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Q & A with Shirley Camp, University Extension
Interviewee: Shirley Camp, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, Extension
Please describe your job title and a description of your job related activities.
My job title is University of Illinois Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness. My mission is to bring research-based information to the residents of Illinois.
What has been your educational and career path?
I have a BS in Vocational Home Economics Education from Western Illinois University; an MS in Extension Education from the University of Illinois; completed an AP4 program and the University of New Mexico to become a registered dietitian.
I have always been an AP – I started with University of Illinois Extension in 1971 as an Assistant Adviser for Home Economics in Henry County. Over the years I have worked in Carroll and McDonough Counties and now at the Macomb Extension Center and have moved up the ranks to a Level III.
Shirley's Career Path at the University of Illinois
How has your degree aided you in your current job?
My degree in education has been extremely valuable because I have a solid base in educational methods. Dietetics and all of the nutrition classes increased my competencies and range of knowledge to work with clientele in improving their health and well-being.
Are you in a career that you never imagined yourself being in?
Dietetics has always been my career goal. One of the biggest surprises is that I really like technology and would likely have pursued a career in that field had I been in school more recently.
What sparked your interest to pursue your current career?
I started cooking in 4-H when I was 10 years old and before that with my grandmother. I have always liked cooking and experimenting with foods and how the body utilizes nutrients.
What do you enjoy most about working at the U of I?
University of Illinois Extension has been a profession where every day is unique. I work with people, have the freedom to create programs, and Extension offers educational opportunities to help staff keep current.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
The variety of activities that I am involved in – every day is different. The science of nutrition is always changing and being connected to the University of Illinois helps Extension staff remain current.
What is the most challenging part about your job?
As with other organizations and businesses throughout the state and nation we are trying to do more with less….so trying to provide educational programs and materials can be a challenge. Travel sometimes is difficult because “windshield time” takes away from teaching time. How do you deal with such challenges? I have learned that we need to realize there are only so many hours that we can work and we have to set priorities. Since I work in 16 or so counties, making sure each county receives programs is key.
What do you enjoy the most about the work you do?
Working with people and seeing that we can make a difference in their lives.
What has been the most memorable/rewarding job experience so far (i.e. a breakthrough in an experiment, providing guidance to a grateful student, etc.)?
Working with youth audiences. In my current position, I have the opportunity to judge 4-H projects that youth have made. In this capacity I get to see firs- hand the influence that we have on youth.
What are some challenges that you had to overcome in your current role?
Probably the greatest challenge currently is being able to cover the larger geographic area that I am assigned to. As we lose Educators to retirement, trying to maintain the presence throughout the state has become more and more difficult. Also, letting go of some successful projects to make way for new ones can sometimes be difficult. Knowing when a program has run its course.
What are some things you learned about your working style that you were not aware of before?
I can be a leader. Growing up I would say that I was more quiet and found public speaking to be somewhat difficult. Probably my family and friends would not believe that today, but I have learned to give presentations with ease while still being concerned that I am being understood.
How did you wind up at the University of Illinois at U-C?
Since I had been a member of 4-H for 10 years and had attended many contests and activities on campus, Extension had always been an organization that my family and I were involved in. When I pursued a degree in Vocational Home Economics Education, I knew I was prepared to teach either in the classroom or as an Extension professional. After completing student teaching, I found Extension to be a better fit for me at that point in my life. Extension is based at land-grant universities, and that is how I found my way to working for University of Illinois.
Why did you choose to work at U of I instead of other Universities?
Extension has always been my first love and being from a farm in Illinois I wanted to work in Illinois.
How long have you been with the University?
What does your job continue to teach YOU?
I am continually learning about people, their differences, and their need for information. Through my years with University of Illinois Extension I have learned the different ways people like to learn – some like to read the information, others like to see something done in front of them, while others process information better through participatory learning. Being able to adapt educational materials to the audience and to read various participants has helped me become a better teacher.
What do you continue to learn each day (work/non-work related)?
That there are only 24 hours each day and it is my job to balance professional time with personal and family time.
Does your job allow you to work in collaborative groups?
Yes – in my current position I am a member of the Nutrition and Wellness Team. The professionals I work with each bring different things to the table and by combining our skills, we have worked to develop some of the most outstanding Extension programming in the country. The Team has won awards for programs such as a Food Safety Five-Hour Refresher Course and our programming in diabetes. I have also been given the opportunity to work with on-campus professors, assisting with research and in doing so have been afforded the opportunity to be included in poster presentations at national meetings.
What motto do you live by?
One of my teaching philosophies is to separate the need to know from the nice to know. Start out the education with the information that clientele need to know and add the “nice to know” as appropriate. Sometimes we get too wordy and the real information gets lost.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
At this point in time, in five years I will likely be retired but still teaching in some capacity whether as a volunteer or in local communities.
Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that very few may know about?
My secret ambition is to write something (fiction) and have it published.
In your opinion, what sets you apart from your colleagues/what makes you unique?
I have been told that writing is my forte – that I have the ability to put information together into a logical sequence. Since much of the work in Extension includes materials that are either printed or placed online, this ability has been helpful to me.
Have you implemented a new project/program in your department that you are proud of and would like to tell us about?
On project that I have been working on is implementing Diabetes Cooking Schools in the counties I serve. While I am not the developer of the materials, I have encouraged the counties to offer this method of teaching diabetes management. A recent class participant wrote to me telling me that the Diabetes Cooking School is one of the best programs she has participated in. This program allows participants to actually do the food preparation under supervision, and teaches them that adding their own “special touches” increases calorie and carbohydrate content. It also teaches them the importance of portion control in diabetes management.
Have you won any awards that you’d like us to know about (academic or non-academic)?
I have received the Distinguished Service Award and the Continued Excellence Award from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences as well as from the Illinois Affiliate; and I have received the Distinguished Service Award from Epsilon Sigma Phi and the Illinois Chapter.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to travel around the area and visit some of the historic places. Illinois has so much to offer and is rich in history.
What are some of your hobbies, interests, volunteering activities?
My hobbies include quilting, knitting, anything that I can be creative in. I would like to do more photography and travel more – these are things I plan to do in the future. As time permits, I plan to volunteer with local senior homes/hospital.
Would you like to mention anything about your family or friends?
I feel fortunate to have had parents who encouraged me to do well at whatever I have tried to do. Being raised on a farm in central Illinois, my parents and sister and brothers were all involved in 4-H work. Each of us has gone on to be successful in our careers and I believe we can attribute our success to the role models we had growing up. I also consider my Extension co-workers among my best friends and as such they have supported me and each other through the years we have worked together.
What do you like to do with your family?
Family get-togethers with our extended families are great. Most of us live close-by (at least part of the year) which makes it easy for us to get together. My mother is still living independently and I help her with her shopping and other activities that enable her to do so. We all support each other and keep in contact which I believe is important in today’s world.
Who has been the most influential person to you here at the U of I?
After much consideration, I would say that Dr. Violet Malone, former U of I Extension faculty, was one of the most encouraging individuals I have ever met. Without a doubt, she encouraged and enabled me to complete my Masters program when I doubted my own abilities to do so. I still miss seeing her! Others who have been influential include the Nutrition Specialists Dr. Robert Reber, Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski, and Dr. Robin Orr, who have all in some way contributed to helping me be a better educator. I owe each of them a big thank-you! Dr. Orr served as a mentor and cheerleader – she will be missed by the Nutrition Community and University of Illinois Extension.
Have you taken any classes at the University?
I received my Masters of Extension Education from the University of Illinois which was accomplished by distance and on-campus classes. In the late 70’s Extension’s new technology was a “telenet” system which enabled us to listen to professors via a kind of party-line telephone network. This enabled me to take classes when I was living in northern Illinois and was a great way to work on my degree. At that time professors also traveled out to some areas to teach and I was involved in those classes also.
Have you participated in any professional development activities?
University of Illinois Extension has always supported involvement in professional development through conferences and classes. I have taken advantage of several training sessions over the years to learn computer skills, enhance my knowledge in nutrition, and many other similar activities.
Do you serve on any campus committees?
I serve on Extension committees. I have served on the annual conference committee, paraprofessional committee, and am currently serving on the computer and technology committee. These committees plan educational opportunities for Extension staff.
Can you recommend any career development activities on campus for other APs to try?
My best suggestion is that each person takes advantage of the activities available to them. You never know when something you have learned will be of benefit.
What are your suggestions to get APs involved in on-campus activities?
Since I have always worked in the field, I know better the activities available to those of us in Extension. Being involved in any work-related activity affords you the opportunity to meet and network with others both in and outside your field of expertise. This can help you broaden your perspectives in your work.
Has networking with individuals outside/inside your department aided you in your job progression?
Definitely. Networking with faculty on-campus as well as Extension Staff has been a wonderful aid to helping me work in the field for 38 years. Individuals both at the University of Illinois and other educational institutions have helped give me a greater understanding of planning educational programs that meet the needs of our clientele.
Do you agree that knowing people at the U of I is one of the most beneficial parts of working for such a large University?
We have an outstanding opportunity through those we work with; they are our best supporters, our friends, and frequently become our “family.” And a benefit of all of this is that they provide encouragement when you need it and praise when you do a job well.