Laura Bittner has a passion for providing youth development programming to all New Mexicans.
Since joining New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in 2009, she has provided educational programs to a diverse population in Valencia County, including people transitioning from incarceration into the workforce, high school students living with food insecurity, and low-income youth and families, as well as traditional participants in Extension programs.
NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences turned to Bittner to fill the position of interim department head of the state 4-H Youth Development program when Steve Beck resigned from the position in March to accept the 4-H program leader position at Oklahoma State University.
“We are excited Laura Bittner has agreed to serve as interim department head of our 4-H Youth Development Department,” said Jon Boren, College of ACES associate dean and director of NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. “She has the passion, experience and leadership qualities to continue advancing our 4-H youth program to meet the current and future needs of our New Mexico youth across the state.”
Bittner’s many years of experience working with county agents, specialists, adult volunteers and youth contributed to her selection for the position.
“I’m excited to serve in this position and to work alongside and learn with, and from, dedicated Extension professionals providing important youth education throughout the state,” Bittner said.
Bittner accepted the position prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing announcement of a statewide stay-at-home order and restrictions on gatherings. Since taking the reins of NMSU’s youth development program April 1, life has been a whirlwind of internet interactions, Zoom meetings, emails and phone calls.
“With any new position, I expected a learning curve. I didn’t expect that learning curve to include navigating a statewide program through a pandemic,” she said.
“I am so impressed by my Extension colleagues across the state who have risen to the challenge by providing virtual education to youth and their families through a variety of innovative methods and I’m looking forward to the virtual events we have planned for the summer.”
Throughout history, the Cooperative Extension Service has provided service and education during times of war and the Great Depression.
“Our Extension professionals, 4-H members, volunteers and leaders are rallying together now and with their collective efforts positively addressing the challenges we are facing due to COVID-19,” Bittner said.
During her 11 years with NMSU, Bittner has progressed from assistant professor to full professor while serving as the county program director and Extension family and consumer science agent in Valencia County.
While providing programs to Valencia County community members, she earned a doctorate in educational leadership and administration from NMSU, graduating in May 2019.
Bittner’s doctoral dissertation is titled “Meeting Needs of the People: A Multi-Case Study of New Mexico Extension Professionals Cultural Competence in Reaching Historically Under-Served Populations.”
Her research followed the path of her mission of developing greater accessibility to and inclusion in Extension programming for non-traditional Extension audiences.
While maintaining a full-time work schedule and full-time graduate studies, Bittner developed youth programs and outreach efforts that received national recognition and awards from the National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
The College of ACES recently acknowledged Bittner as the 2020 Distinguished County Agent for her programming efforts. She also received one of the college’s top recognitions, the Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Diversity in Extension Award.