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Extension names new agriculture outreach leadership

Dr. Travis Burke
Dr. Travis Burke

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.

To provide leadership in Extension’s work to address these evolving needs, 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.

Burke is one of two new assistant dean positions created by Illinois Extension to increase high-level resource development for the organization. Dr. Shiba Kar will serve as assistant dean and program leader for natural resources, environment, and energy. Both will focus on collaboration as a key to expanding Illinois Extension’s network of committed faculty specialists, field staff, community partners, and trained volunteers.

WRITER: Samantha Koon, Illinois Extension Director of Communications

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension’s mission is to align campus research to community needs. We translate research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Extension’s program portfolio focuses on five grand challenges—community, economy, environment, food, and health.