The Cooperative Extension Service has hired a new health specialist.
Laura Balis, a Michigan native, comes to Arkansas with a Ph.D. in human nutrition, foods, and exercise from Virginia Tech. She also has four years of working as an extension educator in Wyoming – a position similar to Arkansas’ extension agents.
“My broad goal is to help extension prove that it’s a credible health promotion delivery system,” she said. “I want to improve our evaluation of our extension program so we can show we are making changes in peoples’ health. I want to work with agents and staff here to improve some of these evaluations, to get better data and publish our results – to really disseminate what extension is doing.”
Extension wasn’t always on Balis’ radar.
“The first time I heard about it was after my master’s degree,” she said. Balis was working at Early Head Start in Missoula, Montana, and had a parent point out a plant in the playground as poisonous. “My job was to take it in to extension and get it identified.”
Balis worked in health promotion for about five years before discovering extension and its powerful reach.
“I just wish that I had known about it earlier in my career,” she said. “Once I started my Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech, I connected with the extension exercise specialist and started exploring extension jobs.”
As part of her work, she’ll take over two high-profile projects, one dealing with opioids and the other a multi-county project to drop obesity rates. She’ll also be managing Walk Across Arkansas, one of the largest public health initiatives in state. Among her other goals will be working across state lines to share resources so each state is not reinventing the wheel where curriculum is concerned.