Changing jobs from the director of enterprise server technology at Kansas State to regional director for the University of Missouri Extension might sound like an odd career move, but Joe Lear is not new to extension nor to northwestern Missouri.
Lear, who became director of MU Extension’s Northwest Region in February, is a native of Saline County and a Mizzou alum with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural mechanization. He spent more than 26 years with MU Extension, much of it in the 19-county region, before taking a position at Kansas State in 2012.
He joined MU Extension in 1986 as an agricultural engineering specialist, helping farmers with such issues as preventing groundwater contamination. He later became a regional information technology specialist, leveraging experience with computers he gained in the 1980s working for USDA as part of the crop production-engineering unit and throughout his extension career. In 1999, he relocated to Columbia to take on a statewide role in MU Extension’s IT department.
Lear’s new role marks his return to extension education. He is taking over for Karma Metzgar, who is retiring after 15 years as regional director, a position that oversees more than 30 regional educators in a variety of fields, from agronomy, livestock, horticulture and nutrition to business development, 4-H youth development and family financial education.
“Joe brings a history of MU Extension experience along with the managerial expertise to the position,” said Candance Gabel, coordinator of MU Extension’s family nutrition education programs and a member of the search committee that recommended Lear for the job. “He is a forward thinker and has ideas for building on the legacy that Karma has built in the Northwest Region.”
Lear is working with various stakeholders—including local governments, extension councils, businesses, nonprofits and community members—“to help identify needs and align resources to meet those needs.”
Lear’s return to MU Extension happens in the midst of a yearlong process to identify needs statewide and evaluate MU Extension’s capacity to address those needs. The process includes facilitated conversations throughout the state with community members and stakeholders, a quantitative needs assessment, and a third-party review.
Lear sees extension playing a role in addressing the region’s needs for health and nutrition education, and serving as a partner with regional and community groups and agencies to help northwestern Missouri take advantage of economic development opportunities in business, industry, and tourism.