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Dictson Retires as Cooperative Extension Service Director

LAS CRUCES - Billy Dictson, associate dean and director of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, will retire July 31 after five years at the organization's helm and a 37-year Extension career.

Billy Dictson, Extension director and associate dean with NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics. (06/14/2002) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Victor Espinoza)

"Extension has made enormous strides under Billy's leadership over the past five years," said Jerry Schickedanz, dean of NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics. "He has helped the faculty and staff unleash tremendous creativity that has taken the organization to a new level."

NMSU has Extension offices in every New Mexico county to provide citizens with science-based information about agriculture, food and nutrition, families and rural development.

Extension increased its grant and contract funding from $2.2 million the year Dictson became director to about $8 million this year. Since 1996, the organization has garnered grants and contracts totaling more than $20 million.

A grant and contract philosophy of taking on new, self-supporting initiatives that could strengthen traditional programs led Extension to administer programs in summer youth employment, welfare-to-work, after-school care, outreach to pueblos and drug abuse prevention.

Staff numbers doubled under Dictson through such funding. This year, grants funded 14 new agent positions.

NMSU was cited as a national model for Extension in "The Extension System: A Vision for the 21st Century," a 2002 national committee report on the future of the Cooperative Extension Service.

In 2001, the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education ranked NMSU Extension No. 1 among 38 of the state's higher education programs in a quadrennial review.

Extension pushed the envelope in telecommunications technology under Dictson. Most Extension offices were equipped with high-speed Internet connections and were networked to create Extension Learning Centers for Internet-based training.

Last year, 100 live Internet training sessions linked the campus, field offices and clients' homes, culminating with a statewide town hall meeting in December that brought together 500 people from 75 sites and numerous agencies to address emergency preparedness in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

This year, the Extension Internet Conferencing Center was established and Extension helped develop a distance education consortium to bring new streaming telecommunications technologies to the university.

University Extension specialists successfully worked with U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico to include electronic commerce provisions in the Farm Bill to aid Extension nationwide in helping small business owners, including agricultural producers, to use telecommunications technologies to enhance their competitiveness. NMSU is slated to become the Western regional center for electronic commerce education.

"If appropriations are realized, this could be the biggest increase in base funding for Extension nationwide in memory," Dictson said.

During Dictson's tenure, Extension gained new visibility in New Mexico and nationwide by hosting the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) annual meeting in August 2001. About 1,700 people attended and toured the state. Dictson had the distinction of attending the last such meeting in New Mexico in 1962.

Extension connected with new audiences through the "Southwest Yard and Garden" program, which has aired on New Mexico's three public television stations since April 2000. Recently, episodes aired in Los Angeles, Denver and Dallas.

Dictson began his career as an Extension agent in Quay County in 1965, moving to Curry County as 4-H agent in 1968. He was appointed director of the Curry County Extension office in 1976. He served as vice president, president-elect and president of NACAA from 1983 to 1986. In 1988, he was appointed Eastern District department head, administering Extension programs in 11 New Mexico counties.

Dictson's retirement reception will be July 31 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Room 330 of Gerald Thomas Hall on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces. He will receive a memory album of letters and photos from former 4-H'ers, leaders, Extension Homemakers Club members, co-workers and others. To contribute an item for the album, please contact Bea Garrett by July 15 at (505) 646-3015.