Students become teachers in Rising Star program

While Iowa State Extension and Outreach has a significant role in the university fulfilling its land-grant mission, many students aren't aware of what extension employees do.

One of the goals of the Rising Star Internship Program is to expose students to extension so they better understand what kinds of jobs are available, said region 1 extension director Cheryl Heronemus. Student interns get hands-on experience with guidance from extension staff.

"If you look at the demographics of the staff that work for extension, there are a lot that will be aging out in the coming years, and we are concerned about growing our own replacements," Heronemus said. "We want to get Iowa State students involved in an extension career so they at least know it is an option. Most of them think about 4-H and don't realize all we do."

The intern program began in 2014 under the direction of Heronemus and Bob Dodds, assistant vice president for extension and outreach county services. The first year saw interns, who work in groups of three from mid-May through early August, placed in two of extension's 20 regions. This summer, interns will work in four regions. Participating regions typically rotate each year.

Most of the interns' work centers around food, including development of donation gardens, nutrition education, and teaching adults and children how to grow and prepare food. Economic development also has been a recent focus.

Continuing to grow

Almost 30 students applied for paid internships this year open to undergraduate students who will be entering at least their sophomore year next fall. Extension provides housing, which helps build teamwork among the interns who live and work together, Heronemus said.

Rising Star draws interns from four colleges -- Design, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Agriculture and Life Sciences -- with funding coming from the colleges, host regions and the office of the vice president for extension and outreach.

"Having four colleges involved in this program makes it unique," Dodds said. "You have students from different colleges looking at a problem and each of them deciding how they can best address a need."

The work done by the interns benefits each region, but the effort behind each project is key.

"We don't want it to be an assistantship where they just come and help with things at a fair or camps," Heronemus said. "We want them to be in charge of things, have the ability to plan things from the beginning and carry it out so they can evaluate it at the end."

Staying in Iowa

John Lawrence, vice president for extension and outreach, shared statistics with the state Board of Regents on Iowa State graduates, noting 62 percent of Iowa resident undergraduates stay in state after getting their degrees, compared to 22 percent of nonresidents. Rising Star hopes to build on both numbers.

Through 2018, there have been 46 Rising Star interns. Four subsequently accepted positions in a county extension district, while another serves as an extension county council member. Dodds said two of last year's interns were offered jobs by a business in their region.

"The two students were not from Iowa. They came to Iowa State, and it gives us a chance to take some diversity out to our rural areas with students that bring different experiences," he said.

Heronemus sees the impact the program makes.

"All of the interns give a presentation to the deans from their colleges at the end of the summer, and one of the things we hear them say most is, 'As a result of what I did this summer, I am interested in a career in extension,'" she said.