Q&A with Sydney Wilkinson: Rural Initiative Accessible Education Specialist, Southern Region
Sydney Wilkinson is one of 14 new Rural Initiative specialists who recently joined CSU Extension. Wilkinson, who grew up outside of Trinidad, will be focusing on how to increase access to education for communities in southern Colorado, which includes 15 counties stretching from Mineral County in the west to Baca County in the east and north to Pueblo County.
She earned her M.S. in animal breeding, as well as a B.S. in animal science, from Texas A&M University and is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in agricultural education from Texas Tech University. For the past three years, Wilkinson has been an animal science instructor at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.
Just a few weeks into her new position with CSU Extension, Wilkinson shared what excites her about the job, what community needs she hopes to address, and what it’s like to be returning to the area where she grew up in Colorado.
“What most excites me about this role is pretty much in the name, so rural engagement and accessible education. I grew up in a rural community and I’ve taught for the last 6 years … and being able to go back to my roots and connect with people that grew up just like me is just really exciting. I’m also excited about the possibility of touching a lot of different counties in this southern part of the state and really getting to learn more about the area that I grew up in.
[I’m looking forward to] really making those connections and helping students understand more about Colorado State University and education in general and being able to provide that bridge and also provide programming that hasn’t been there before.”
“I graduated from a very small high school, Hoehne High School, and went on to Texas A&M University where I got my bachelors in animal science and my masters in animal breeding. After I went into the industry I finally realized that education was really where it was at. I worked at a high school here in southeastern Colorado as the ag teacher for three years before moving to Oklahoma to work for Oklahoma Panhandle State University as an animal science and general agriculture instructor and also the livestock judging coach for a couple years.
I just decided it was time for a change, time to get back to Colorado. My family has a registered and commercial cattle operation where we run Gelbvieh and Balancer cattle. I grew up in agriculture, in the rural community, and it’s definitely a part of who I am and I’m really excited to get back to Colorado. I get to be back on the ranch while also doing serving in this position. Agriculture, the rural community, and Extension have always been a big part of my life and so I’m excited to give back to something that was so important to me growing up and even since then.”
“The community needs that I really hope to address are broad: rural engagement and education. First, I plan to really get to know my community so I can better understand the needs of the students, the needs of the people in this community, and how can we then take the steps to address them.
I’m really looking forward to engaging with rural communities that sometimes are left out of conversations and might not always be heard, the voices that are not always as well represented in the grand scheme of things. This involves really just listening to people, building relationships within the communities, and especially since it’s such a wide region with a lot of different counties, making sure that all of these counties, these towns, these groups of people, are all given importance and all taken into consideration when we are addressing their needs and creating programming. I think it’s really important to first take that step and then go from there. Providing that link from their rural community to Colorado State University in the best way that we can and in the best way for them.”
“Collaboration is really, really important, I think in any kind of job and especially in Extension with what we’re asked to do. When I became a teacher, I went from being this person that didn’t ask for help, or really just thought they could do it on their own, to realizing that, ‘Man, I could do things a lot easier, and better, with collaboration and help.'”
In this role, it’s going to be so important to collaborate, to understand, to listen, to work together with the other regional specialists and Extension experts to create programming that not only meets community members’ needs but can inform the work happening across our organization. It isn’t until we collaborate and listen to other people, and try to work together, that we can accomplish such ambitious goals.
Collaboration is something that’s not only important to me, but also really exciting, getting to meet new people, hear their ideas, bounce things off of them and really just help each other.”
“It’s super important to serve these rural communities for a lot of reasons. First of all, as someone who grew up in a rural community and now is going to be back in the same one I grew up in, we always have something that we want to say and we want to be heard. It’s important to listen because there are so many different opinions and a lot of great people that are in these rural communities and we don’t want to undervalue them.
Also, it’s really important because the needs of rural communities are so different than those in urban areas. If we address the state as a whole, we’re not going to always address all the needs of rural communities. Making sure that we include everybody, and embrace the diversity of our state, is super important no matter where you’re from.”