LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2020) — Since 2014, Nancy Cox has served as dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Recently, Cox was named by President Eli Capilouto as the vice president for land-grant engagement.
This is a newly-created position that Cox will take on in addition to her role in academic leadership in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
In this Q&A, Dean Cox discusses her vision for the new role, the responsibility behind being a land-grant university and the ever-evolving role of extension for the institution and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
UKNow: Extension has been so grounded in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Our relationship through the extension offices is one of the more recognizable things about the University of Kentucky. How do you envision an expansion of this university-wide?
Cox: We are excited about the opportunity for expanding the mission of extension. We have an extension office in all 120 counties, so we like to think we’re hardwired into our community. As we have evolved in service to communities, agriculture and food are certainly both still important, but community health, nutrition, and economic development has become a part of what we do.
We started out more focused on farming and now we have evolved to what a community needs and we actually are have existing partnerships with the College of Fine Arts, the College of Nursing, the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Gatton College of Business and Economics, and the Markey Center, among others. We have many fledging efforts with many colleges that I hope will grow as a result of the new university-wide emphasis that President Capilouto has asked us to do. With that hardwired network, we hope to add in a lot more partners. It makes sense in another way, because we have extension agents and staff in each county that are a part of county leadership, civically engaged and are trusted.
UKNow: What do you think extension will look like under this model in 10 or 20 years from now?
Cox: Extension is always evolving. We are moving toward a lot of community activities and community economic health. If we are lucky, and we have a lot of partners from different disciplines that offer programs to all of our counties. That can only make a more robust situation for the health of the county. We can hopefully do a lot more based on this backbone we have. We will need to be thoughtful about it because it has to grow and faculty have to care about it and give their hearts to it.
We are in a close partnership with the other land-grant university, Kentucky State University, and the 120 counties. We probably have 70 counties where we are jointly housed. It’s real important that we work together and serve our entire communities. That partnership is really important as we think about expanding the land-grant engagement in Kentucky.
UKNow: President Capilouto mentioned that “The land-grant mission — the idea of service — is part of our DNA. It is as much a part of our identity as the name of the state we bear.” How do you see service being emphasized throughout the university?
Cox: There are a lot of ways that many different entities within the university do reach out to serve. When President Capilouto says it’s "part of our DNA," I love that because in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, we don’t ask whether or not we’ll do service — we just know we’re going to. Our students know, and our researchers know that even if they’re in a lab working with DNA in a test tube and they may know that it’s 20 years before a product develops from that — they are still oriented toward service.
We’re not the only college on this campus that cares about service, and certainly all the health professions do, but hopefully we have a little bit of a twist on it from our long history and our sense of being embedded within each community and that we can offer something to other colleges at UK.
UKNow: Research is the third leg of the land-grant mission. We have research at the undergraduate level, graduate level and beyond. How do you see research and researchers being part of this engagement?
Cox: Thinking about taking it to the next level, what if we had teams of students from different colleges and in different disciplines that could work in a community and figure out a plan for that community? For example, how could housing be safer for the disabled? How could nutrition, physical activity, water quality, etc.? How can we go into a community and offer all of the strengths of UK — perhaps even through our students who are working out in that way.
One big vision would be to have multidisciplinary teams of students who could work in communities down the road.
UKNow: What does this new position and these new responsibilities mean to you?
Cox: It is overwhelming to me and I am very thrilled to have this opportunity. It helps the president’s cabinet understand all the power that agriculture has in the state, on the ground and in communities and helps to elevate the conversation a little bit. It carries the responsibility of making a difference, which I am sure we will do. It is quite a thrilling prospect to have been in this job for a few weeks and to have received all the wishes of goodwill and collaboration from our partners around the university and the state as well.
UKNow: You are taking on this new role as vice president of land-grant engagement. How do you envision this new position and your role within it?
Cox: Many other universities do have a vice presidential-level position associated with agriculture and extension. Kentucky hasn’t had one until President Capilouto had the vision for this position. It’s a 20% assignment for me, but it’s almost not like a new job because even as dean of the college we have tried to collaborate wherever we could. This gives me a great platform, with President Capilouto’s endorsement, to be able to sit at the table with his cabinet and talk about what happens across the state.
It is a great opportunity to elevate the conversation and create more partnerships. President Capilouto wants this position to serve the state and help make it even more true — that we’re the university for Kentucky.
To learn more about Dean Cox’s new position and to listen to the "Behind the Blue" podcast episode, please click here.
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