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Historical Snapshot: Mizzou Serving Missourians

Within the past two months our lives as Missourians have been dramatically altered with the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Our university, as well as other public and private institutions in Missouri, have undertaken new ways to function in light of federal, state, and local directives to practice social/spatial distancing. Prior to this period, I suspect few of us ever considered the implications of this practice in our daily lives.

As I sit in my home with any number of our Friday update readers, it caused me to reflect on how Mizzou served Missourians in days long past. It was obviously a time when social distancing was actually a rather common way of life for many out state families, businesses, and students. With an 1890 population of approximately 2.7 million persons and rural residents constituting 68% of the population, Missouri and many parts of our country lived in more open spaces than we do today.

From my research that was assembled for a presentation in our Extension Osher Lifelong Learning program that has now been postponed, I am sharing some of the ways that the University of Missouri began reaching out to socially distanced citizens of our state in the years beginning around the close of the 19th century. I will try to highlight a few milestones with accompanying power point pictures from the 1890s through the 1950s.

The earliest organized off-campus, educational outreach efforts of what was at the time known as Missouri State University, can be found in the 1890s. As a result of the Normal School movement to formalize statewide preparation for elementary and secondary school teachers, the University of Missouri created the first Normal School department in Missouri in 1869. Shortly thereafter, the State of Missouri followed with the creation of higher education institutions that would subsequently be known as State Teachers Colleges. Those regionally based colleges and Lincoln Institute were created throughout the state from 1870 through 1895.

The College of Education, and what became the University Extension Division, led many of the earliest efforts to reach distant audiences. This power point outlines some of the key early initiatives from 1897-1910. In addition, there were University Extension efforts to create some of the first correspondence courses for students who were unable to participate in on-campus educational experiences.

From then until the present, efforts have expanded to serve on-campus and off-campus students worldwide through high school diploma, undergraduate and graduate university degree programs as well as certificate granting experiences. Today, you might recognize such programs as Mizzou Online, the MU High School and Mizzou Academy.

In those earliest years, social distancing was a way of life and the educational needs of rural citizens were served through the distance technology of the day—rail cars serving as classrooms and staging platforms for educational programming. This “technology assisted” learning would be replicated by Cooperative Extension as well with passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914.

From the 1930s-50s, Cooperative Extension provided educational support to the adoption and utilization of new technologies unfolding in rural Missouri in the form of the telephone as well as household and farm electrification.

The importance of identifying and utilizing “early adopters” in any new innovation became an important educational tool, whether the audiences were rural families or farmers, through field demonstrations.

In a possible future update, one would be able to see that Extension and Engagement innovation for audiences that experienced the challenges of physical and social distancing only accelerated from the 1960s to the present. With the explosion of technological innovation comes the constant challenge of balancing what Extension educators call “High Touch and High Tech”.

I would hope that high touch will be always be part of whatever engagement efforts are provided by the University.

With that in mind, I could not pass up the opportunity to show you a slide of a Flagship Council Board member and University of Missouri System Curator Emeritus, Ed Turner, in his more formative days as a 4-Her headed to the National 4-H Congress.

This is just one wonderful example of the power of a high touch, Mizzou-based education in the life of one spatially distanced rural Missourian.

Tom Henderson, MFC immediate past co-chair

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