WVU Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources program director
When it comes to her role as director of the West Virginia University Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources programs, Jennifer Williams is in familiar territory. Program development is a lot like farming, she explained.
“You plant a seed and then you have to have the patience to watch it grow,” said the former Upshur County WVU Extension agent. “But there are many outside factors that determine the success of that plant. Program development is just the same – outside factors beyond your control will influence the growth of a program. It takes patience to accept that.”
Williams’ patience has paid off. In 2012, she received the Susan Dew Hoff Award from the West Virginia Women’s Commission. The award honors one woman each year who holds a nontraditional job title.
Williams has learned to develop patience during her time in the agriculture industry. She grew up helping her parents on their farm in Hardy County. This work inspired her to pursue a career in the field.
“My parents instilled in me a love of the land,” she said. “They taught me to value hard work and to have a good work ethic. Since the time I was young and involved in 4-H programs, I always wanted to be an Extension agent.”
Williams made her dreams come after finishing her bachelor’s degree in animal science and master’s degree in agriculture science from WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. She then served as a livestock marketing specialist with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture before taking the position of Extension agent in 1993.
She spent 10 years working on agriculture, natural resources, community and economic development, and youth development programming in Upshur County. She was then hired for her current role as director.
A woman serving as the agriculture director may have raised eyebrows in a different era, but Williams says that roles for women in agriculture aren’t uncommon, even if the industry is still very much viewed as a “man’s world.”
But, Williams never thought twice about pursuing a career in what she loves.
“I grew up on a large farm in a community that was centered on agriculture. It was what I knew and loved. I never wanted to do anything but that, and with hard work, dedication and commitment, you can succeed at anything.”
Williams feels fortunate to be working in a leadership role during such a pivotal time for the field.
“After years of agriculture being pushed aside, the future of the industry is so bright,” she said. “There’s a new appreciation for the field and what we do.”
Williams works with WVU Extension specialists and county agents to provide statewide, evidence-based educational programs in agriculture and natural resources focused on both youth and adult audiences.
The Unit offers programs in such areas as livestock production and management, grassland management, environmental stewardship, and farm and risk management.
Williams recently received the Woman in Agriculture Award from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture in 2011.
“When I’m honored by an organization, I don’t see it as recognition for my accomplishments alone,” she said. “My parents, co-workers, agriculturalists, and the people our programs served have helped me get to where I am today. I view awards as an honor for all of their contributions.”