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Mike's Corner

Mike Gutter

Updates on an Engaged Extension

  • General Item
    An Engaged Extension

    One of the most rewarding parts of my career has been engaging with Extension faculty and staff, local stakeholders, and elected officials — all while making new friends.

    Date: Jul 31, 2023

Q&A with Mike

Mike Gutter joined Virginia Cooperative Extension on Nov. 1 as the new director and associate dean of the college. We sat down with Mike to talk about his vision for Extension, the value of the land-grant mission, and how Extension can collaborate across the state to improve the well-being of all Virginians.

VCE brings science-backed information to everyone we can reach in the commonwealth. We provide opportunities for producers to improve their products, processes, and profitability. We provide youth with an opportunity to find their spark. We help families manage their resources, provide nutrition, and manage their health. We help communities manage their resources and address common challenges. VCE continues to ask the question: How can we help? What does Virginia need?

Finally, VCE is made up of people—people who care a great deal about their communities, their colleagues, and their own families, along with their science and stakeholders.

After many years in Extension and being a leader for the past decade, I knew I was ready to lead a program of VCE's caliber. I have known and met many VCE faculty over the years and found them to be incredibly impressive. Virginia is a beautiful place with a strong agriculture industry—where else would I want to be?

Land-grant universities bring the best that a campus has to the people of its state. They do this by integrating research discovery into our outreach, engagement, and programming, while also involving the scientists and educators of the next generation: our students. There is almost no other mechanism where these three missions can work in harmony to enrich the businesses, communities, and families.

I grew up in a family that was strong, but lacked a lot of financial resources. So it will not surprise you that with a love of psychology, I ended up studying family financial management. I ended up pursuing a doctoral program that focused on family resource management (also known as family economics). I have now spent decades studying economic disparities and how they impact things from home ownership to health outcomes.

VCE is a strong extension program with positive reputation among its many stakeholders and peers. I would like to see us continue to build on that strength, cultivating a repuation across campus and our commonwealth as the best resource to engage and work with our communities.

Our communities are created both geographically and through shared interests (e.g. improving productivity of our crops or youth interested in raising animals or building robots). As we work with our partners to solve the new challenges facing Virginia, we must be willing to grow toward those solutions. It will take time, but in the next five years I believe we will continue to expand our reach and impact. We will strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones that benefit everyone in our communities. We will break down our silos, look at how we address larger issues together, and focus on our strengths. I will be the lead champion for VCE working with you all.

I know that together over the next decade, we will become the go-to partner for community-engaged work, technology transfer, workforce development, rural community social issues, and more.

Over the next half-century, we will be seen as the trusted partner, and more importantly, trusted source, by our communities

I believe strongly the 4-H youth development program—which focuses on helping youth to find their spark and be on a path to success—is one of the most important things we do in VCE. We currently reach more than 10% of our states eligible 4-H population through our various programming models. I would love to set goals with you all for where we want to be in 10 years and what it would take get there.

I think we need to help more people understand the value of our program. I took it on myself to do engagement sessions with local staff and faculty to explore new relationships. This can be helpful because we know families today face challenges related to time, money, transportation, and competing family needs so the more we can reach youth where they are initially the more likely they can participate. Some of our youth are not living with their birth parents and may have unique barriers to participating.

As we discuss more with our local, state, and regional partners, we can explore how to mitigate some of these barriers facing our youth.

We also need to work to address our own capacity for growth, and I will be working with 4-H leadership to better learn what we need in Virginia to achieve those possibilities.

Many of the challenges facing our commonwealth today are more complex than ever before. To be blunt, some of them cannot be solved with a unilateral approach. It has been my experience that including some strategic partners and forming those relationships helps us be at the table for these issues. This way we are leveraging each other’s resources, learning from each other and able to pursue lines of funding neither of us may be able to obtain on our own.

Many organizations may specialize in one of our audiences we would like to work with or are working with. Having those partnerships can help us reach new audiences and provide new opportunities for our existing ones. One example was bringing a cancer center into our work with farmworker training. They were able to provide resources, training, and programming that complimented our own such as sun safety shirts and hats for all of the workers.

Finally, our hardworking faculty are busy, and as new things emerge partners can help us to explore our role. We have a responsibility to try to help when it is within our scope to do so, but sometimes it takes a village to tackle the current and emerging issues we face in Virginia.

Well, l I spent years training in martial arts. Kempo when I was younger, then mixed martial arts and Gracie jiu-jitsu.  I have not fought in a while, but it was an amazing way to keep fit. I still practice though.

I enjoy nature, I will not say I love 20-mile hikes, but I enjoy experiencing it in many ways through walks, biking, diving, even the occasional jeep or boat ride.

I love music, listening to it, and sometimes playing or singing it.

Finally, and I will not say I have great skill, I enjoy racquetball with forgiving friends.

I am blessed to have a supportive family, each of whom I have a unique thing we enjoy together. My son Ethan is a sophomore in college who is my SCUBA and science fiction partner. My daughter is in high school; we can talk for hours with lots of laughs. She is a strong volleyball player.

My wife Jessica is my rock. She is an amazing mother and the best partner I can ask for in this life.  My parents are often my inspiration for hard work and I enjoy spending time with them whenever possible.

I have a dog named Chloe, a rescue rat terrier mix. I technically am the grandfather to my son’s rescue cat who lives with him in Florida and my daughter’s cat who lives with all of us. I love animals, and think they are a wonderful part of our lives, members of our families, and in some cases even our livelihoods.

After I broke my neck in 2013, I took on a new hobby an learned a little guitar. I have been playing since then, mainly acoustic. I’ve tried my “hand” at folk, classic rock, and of course some country. My kids have made some special requests for a few modern tunes too. It is a great way to relax, and I have found even if you are just a mediocre player people enjoy listening and will typically sing along.

I’ve been known to bring it to conferences mainly for some casual fun with colleagues. If any of our VCE faculty are so inclined, I will be glad to join them sometime.

I have been waiting for months for several things.

  1. Meeting all of you!! While some of you I have known through conferences and meetings, I am very excited to meet you all and learn about why you do what you do.
  2. Seeing as much of the commonwealth as I can. This is a beautiful state and I want to see it all — including walking trails. After being in Florida for 15 years, I have been excited to get up into the mountains. Hoping to convince my wife to try camping again now that we have seasons!
  3. I am excited to try local food places, from local donuts to diners and anything in between. I love small businesses and local restaurants often have a story behind them. So, if you have suggestions don’t hesitate to send them my way when I am visiting.
  4. And I will be honest, I am excited for the sports too! Growing up in Ohio I have always appreciated the Hokies and I look forward to cheering them on. My daughter can’t wait to watch the volleyball team in action herself.

About Mike


Columbus, Ohio


B.S., Ph.D., Family Resource Management Studies, The Ohio State University


  • Assistant Professor
    University of Wisconsin-Madison: assistant professor

  • Professor and Associate Dean for Extension;
    State Program Leader 4-H Youth Development, Families, and Communities
    University of Florida