URBANA, Ill. – While the profession of farming has been around for centuries, the science and technology underpinning the modern agricultural and food production system would be barely recognizable by farmers from a few generations ago. University of Illinois Extension has provided training and consulting for the agricultural communities for more than 100 years, and as the industry has evolved, so has the need for innovative education and outreach strategies.
At the same time, Illinois communities face increasingly complex environmental and energy challenges that require more resources and fresh thinking about solutions. To address the growing need in these vast areas, Illinois Extension is expanding leadership and staff capacity in agriculture, ag business, natural resources, environment, and energy to better serve Illinois’ food, agriculture, and outdoor industries.
Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy
Dr. Shiba Kar has been named the inaugural assistant dean and program leader for natural resources, environment, and energy for University of Illinois Extension. Kar will provide strategic and functional leadership for Extension staff serving Illinois food, agriculture, and outdoor industries.
The appointment underscores Extension’s renewed commitment to building more resources that support clients and stakeholders across the state. Over the past decade, natural resources and environmental content has been in high demand, particularly programming exploring sustainable energy, air and water quality, land usage and accessibility, and the outdoor economy.
“Dr. Kar’s expertise brings a new dimension to the multidisciplinary approach Illinois Extension uses to evaluate and address statewide issues,” says Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and director of Illinois Extension. “We are excited to see how he leverages his technical knowledge and environmental policy experience to drive momentum and bring new vision to both our emerging and heritage content areas.”
As a long-term advocate for natural resource sustainability and its connection to community development, Kar’s work aligns with Extension’s mission to put learning and discovery into practice. He is an experienced researcher and program development specialist. He can also design and evaluate strategies that encourage adoption of energy and environmental best practices among farmers and rural communities.
Kar’s professional and educational experience spans three countries – Bangladesh, Australia, and the U.S. – so he brings a global perspective to this role. He also has a wealth of experience in understanding social and economic impacts of energy and environmental policy. Because local issues are often shaped by both state and federal policy, Kar is well suited to lead a team of experts in nutrient loss reduction, invasive species, sustainable communities, and soil and water quality, among other topics.
“Dr. Kar brings a diverse, global perspective that strengthens our ability to understand, adapt, and model best practices in energy and environmental sciences across the state,” says ACES Dean Kim Kidwell. “His work with state and federal energy, climate, and environmental policy is a significant asset for the communities and clients we serve.”
One of Kar’s early priorities will be a strategic assessment of capacity and coverage of vital content areas. While much of the team’s efforts are linked to innovation and advancement, Kar will also administer a portfolio of legacy programs, including the Master Naturalist program, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and the Energy Education Council. Kar will also connect with the University of Illinois Arboretum, the planned location of Extension’s unified on-campus presence.
Agriculture and Agribusiness
Dr. Travis Burke has been named as the inaugural assistant dean and program leader for agriculture and agribusiness for University of Illinois Extension. Burke will serve as an advocate and champion for support of both rural and urban food and agribusiness needs.
Burke will manage the agricultural sciences needs assessment agenda for Illinois Extension, providing both strategic and operational support to his team, which includes Extension’s three dedicated education centers. Burke’s team features a roster of Extension professionals with expertise in commercial agriculture, agribusiness, livestock management, agronomy, food and agriculture entrepreneurship, specialty crop production, horticulture, plant diagnostics, pesticide safety, local food systems, and soil and water, among other critical areas.
One of Burke’s recent career successes was traveling across North Carolina to marshal citizen support for a bond referendum—a successful endeavor resulting in $150 million in funding for the Plant Sciences Institute at NC State University. Creating win-win outcomes that bring campus expertise and community needs together is a hallmark of Extension’s education and public service mission, making Burke well suited to the task that lies ahead for his team.
“Dr. Burke has a proven record of blending strategic thought leadership with innovative program development,” says Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and director of Illinois Extension. “The challenges facing Illinois agriculture require both a modern skillset and a long-range view of the industry and the opportunities it presents. Travis comes to this role with a clear vision of how to leverage Extension’s resources to solve problems and build partnerships.”
Much of Illinois Extension’s impact in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors stems from partnerships with like-minded organizations. Burke’s early efforts in this new role will include assessing Extension’s agricultural stakeholder engagement strategy and determining how to strategically invest resources – manpower, financial, and intellectual – to create the greatest positive benefit for Illinois farmers.
“Illinois Extension serves as a critical conduit for information flow between agricultural producers and the research faculty in the College of ACES,” says ACES Dean Kim Kidwell. “We are thrilled to have an experienced Extension professional and practitioner join our team. His talents and experience will allow us to cultivate new and deeper relationships with faculty across campus and partners throughout the state.”
In addition to pursuing an innovative research and outreach agenda, Burke will also lead his team in advocating for several popular legacy programs. These core service entities include Illinois Master Gardeners, farmdoc, AgrAbility, Certified Livestock Manager Program, Pesticide Safety Education Program, and the Plant Clinic. Each year, Illinois residents use these programs to find critical resources and consult with Extension experts.
Both Burke and Kar will focus on collaboration as a key to expanding Illinois Extension’s network of committed faculty specialists, field staff, community partners, and trained volunteers.
–University of Illinois Extension
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