By Justin Miller
Five hundred and eleven miles. That’s the distance from Benton, Arkansas, to Auburn, Alabama.
While the drive is only nine hours on a map, it took Mike Phillips four decades and several stops along the way to complete his journey from central Arkansas to The Loveliest Village on the Plains.
Now serving as director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Phillips’ journey has come full circle. The farm boy from Benton is leading Alabama’s premier outreach and educational organization.
Hard work is nothing new to Phillips. Being raised on a beef cattle and soybean farm taught him hard work and dedication.
“My parents were not formally educated, and each of them worked two jobs,” Phillips said. “From a young age, they taught me that if I wanted something, I had to work for it.”
From working at a meat-processing facility in high school to working for the U.S. Forest Service in college and all the jobs in between, Phillips put himself through college. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 1980. He went on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate in agronomy from the University of Arkansas.
Phillips spent 22 years working at the University of Arkansas Southwest Research and Extension Center. Twelve years were spent as director.
“While serving as director, I learned the value of how to properly manage a diverse group and how to serve them all equally,” Phillips said. “Because Alabama Extension provides information that everyone can use, it makes my job that much more important to see that all of our subject areas are successfully reaching their audiences.”
Before making his way to Auburn, Phillips’ career included stops at Morehead State and Mississippi State universities. Before being named director in March of this year, Phillips served Alabama Extension as assistant director for agriculture, forestry and natural resource programs. He concurrently served as an associate dean in the Auburn University College of Agriculture.
Vision For The Future
Now going into the seventh month of his directorship, Phillips sees a clear path for Alabama Extension: find ways to better serve Alabama residents.
“I ask myself all the time — are we reaching the people we need to be reaching and to the level that we need to reach them?” he said.
For Phillips, the way forward includes building better or new relationships with organizational and individual stakeholders. He wants Extension to serve as a resource to help Alabamians improve their quality of life.
Achievements and accolades along the way haven’t changed Phillips’ desire to work hard and improve the world around him.
When asked how he wants to be remembered, Phillips’ reply is simple.
“I would like to be known as a person who made a difference.”