Burt Swanson - Celebrating an Extension Champion

May 15, 2020

By Kristin Davis & Andrea Bohn


It’s important to reflect on people who have made a difference in our profession. We celebrate the life and person of Burt Swanson, extension champion.


What makes a person a champion? It is a number of things. From a professional perspective, one has to be knowledgeable and credible, providing thought leadership. Burt moved agricultural extension and advisory services forward on so many levels. He contributed to major efforts in the 1970s and 1980s with FAO. He helped start the Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education (AIAEE) in 1984.  In the 1990s and 2000s, he was still going strong, making important contributions in India, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. Globally he was a recognized figure in extension; everyone knows the book he co-edited on improving extension and tributes have come in from all across the world.


But the defining characteristic of true champions is passion. Burt was passionate about his work, about people, about extension. I’ve seen so many comments in this regard on his family guestbook and in online conversations about Burt since his passing. My biggest takeaway from Burt is how passionate he was about extension, rural people, and especially farm women.

Kristin: As a graduate student in international extension, I probably met Burt in 2000 when I first started attending AIAEE. Since then we met frequently, working together on the Ethiopian extension study, the Worldwide Extension Study, and many other projects. In addition to inspiring many with his international work, he was also a very personable person. It was always enjoyable to share a glass of wine with Burt and chat not just about his work but also his family. I've been missing Burt for years but now it is finally goodbye. My best wishes to Iris and the rest of the family.


Andrea: A memory keeps coming back when I think about Burt. He is walking from Freer Hall towards Mumford Hall, having just finished his daily rounds in the pool. I was on the other side of Gregory Drive heading home when he called over to me. “Andrea, you are just the person I’ve been looking for.” And that is the sentence that ultimately brought me on board for Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services project, embarking on a drastic career change. Among Burt’s many strengths was that he cultivated relationships, build networks, brought people together, and inspired us to contribute to the greater good. He worked with such discipline and such long hours, driven by passion that was infectious and inspiring. He has been a role model and his legacy carries on.


See here for more about Burt’s career in extension.

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