Gregory Owen of the Pittsburg County Extension Office received one of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service’s most prestigious honors on Jan. 10 when he was named a 2018 recipient of the statewide organization’s Distinguished Educator Award.
A 21-year veteran of OCES, Owen serves as Pittsburg County Extension 4-H and youth development educator headquartered in McAlester. He also served as interim director of the county office from August 2008 to November 2009.
OCES is one of two state agencies administered by Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Long a champion of the positive benefits of 4-H programming, Owen did not come to the organization via the typical route.
“I was not a member of 4-H growing up,” he said. “I never heard of the program until I started college and was given the opportunity to work with the State 4-H staff on a Caring for Planet Earth exhibit for the state fairs. I had a mentor while a student at OSU, Dr. Gerrit Cuperus, who guided me on the path where I am today.”
Owen added he has always tried to follow Cuperus’ lead, with mentorship playing just as big a life-affirming role in what he does as that he received.
“Over the past 21 years, I have been able to help guide [children and teenagers] who were shy or who had low self-esteem and help them become confident, responsible adults and great leaders,” he said. “Two of my former students went on to become Extension educators. I hope that I had some small part in inspiring their career choices.”
Talk 4-H in Pittsburg County and the successes of the “Get REAL” goal-setting workshop and “4-H Teen Talk Show” still are brought up.
“REAL stands for responsibility, enthusiasm, attitude and leadership,” Owen said. “This workshop has been taught at our County Adolescent Health Conference for 300 junior high students. From there we took the program to District Leadership Conference, Oklahoma 4-H Roundup and eventually we were selected to teach this program on two different occasions at National 4-H Conference.”
No funding was available. Owen and the team of five teenagers and four adults worked together to raise all needed monies: more than $8,000 the first year and approximately $13,000 the next.
“We presented this workshop in 2004 and 2005 at National 4-H Conference,” Owen said. “It was the number one ranked workshop both years.”
The “4-H Teen Talk Show” grew out of a County Adolescent Health Conference partnership with the OAKS Area Prevention Resource Center, which primarily focused on addressing problems with teen pregnancy and drug use throughout Pittsburg County. More than 30 public and private cooperating organizations joined the cause, conducting a variety of cutting-edge programs relative to the issues.
“Our 4-H program developed the ‘4-H Teen Talk Show’ to address these issues directly,” Owen said. “Our teen leaders role-played a talk-show format. We addressed key issues directly with the audience, with teenage audience members quickly learning they were telling us possible solutions to the problems of teen pregnancy and drug use.”
The effects of the conference were noteworthy: Over the 2006-2009 lifespan of the interactive effort, teen pregnancy numbers and drug use dropped dramatically to the point where the conference was no longer considered a need for the entire county.
Owen and his fellow “4-H Teen Talk Show” cooperators additionally conducted the program at the District 4-H Leadership Conference, Oklahoma 4-H Roundup and the State 4-H Volunteer Leaders Conference.
“The reason we do what we do is for our youth,” Owen said. “I love being in the classroom interacting with students and teachers through our 4-H School Enrichment program. I annually teach 155 to 302 programs in classrooms, which are offered to 26 different schools in the county.”
School Enrichment allowed Pittsburg County 4-H to establish the Health Rocks program at two area schools: Frink-Chambers and Haileyville.
Area Walmart visitors may remember experiencing the dulcet tones of the Pittsburg County 4-H Kids Singing for Kids program. The project ran for 13 years, generated more than $26,000 in support of local youth programming and added a bit of joy to the daily lives of many.
Pittsburg County residents have long interacted with Owen in many ways: face-to-face at meetings, workshops, on-site or in the office; his weekly news column with the McAlester News Capital and Democrat; the weekly Extension column in Bargain Journal; Pittsburg County Extension’s weekly radio broadcasts on KNED; and even a weekly television program on local cable channel 7 early in his career.
“I love the career that I have and am honored to work for this organization and this county,” Owen said. “I will always try to accomplish what 4-H teaches, which is ‘To make my best even better.’”
Other honors presented to Owen over the years include the Pittsburg County Free Fair Board Outstanding Service Award in 1999, a special commendation for his work with county youth from the Board of Commissioners in 2004, the Boys and Girls Club of McAlester’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in 2009 and numerous recognitions from Extension-related organizations.
His professional affiliations include both the Oklahoma and National Associations of Extension 4-H Agents as well as Epsilon Sigma Phi, the state and national organization dedicated to fostering standards of excellence in the Extension system. Owen has served as OAE4-HA Southeast District director since 2016 and as Oklahoma’s Epsilon Sigma Phi Southeast District director since 2009.
Owen earned his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from OSU in 1993. He earned his master’s degree in agricultural economics from OSU in 1995.
OCES county educators and area, district and state specialists develop science-based educational programs to help Oklahomans solve local issues and concerns, promote leadership and manage resources wisely. Programs focus on increasing opportunities for agricultural enterprises; natural resources and environmental management; food, nutrition, health and safety education; and youth, family and community development.