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July 20, 2012
By Jim Sloan
The longest-serving female dean of an academic unit at the University of Nevada, Reno is retiring this year.
Karen Hinton, the dean and director of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) since 1998, is retiring in October. Jerry Buk, the director of Cooperative Extension's Southern Area, has been named interim dean and director by UNR President Marc Johnson.
Hinton was named the interim dean and director of Cooperative Extension in July 1998 after serving three years as the Western Area Director of Cooperative Extension. She was formally named to the dean and director post in December 1998. The resultant 14-year stint has made her the longest-serving top female administrator of an academic unit by more than three years, according to university records.
"It certainly hasn't felt like 14 years," Hinton said. "The time has flown by."
All told, Hinton has worked 31 years at UNR, first as an Extension Home Economist in Douglas County and then as Extension Educator in Carson City and Western Area director for Cooperative Extension before being named dean and director.
UNCE has experienced great changes under Hinton's direction. The college - whose role is to bring university knowledge to citizens across the state - has expanded its programs, grant activities and collaborations with other UNR academic units as well as other institutions within the Nevada System of Higher Education over the last 14 years.
Cooperative Extension operates 18 offices serving every county in the state. Once primarily known for its exceptional agricultural-assistance programs, Extension under Hinton has greatly expanded its efforts to bring educational programs to urban audiences as well. For example, its Lifelong Learning Center in Las Vegas - a building project completed under Hinton's direction in 2006 - offers health and nutrition classes; children, youth and family research and education; and programs for Nevadans from preschoolers to senior citizens.
"Karen has helped us adapt and adjust to the changing needs of Nevadans," said Tom Baker, the chairman of Cooperative Extension's Advisory Committee. "The vast majority of Nevada's citizens live in an urban area and Karen has been instrumental in making sure we have the right programs for those citizens.
"People sometimes think of Extension as primarily about gardens and farms. But it's a lot more than that now."
One focus of Cooperative Extension under Hinton has been community and economic development. Extension forged a key partnership with USDA Rural Development to launch the Stronger Economies Together initiative in eight rural Nevada counties, and faculty in offices throughout Nevada have increased their efforts to deliver more jobs and economic stability to their communities. Job training programs, tourism enhancements, business mentoring, entrepreneur training - all these efforts have expanded under Hinton's direction.
Another hallmark of Hinton's time as dean and director has been her focus on innovations that help expand Extension's reach across Nevada and the country.
For example, she was instrumental in founding eXtension, a web-based community of Extension educators that combines the knowledge and resources of educators across the country. Hinton helped create eXtension, and served as chair of the eXtension Governing Committee in 2009. She also served on the eXtension Foundation Board of Directors and is on the Director's Council for eXtension.
"Karen decided long ago that eXtension could help transform Cooperative Extension, help the organization work more efficiently, provide needed educational resources and services, and save the organization money," said eXtension Director Dan Cotton.
Hinton also directed the overhaul of Cooperative Extension's own website, which now attracts nearly 850,000 visitors a year, and expanded the college's video conferencing capabilities to all of its 18 offices. She chaired the Journal of Extension Board of Directors and initiated the national job bank for the journal.
As dean and director of Cooperative Extension, Hinton has emphasized understanding the needs of Nevada's communities so that Extension programming meets high priorities and doesn't duplicate existing community efforts. This resulted in statewide surveys of 4-H leaders and parents, family programs, aging needs and agricultural priorities. Just as important has been the emphasis on measuring the impact of programs to ensure the taxpayer investment is making a difference.
"She has high expectations for faculty and staff and I believe that made us all more effective," said Loretta Singletary, the area director for Central/Northeast Area of UNCE. "We've had a significant number of programs recognized at the national level for their excellence."
Perhaps the best measure of Hinton's influence has been the number of Nevadans reached by UNCE faculty. When Hinton took over Cooperative Extension in 1999, the college averaged about 300,000 face-to-face contacts a year. Since 2004, it's been making about 800,000 face-to-face contacts annually.
Hinton leaves the dean and director's chair with a national reputation for collaboration and innovation. She is the longest-serving female Extension Director ever in the Western Extension Directors Association (WEDA) and the second longest-serving female Extension Director in the nation, WEDA Chairman Fred Schlutt said recently.
"I can't even begin to list all the committees and subcommittees she's led or served on," Schlutt said. "But I will tell you that she's always been a great advisor to new Extension Directors and has served with grace and dignity even in the face of severe budget challenges in her own state."