Story by Grace Wilcox, freshman (ACJ)
“Building relationships and trust is crucial to success as a research and extension communicator,” says Donna Sheffield, publishing editor at K-State Research and Extension.
Growing up on a farm in Georgia, Sheffield says she can recall her father approaching their local extension agents with questions concerning their operation and relying on them for their expertise.
From her observations, she realized the importance of having access to knowledge and research, especially about agriculture. “I really value extension, what it has down for rural America, and what it is doing. Farming is not an easy way of life,” she says.
Today, farmers experience many challenges from fluctuating crop prices to weather phenomena such as wildfires and hurricanes that damage homes and arable land. Sheffield’s father grew up during the Great Depression, in a time when farm life was similarly challenging. Climatic weather events like the Dust Bowl damaged soil and crops, causing intense economic stress on farmers. Sheffield’s family continued their involvement in the agricultural industry throughout her life.
Teaching, research, and extension work together as the three parts of the extension system to ensure information and support are freely accessible to producers. Sheffield says, “Extension relies heavily on ‘local experts,’ such as county extension agents. They offer their expertise and any pertinent materials published by the university.”
On the other hand, Sheffield’s position involves editing publications before they reach the extension agents. She works specifically with the animal science, horticulture, and entomology departments at KSU. “My job is to translate [their] research into layman’s terms,” Sheffield says.
Sheffield works extensively with authors of publications editing their manuscripts. “I’ll ask them for a way we can more clearly explain things to the general public. Through me, research can be translated to give to producers,” says Sheffield.
Sheffield said her knowledge of communication with both researchers and consumers comes from her eight-year span as the corporate editor and public relations director for Kansas Farm Bureau in Manhattan, Kansas. While there, she connected all departments, from computer science to legal affairs. She helped those with little background in agriculture understand the roles of their neighboring departments. Sheffield said that working at Kansas Farm Bureau also gave her a good understanding of communicating with the public. She gained further experience communicating with the public while working as the editor of the Lifestyles section of the Manhattan Mercury.
Her favorite part of her job in our department is that she learns so many new things everyday.