A dairy farmer from Buckeye, Arizona, who recently was appointed to the Arizona Senate credits a University of Arizona Cooperative Extension rural leadership program with helping her prepare for her new position.
Sine Kerr said the Center for Rural Leadership, better known as Project CENTRL, equipped her to enter the political arena.
"I'm on the natural resources, energy and water committee, as well as the transportation and technology committee. A lot of what I learned at Project CENTRL will be incredibly useful as part of those committees — dealing with agriculture, infrastructure and rural issues," Kerr said.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Kerr to replace former state Sen. Steve Montenegro in Legislative District 13. Montenegro is running in the Feb. 27 primary for the U.S. House of Representatives seat vacated by former Rep. Trent Franks.
Kerr, who took office Jan. 4, was part of Class 22 of Cooperative Extension's Project CENTRL, a competitively selected, tuition-free, 12-month leadership development program. Each class is limited to 16 people who visit different sites throughout the state each month and attend seminars in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Organizers say Project CENTRL builds personal leadership skills, educates on issues facing rural Arizona, and connects leaders to one another and experts.
"The valuable part of Project CENTRL is the hands-on part — being out in the feedlot, for example, or going out to the farm and learning about their drip irrigation system," Kerr said. "Not only did we attend seminars, but we got to go out and see and touch and learn all about rural issues."
Learning about rural issues, as well as bringing people from a variety of experiences together, is central to Project CENTRL.
"We try to get a diverse group in the sense of geography, production agriculture and other backgrounds," said Project CENTRL executive director Scott Koenig. "As we teach problem-solving skills, the diversity of thought is crucial.
"In the current class, we have a dairy farmer, the deputy town manager of Prescott Valley, the Coconino County HR director and an Eastern Arizona College capital accountant. We have a Page City Council member, a rancher from southern Arizona and the Yuma County director of public health."
Project CENTRL is funded in part by an endowment and donations in partnership with the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Cooperative Extension. It was developed in 1978 as a joint venture with the Arizona Farm Bureau and Cooperative Extension, whose mission is to engage with people through applied research and education.
"The Project CENTRL program functions in a manner consistent with the Cooperative Extension mission of connecting the University to people in all sectors of the state, and bringing knowledge and expertise to bear on practical problems and issues," said Jeff Silvertooth, associate dean of CALS and director of Cooperative Extension.
Some of Kerr's colleagues in the state House and Senate also graduated from Project CENTRL, including Sen. Gail Griffin, Sen. Frank Pratt, Rep. Drew John and Rep. Becky Nutt. Other graduates include Coconino County Supervisor Jim Parks and Town of Miami Mayor Daryl Dalley.
"The program has a tremendous record of contributing to the development of outstanding leadership skills for a large number of graduates who now serve very capably in key leadership positions across the state," Silvertooth said.
Applications for this year's Class 27 are due March 15.