Megan Roberts

EXTENSION EDUCATOR AT UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright so we're here with Megan Roberts, an extension educator from the University of Minnesota. Hello Megan, how are you? 

 

Megan Roberts:

I'm doing well, how are you Erin? 

 

Erin Gorter:

We’re doing lovely, lovely. I'm excited to hear more about your job today. So, as an extension educator, what does your typical day look like at work? Kind of, what do you do for a living? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Something that is a little bit different about extension education as compared to some of the other careers an agricultural education, is my days vary a lot. I don't have typical everyday classroom responsibilities or everyday teaching responsibilities. The things that I do are in non-formal studying, so I might be driving across the state to speak at a small workshop for farmers in northern Minnesota, or I might be headed to the University of Minnesota campus to meet with my colleagues about our research project. So that can really vary on a day-to-day basis. In general, I do a little bit of research and then a lot of what I do is taking the information that the University of Minnesota has and extending it to the citizens of Minnesota. In particular in my career field, it's the farmers of Minnesota. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Very cool. So, what was your high school experience like? Like, what did you do in high school? Did you take ag classes? Were you involved in sports or extracurriculars ? 

 

Megan Roberts:

I did not take an ag class in high school. Unfortunately, in Minnesota, with some of our requirements that we have for University bound students, it was really hard to fit extra curriculars into my day-to-day schedule while taking college prep classes. So, my high school ag teacher worked out a deal where I could still be in FFA and I had to meet some certain requirements outside of school. So, I sort of got under the radar and was still able to do a little bit of FFA, but I didn't take ag classes. I took a lot of the higher-level science and math and other courses. In terms of things that were outside of the day-to-day curriculum, I did sports. I was really active in 4-H because that was something I can do while not be in ag classes during my school day because it was an extension, and I didn't have to be in an ag class. I think it's always important to be well rounded student and that was really helpful when I started applying for college and for scholarships. I think it helped me that I wasn't just in ag. I also had some sports. I also had some music. I had these higher-level courses as well. 

 

Erin Gorter:

What did you want to be when you grew up, when you were in high school? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Oh, that changed all the time. I always knew that I wanted to get a higher level of degree, which is kind of something that might be a little bit weird for a high school student. I was always thinking like: oh do I want to be a lawyer? Do I want to be a doctor? I had a little phase where I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor, which is bizarre to me right now because blood grosses me out. And I love looking at numbers and Excel sheets that are very boring and non-gory, so I changed my mind quite a bit. But I always knew that I was wanting to go to University and then I was wanting to dig really deep into a subject. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So, when you graduated from high school what's kind of your education and career pathway to this point now? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Yeah so, I finished high school and I had scholarship to the University of Minnesota, so that is where I chose to go. I had some opportunities to go out of state. I think maybe looking back I might have told myself to be more adventurous but went to the University of Minnesota and got a four-year degree. I knew that I wanted to continue on my educational path but wasn't exactly sure which route I wanted to go. And so, I took a year and I worked full time while applying to grad school and that was super valuable. Sometimes we're just told we have to go straight through and that there's just one linear path and that's almost never true. I have taught undergraduate students in the past and I always like to tell them, you know your path is not linear, you can take a pause and get back on track. So, I paused for a year then I went to grad school. I started teaching at a community college and then while I was teaching at a community college, I pursued my doctorate and finished that just recently through a joint program.  

 

Erin Gorter:

And then from the Community College you ended up working an extension now. How did that transition? 

 

 Megan Roberts:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, I was working at the community college while finishing up my degree and when I was finishing my degree and realized that I would have this opportunity to move into extension and I was offered just a better schedule for me as I was trying to be a full-time student and a full-time employee. So, moved into an extension about three years ago and you know sort of miss the fact that I'm not in a classroom everyday like I was in the community college, but I do get this opportunity at an extension to do non-formal education and to be out and about in the Minnesota community. 

 

Erin Gorter:

And so, your bachelor’s degree was in ag economics? 

 

Megan Roberts:

My bachelor’s degree is in plant science. I did  

 

Erin Gorter:

Oh! I did not know that! 

 

Megan Roberts:

I have a plant science undergraduate because I thought I wanted to be a plant breeder. This is a fun fact. A fun little story for why your career may not be linear. So, when I started my undergraduate, I thought I wanted to be a plant breeder. One of the graduates of the University Minnesota is Noble Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, and I thought want to be cool if I could be the next Norman Borlaug, and then I did an internship where I had to work in the plant research and breeding barn that we have at the University of Minnesota. I guess they’re sheds not so much barns because there aren't animals in there. It was still boring. I just didn't like it and everyone around me loved it. And that told me there are people who are meant to be plant breeders. They love this work and I hate it. I need to find something else to do that I love a whole lot more. And at that point I started realizing that maybe ag policy and ag economics would be a good fit. I was already a junior, so I didn't want to switch my major. This is something that looking back I might have told myself he could have switched your major. You don't need to stick with your original plan, but it worked out because my Master’s is an ag policy degree that requires you to have a science bachelor’s, so I have this plant science bachelor’s and that got me into that program that let me take a little left turn into ag policy and economics and education around those two subjects. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So, it's very interesting that the plant sciences and plant breeding were not attractive to you, but like economics is and policy. 

 

Megan Roberts:

Yes. Most people don't like it all, right? So, that is part of, I think, the journey and figuring out what it is that we want to do. Sometimes it's not just about what is my greatest passion. Don’t get me wrong that’s important, but it’s also about discovering what is it that I can do, and feels right for me, that other people might not have the strengths in, we all have different strengths. I could do plant breeding, but it wasn’t at the same level of interest that everyone around me was at. Whereas ag policy, I can do that, and most people are not that interested in reading a law. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Very interesting, so now in extension, what is your favorite part about your day at work? 

 

Megan Roberts:

I like that I do have a lot of control over my day-to-day. As long as I'm meeting the mission of extension, serving the citizens of Minnesota, serving farmers, I have a lot of control over, you know, what I'm going to focus on. And when things change, when there is a big legislative push that affect farmers, I can really shift on a day-to-day basis to focusing on that particular issue: getting information out by our radio program via workshops, by a written fact sheet about how that impacts farmers. 

 

Erin Gorter:

What's your least favorite part? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Well, you know, in contrast to what I just said I do sometimes miss the regularity of other types of ag education. You have that day-to-day, you know. At this time, I'm teaching this subject and I know that I need to follow up with these students by this day and I don't have that. I don't have those long-term relationships that you build with students that are in other types of ag education settings. Or even if you're working in like ag economics and you become a lender, you have those ongoing relationships with your clients, or your farmers that you're lending to. I don't have that because I am kind of serving a topic for the entire state and I have to switch on to new things pretty quickly. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Makes sense. We're in the business of producing, managing and marketing the distribution of food. What is your favorite agricultural commodity? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Well, in addition to working for extension, I live on a farm in Minnesota. We grow corn, beans and we raise hogs, so I really enjoy bacon. I really enjoy pork products and in fact bacon was one of the original commodities because back in the day, to be a commodity, it had to be storable for long periods of time and so bacon was the way that we were able to eat pork throughout the year because we salted up and we hung it in the back of our, you know, our shed. So, long answer bacon, and or short answer, bacon. Long answer, everything I just said. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, who doesn't love bacon? Fabulous. 

 

Megan Roberts:

Yeah! 

 

Erin Gorter:

So, can you think of any like internships or volunteer opportunities or job shadowing experiences or ways that high schoolers could get involved and learn more about extension education? 

 

Megan Roberts:

Well one of the ways that most high school students and agricultural, if they’re interacting with extension, it would be through 4-H. So, 4-H is run through the extension, or the overall umbrella of extension. So, that's one way to experience it. It is a different type of extension than say the extension that I'm doing in Minnesota. I know that we have internships on the farm extension side of things and also in some of our food and nutrition programs. So, there are internships available that go beyond 4-H extension work and move into the research and agricultural extension area.  

 

Erin Gorter:

But you could say that what you do as an extension educator is really an extension of 4-H that's really taught to like a youth audience but you're doing the same thing but with adults really.  

 

Megan Roberts:

Yeah, and there is a lot of overlap. If you look back at how extension started, there is definitely a Venn diagram of overlap between 4-H and the work that we're doing in agricultural extension. And now we've moved so much further past that, but the origins of extension definitely overlap between the youth component of 4-H and then the adult component of agricultural outreach. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright, so this is the last question it's the real big one, I think. If you could go back to high school Megan, what what's the biggest piece of advice that you would give her? 

 

Megan Roberts: 

I probably tell myself not to be so serious, and that when I made decisions, I didn't need to lock into it. I think a great example is that I thought I picked this major plant science and then when I realized it was past high school and I realized it wasn't for me, but I always thought I just made a decision I would have to go with it. And our lives or twisty and windy and we can be really successful and really happy and realize that we need to change directions. So, be open and willing to those left turns that come about.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, that's good advice and to be okay with change and having to change course, that's alright.  

 

Megan Roberts:

Yes, absolutely. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright well thank you very much for your time. Again, this is Megan Roberts, an extension educator at the University of Minnesota. Thank you, Megan. 

 

Megan Roberts:

Thank you!  

Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com.