Skip to main content

Meet the Women Who are Transforming UF/IFAS Extension

UF/IFAS Extension celebrates Women’s History Month in March by sharing success stories about the women scientists, educators, communicators and administrators in Extension’s workforce.

Women have historically played a critical role in the Extension service. Beginning in 1912 with Agnes Ellen Harris, Home Demonstration agents headquartered at the Florida State College for Women (now FSU), would travel throughout Florida teaching rural families about canning, sanitation, home economics, nutrition, and youth development. In 1915, women accounted for 37% of all state Extension agents. Home Demonstration work was an opportunity for professional advancement for many women, including Lassie Goodbread-Black, who became the first woman to graduate the University of Florida with a degree from the College of Agriculture. At UF, Home Demonstration eventually developed into the Home Economics department, now known as Family Youth and Community Sciences. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for home economics, partly because I earned my bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in what was then called the “College of Agriculture and Home Economics.” The term “home ec” is no longer in vogue, but I still like it!

Today, 68% of all UF/IFAS Extension agents are women. But what’s really changed are the expanded roles for women, in agriculture and in Extension.

For example, it might surprise you to learn that 53% of our agriculture agents are women. That’s a huge increase over 2006, when women accounted for only 19% of ag agents. However, it’s less surprising when you learn that 40% of Florida’s farmers are women, according to the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture. On more than 22,000 Florida farms, women like Brittany Lee are principle producers, making critical decisions about farm operations, whether it involves record-keeping, cattle breeding or deciding which crops to grow. That’s consistent with a national trend, which saw the number of female-operated farms grow by as much as 27% since the 2012 Census. To better serve women in agriculture, Extension has made efforts to recruit top-flight faculty like Vanessa Campoverde, Bonnie Wells, Danielle Sprague and Colleen Larson.

Many of these agents are County Extension Directors (CEDs), reflecting the growing numbers of women in Extension leadership positions. As of 2021, we have women CEDs in 35 county offices around the state, up from 26 in 2006.

Women are also leading Extension at regional and statewide levels. Notable leaders include District Extension Directors Brenda Rogers and Anita Neal, Florida Sea Grant Associate Director for Extension Maia McGuire, Florida-Friendly Landscaping Director Esen Momol, and Florida Master Gardener Volunteer State Program Leader Wendy Wilber.

Below, we’ve collected a series of recent profiles about the women who are the trailblazers, innovators, and role models within Extension.

Individually, each of these women has a unique story to tell. Together, they are transforming the face of agriculture and the direction of UF/IFAS.

Women in Extension: