For nearly 35 years, Karen Armbruster has served Woods County as a family and consumer sciences/4-H educator for the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.
There are no typical days for Armbruster, who also has been the county Extension director for 14 years. How could there be when on any given day she could be working with local 4-H club members or leading a tai chi class for older adults or teaching fourth, fifth and sixth graders about bullying?
Yet the energetic educator would not have it any other way.
“Everyday is totally different,” she said. “On the professional and personal levels, I’ve grown and Extension has raised me. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met and the networking that has taken place has proven to be a wonderful career.”
Earlier this year, Armbruster was honored for that wonderful career, earning Extension’s Distinguished Educator award. The most prestigious award an Extension educator can earn, it recognizes outstanding educational contributions to Oklahomans and Extension.
“Karen’s application for the Distinguished Educator award was very impressive. It clearly documented that she has had a very productive and innovative career as an Extension educator,” said James Trapp, associate director of OSU Cooperative Extension. “Over her career, she has made a difference in the lives of many youth and adults. She also is a leader and role model for her 200-plus fellow Extension educators across the state.”
Though Armbruster had her eye on the coveted award, she nearly passed up the chance to apply for it. She credits her colleague, Greg Highfill, Woods County Extension agriculture educator, with encouraging her to go for it.
“I was humbled when I got the phone call from Dr. Trapp to say I had been selected,” she said. “It really surprised me.”
The fourth of eight children, Armbruster moved with her family to Oklahoma from their native Mississippi after her father, a cattle ranch manager, accepted a job in the state. Thanks to a supportive Extension/4-H educator from back home, she was set on an Extension career well before graduating from OSU.
After short stints in Pottawatomie, Alfalfa and Tulsa counties, Armbruster has been a fixture in Woods County since 1980.
In addition to working closely with the 4-H program and advising Oklahoma Home and Community Education groups based in Woods County, Armbruster also interacts extensively with the general public through a broad slate of programming.
One of her proudest career accomplishments is the long-running Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project, a joint initiative launched in 1995 by Woods, Alfalfa, Major and Grant counties and supported by multiple individual, community and business contributors. In the past two years, Woodward and Dewey counties also have been added.
As part of the $10,000 project, high school FCS classes use electronic dolls to teach life skills as well as critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Winner of the National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences’ Human Development/Family Relationships award in 2014, the program has reached an average of 250 to 350 students in northwestern Oklahoma annually for the past 20 years.
Even though she has now achieved one of Extension’s highest honors, Armbruster has no plans to change course.
“I’m just going to keep going,” she said. “I’d recommend this career to any student to consider this type of work because of the fulfillment it provides.”