Arkansas welcomes new assistant VP of 4-H, youth

Debbie Nistler, extension’s new assistant vice president of 4-H and youth development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is a 4-H alumna and proud member of a “4-H family.”  

Nistler, who brings more than 25 years of experience in extension work in Oregon, Washington, Florida and Iowa, will begin her new role on May 1. Nistler said she is looking forward to connecting with Arkansas 4-H professionals across the state.  

“Our 4-H professionals are the lifeblood of the program,” she said. “I cannot wait to share in their enthusiasm. I also look forward to engaging in summer camps and activities and getting excited about the future of Arkansas 4-H.”  

As a 4-H alumna, Nistler said she has seen firsthand how the program impacts youth and sets them on a path to success. She was a member from fourth grade through her senior year of high school in Yamhill, Oregon, and her two sisters also participated in the program.  

“I brought home the school recruitment flyer as a fourth grader, and our family had never heard of 4-H before,” Nistler said. “After a few meetings, I was hooked. I showed sheep and cattle and participated in leadership at the club and county levels. All three of our children grew up in the 4-H program. They showed animals, participated in leadership and camping, and were all camp counselors. My son Beau served as State 4-H Council president in Florida and was camp staff for three years in college. We are a 4-H family!”  

Nistler’s husband, David Nistler, will also be joining the Cooperative Extension Service as a program associate in the horticulture department.  

Nistler earned her master’s degree in agricultural education from Oregon State University in 1997. She worked as an Extension agent and later as county Extension director for the University of Florida from 2003 to 2019, completing her Ph.D. in agricultural and Extension education services from the University of Florida during that time. Before joining the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, she worked as state 4-H program leader for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  

Nistler said 4-H youth development helped “set the course for extension” even before the signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which is the federal law that established a system of cooperative extension services associated with land-grant institutions in 1914.  

“Youth provided a laboratory environment and promotional opportunity for early agriculture research in small community schoolhouses across the country,” Nistler said. “Youth helped pave the way for new agriculture research to get into communities. Today, youth are our future in every corner of Arkansas. 4-H is still a foundational way for extension to reach and grow communities for the future, developing critical life skills in youth so they can engage and lead in their communities now and into adulthood.”  

Arkansas 4-H is a youth development program operated by the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the Division of Agriculture. The program teaches participants life skills through the “learn by doing” model. Program participants gain knowledge through non-formal, science-based, experiential education activities.