Recently, I watched a “light show” in a Purdue University lab that really got me excited about the potential to use something as simple as specialized lighting to increase both the productivity and variety of plants. That simple demonstration showed the potential of academic research to improve our lives and livelihoods, and it’s the kind of activity that happens every day on a university campus.

But if knowledge of these discoveries never makes it to the people who could put those techniques to use, then great potential is lost. Every day, for the past 100 years across our nation, Extension staff have worked to make sure that the possibilities of our land-grant universities become the realities in people’s lives.

The benefit of Purdue Extension is that you don’t have to travel to campus to gain this knowledge. It can be found in every county of the state, through the expertise of local county educators who connect their communities to this national network of university resources.

As Purdue Extension celebrates the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 that created the national Extension system, we are not looking back, but looking ahead. As a state and nation, we need innovation now more than ever.

The challenges of today are complex and require education, analysis and insight that trained experts can bring to local communities. And it’s important that Indiana and its citizens benefit from all that universities can offer.

The Extension concept is not new, but it’s not outdated. As director of Purdue Extension I am proud of the many contributions Extension has made. And in the next 100 years there will be many more.

At the front line of our communities, Purdue Extension educators and specialists are dealing with tough local issues such as sustainability, food safety, land-use concerns and food security.

Extension outreach today and into the future may, however, look a bit different. We are just as likely to be working with inner-city youth as with farmers in the field. Purdue Extension educators can be found in school classrooms, business boardrooms and helping at the site of local disasters.

And how we educate is changing, too. The Internet is great for assembling university information. But combine the information with Extension staff who provide analysis, how-to instruction and hands-on learning opportunities and you have a great one-two punch. Education can still be delivered face to face, but it may also be offered through a webinar or mobile app.

No matter how much Extension changes, some things will remain the same. Purdue Extension has always been in the people business, and it’s the people who make up Extension — both paid staff and many volunteers — and the people we serve, who will continue to move the Extension mission forward in the next 100 years.