptions within project implementation, practitioners can engage in constructive dialogue with communities to determine more effective and culturally responsive pathways for project development.

Joseph Donaldson

Assessing online readiness for a professional master’s degree program in agricultural education

Authors: Maria Merecedes Rossi, Dale Layfield, Joseph L. Donaldson, Ye Luo, and Paula Agudelo


Online learning is one form of distance education mediated through information and communications technology. We used a descriptive research design to develop and validate a multidimensional instrument to assess readiness and motivations for online learning. We provided a theoretical framework to better understand the concept of readiness for online learning and motivations to learn online. We assessed the need for a professional online Master’s degree in [Major] from [University] and participants’ experience with online learning. Participants in this study included 531 Cooperative Extension agents, Natural Resource Conservation Agency, Farm Service Agency employees, and School-based agricultural educators from [State], [State], and [State]. Of those, 96 participants completed the open-ended question. The study findings revealed that the survey instrument is a valid and reliable tool. Most participants reported a tendency for self-directed learning as they indicated having higher learning expectations performances. Individuals who perceive themselves as capable of performing a specific task or behavior have high levels of self-efficacy. Participants expressed that distance from campus—no need to relocate, and flexibility were their primary motivators to enroll in online learning. Many prefer using asynchronous technologies since they provide a more convenient environment where they can work at their own pace and better balance their work and school responsibilities. Results may also suggest that participants who are motivated to pursue an online degree place a high value on being self-directed learners since they can plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning process.

Preparing the Next Generation of Extension Professionals

Authors: Joseph L. Donaldson


This chapter addresses the critical question of how the Cooperative Extension System prepares the next generation of Extension professionals who will support the well-being of tomorrow’s children, youth, and families. This chapter details the career landscape of Extension in five parts. Part 1 presents a synopsis of career development research highlighting how a person identifies and advances in a career as well as different Extension careers to demonstrate the multiple career pathways and roles in Extension organizations. Part 2 provides a discussion of competencies and skills needed for successful Extension professionals. Parts 3, 4, and 5 explore each of the primary mechanisms for preparing the next generation of Extension professionals, including formal instruction through college programs, career development activities (e.g., internships); and education that occurs on or after hiring (e.g., onboarding, continuing professional development). Information from this chapter can help guide those interested in pursuing Extension careers, as well as those in leadership positions who oversee hiring and retaining talent for Extension.

Joseph Donaldson, Dara Bloom, and Jay Jayaratne

Competencies and training needs of extension agents for educating farmers on genetically engineered crops in Uganda

Authors: Nassib Mugwanya, K. S. U. Jayaratne, J. Dara Bloom, Joseph L. Donaldson and Jason Delborne


The purpose of this study was to determine the training needs of extension agents in Uganda to lead successful education programs on genetically engineered (GE) crops. This was a descriptive survey research study conducted online with public agricultural extension agents in the eastern agro-ecological zone of Uganda. This study used Borich’s method to identify training needs. A survey instrument was designed to determine extension agents’ perceived importance and proficiency of 60 competencies organized under the eight Public Issues Education (PIE) framework competency constructs. The survey received 58 usable responses comprising an 83% response rate. All eight PIE competency constructs were perceived by the extension agents to be important. This study identified additional four competencies important for PIE in addition to the eight competencies in the model. Agents’ greatest training needs were creating partnerships and designing GE education programs. The lowest training needs were creating an environment of professionalism and managing conflicts. The findings indicate the importance of training extension agents on how to engage with farmers in new ways to educate them on GE technology. This study provides implications for determining the training needs of extension agents in PIE such as educating farmers on GE technology.