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September 25, 2008   Email to Friend 

Margaret C. Lawrence
(334) 844-5687
September 25, 2008

Dr. Gaines Smith
AUBURN, Ala. ---- Dr. Gaines Smith, director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, has received the 2008 National Distinguished Service Ruby recognition from Epsilon Sigma Phi, a national organization of Extension professionals.

The Distinguished Service Ruby is the most prestigious recognition presented by Epsilon Sigma Phi. It is designed to recognize outstanding thinking, performance and leadership in Cooperative Extension. The award also recognizes that the recipient has made significant contributions to Extension at the state, regional and national levels.

Smith was honored at the recent Galaxy III conference in Indianapolis. At the conference, he gave the Ruby Lecture during a luncheon recognizing his achievements.

A member of ESP for 33 years, he called the award a high point in his 43-year Extension career.

"I accepted the Ruby Award not just for myself, but for all of the dedicated Extension professionals in Alabama. This award is a testament to the history and success of Extension in our state."

As part of his lecture, Smith noted that while the way that Cooperative Extension works is changing dynamically -- trying to keep pace with increasingly more technically savvy clients, there are several critical elements that must be kept in the forefront as Extension moves forward.

He noted that Extension must make a cultural change about funding sources.

"For years, we have been dependent on funding from local, state and federal governments. More recently, grants and contracts have added to the revenue stream. But to ensure our future success, Extension must be open to seeking out new and diverse sources of funding and to modifying how we do business to take advantage of those funding sources.

"Another challenge is to move our programs beyond success to significance. People, especially decision makers, must believe that our programs are necessary for their daily lives and for a prosperous future.

"But for this transformation from success to significance to occur, leadership is critical. Effective, visionary and committed leadership is needed to keep Cooperative Extension on track to continue our heritage of success. Leadership is key."

Smith closed his lecture by challenging the Extension professionals at the conference to step up to the task of becoming the committed leaders that Extension needs.

Smith was nominated for the award by the Alabama chapter of ESP. Alabama ESP president Tammy Powell called the award well-earned.

"We are very proud that this year's Ruby winner is one of us," says Powell.

"Dr. Smith serves our system with the spirit of a true leader. The Alpha Pi Chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi is very pleased that his leadership has been recognized at the national level."

Smith began his career as a county Extension agent in Jefferson County. He served at the district level before joining Alabama Extension's state administrative team in the 1980s. He directed the shift from county-based and generally focused programming to regionally based programming, which focuses Extension educational efforts within 14 program priority teams.

He played an instrumental role in securing high-speed Internet connectivity for field offices, allowing greater use of Internet communications, particularly videoconferencing. More recently, Smith has been laying the groundwork for what he and other Extension professionals have described as a "virtual" approach to Cooperative Extension work, reflecting how traditional face-to-face programming efforts increasingly will be outpaced by Extension's online presence. He has committed Alabama Extension to becoming a national leader in virtual Extension programming in coming years.

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