■ Maurice Gipson believes firmly that education, both formal and nonformal, is the great equalizer.
Through his role as the vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity at the University of Missouri, Gipson is ensuring that the infrastructure exists for all students, no matter their backgrounds.
Gipson is a Louisiana native and a lifelong 4-H’er. As an African American man raised in the South by a single mother who worked hard to give him and his three sisters a better life, his mission is personal.
“I think your experiences shape who you are and ground you in the work you want to do.” Gipson said.
Gipson’s life changed dramatically in the eighth grade when he was introduced to 4-H.
“Not the cows and the cooking kind of 4-H,” Gipson said. “For me, 4-H was leadership development.”
Under the caring tutelage of Concordia Parish 4-H agents Debbie and Joe Bairnsfather, Gipson rebuilt his confidence and developed new skills. He began to see possibilities, not limitations. Through 4-H, Gipson learned public speaking skills and how to engage with people.
Gipson participated in 4-H through high school and, in 2000, became the first Black state president of Louisiana 4-H. He had the opportunity to travel to Louisiana State University for 4-H University, and Gipson was so impressed he vowed to return one day as an LSU student.
“I would not have gone to LSU absent of that experience,” he said.
■ Like Gipson, Beattra Wilson’s career path was influenced by 4-H. Growing up in Allen Parish, Wilson was introduced to potential agricultural careers starting in the fourth grade with the 4-H Youth Development Program.
“I competed at the parish and statewide fairs in the 4-H Sew With Cotton and public speaking contests,” Wilson said. “Those 4-H experiences helped propel me to hold leadership roles in high school.”
As a leader who stood out, Wilson was selected as one of 50 students for a pivotal experience at a summer agricultural camp at Southern University and A&M College where she explored agriculture professions. One of the career opportunities she learned more about was urban forestry.
“It seemed like a perfect merger of my deep connection to agriculture along with my desire to have a career that afforded me the opportunity to live in a big city,” Wilson said.
Wilson chose Southern University and A&M College to study urban forestry. She was interested in a career path into the U.S. Forest Service, which worked with Southern University and A&M College to create the nation’s first bachelor’s degree in urban forestry, and continues to partner closely with that institution and program, offering financial, technical and career development assistance.
While at Southern, Wilson interned every summer for the Forest Service. After graduation she became an urban forestry trainee in the Southern Region office in Atlanta.
“It amounted to everything I wanted to do as an urban forestry professional, from program administration and performance to community engagement,” she said. “The public service side is where I fit in then and now, ensuring that the Forest Service’s resources are available for communities to improve the conditions of their urban forests.”
In 2007, Wilson moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an analyst in fire and aviation management for the Forest Service, coordinating Government Accountability Office audits and national fire reviews. When Wilson started her federal career, her ultimate goal was to one day work at the White House.
Wilson is now the Forest Service assistant director of cooperative forestry and national lead for urban and community forestry.
“I don’t know what’s next for me,” Wilson said, “but I know how I want to show up in this new, elevated platform of service.”
■ Paul Coreil started his 4-H career at Sacred Heart School, a Catholic school in Ville Platte. Now he is the chancellor of Louisiana State University at Alexandria.
“Where I grew up, almost all students aspired to be a 4-H Club member,” Coreil said. “I joined as soon as I could.”
While Coreil had different 4-H experiences from Gipson, Coreil also learned leadership skills through 4-H. In high school, Coreil attended a 4-H leadership development camp at LSU in Baton Rouge.
“Team building, public speaking and communications skills were some of the critical skills I learned in 4-H,” he said. “These life skills have helped me be a better professional and better citizen overall.”
It was that visit to the LSU campus to attend a 4-H leadership camp that really impacted Coreil. His campus visit “was a life-changing experience” that inspired him to attend college and pursue a degree in wildlife management.
Coreil earned a bachelor’s and master’s in wildlife management from University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and Louisiana State University, respectively. Later during his career, Coreil completed doctoral studies in extension education. These degrees opened the door to a career with the LSU AgCenter.
Coreil first served as a Sea Grant marine extension agent in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes in 1978. After receiving a doctorate in 1995, he became the wetland and coastal resources specialist and later the director of extension and vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter.
“Life lessons learned during this 4-H experience have been tremendously valuable throughout my life and throughout my 37-year career in the LSU AgCenter and now two years as chancellor of LSU of Alexandria,” Coreil said.
Coreil still uses many of the lifelong skills he learned in 4-H to motivate students, faculty and staff working for and attending the university.
“I continue to be a major ambassador of 4-H across the state and will continue to do so,” he said. “After serving on the state 4-H foundation board for several years, I continue to be impressed with the impact that 4-H has on so many students across Louisiana.”
"I think your experiences shape who you are and ground you in the work you want to do."
- Maurice Gipson
"Team building, public speaking and communications skills were some of the critical skills I learned in 4-H. These life skills have helped me be a better citizen overall."
- Paul Coreil