Let’s Celebrate

September 26th, 2014

Sometimes, it’s time to assess the situation and plan. Sometimes, it’s time to dig deeper and try harder. This past week, however, it was time to celebrate. I had the privilege of representing all of us in Extension and Outreach as we celebrated the achievements of some dedicated people at the University Awards Ceremony.  These awards recognize excellence, but more importantly, they also celebrate the role Extension faculty and staff play in engaging the resources of our institution with our citizens.

Angela Rieck-Hinz, as an Extension Program Specialist for Agriculture and Natural Resources, has coordinated statewide training programs for over 3,000 manure applicators. Her leadership style fosters teamwork and collaboration on environmental stewardship programming across all levels within Extension, and soil health and water quality stakeholders. (Angela now serves as an Extension and Outreach field agronomist.)

Daniel Loy, Professor of Animal Science and Director of the Iowa Beef Center, was recognized for pioneering the use of microcomputers in data management for cattle feeding operations. He was also instrumental in the transition by beef producers to cattle diets that include corn co-products.

Darin Madson, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, is internationally renowned for his diagnostic medicine skills and outreach efforts. The discoveries made in his research have had a major impact on developing new approaches for assurance of the health and well-being of Iowa’s $12.5 billion animal agriculture industry.

And Mary Beth Kaufman, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Specialist in Family Finance, is on the cutting edge of emerging issues such as flood recovery, mental health, and poverty reduction.  A nominator called Ms. Kaufman a “gifted teacher,” and says her “presentations at educator and youth conferences represent Extension and Outreach at its best — grounded in research and focused on the learner.”

Just four people. Doing their jobs. I’m pretty proud of them and encourage you to join me in congratulating and thanking them. But here’s what makes me proudest – I know that in addition to these four, their 1,000 ISU Extension and Outreach colleagues across the state all have stories like Angie’s and Darin’s and Mary Beth’s, and Dan’s. All making a difference for Iowans. Every day. Congratulations. Thank you. See you there.

– Cathann

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Strength to Your Sword Arms

September 18th, 2014

Earlier in my career, I had the good fortune to work with a mentor who had a long and distinguished extension career. He frequently reminded me that our work is a social enterprise, meaning we seek to achieve our educational goals through social, cultural, community, economic, or environmental outcomes. An equally important component of social enterprise is the involvement of the marginalized, thus creating capacity and self-sufficiency for individuals, and impacting their communities.

I was reminded of this the other night, as our north central region leadership gathered in Fargo, ND, and heard a recounting of our history leading up to the passage of the Smith-Lever Act. I was struck by the energetic personalities and the passion of ideas that shaped our early history. I’m also impressed that they persisted and didn’t get mired in the “what” and “how” and forget to turn it into action. As part of our discussions, there was some reflection on the role Extension has had in supporting our democracy. I perked up at that point, and I hope you do as well, because as we’ve rolled along for 100 and some years, we may sometimes get comfortable and forget that our work isn’t just for those who already know us and love our programs — it’s about trying to be in the shoes of any of our citizens and trying to engage them with the resources of our university.

This is where leadership comes into play; not just any leadership, but transformational leadership – the kind of stuff that moves a collection of ideas to significance. This type of leadership is hard. It is partly fueled by the “what” and “how,” but there’s the ingredient that kicks leadership up, that goes beyond its single components: and that’s the “why.”

My mentor used to remind me of this concept and would point out that the why was truly our strength in Extension – our sword arm, if you will. The why is what unites all of us. It’s what we all found so easy to agree upon at our Leadership Summit and again at this year’s annual conference.  (Take another look at the annual conference report.) There is ample evidence demonstrating that all it takes is the joint effort of a group of passionate people to create momentum for the future. Strength to your sword arms. See you there.

– Cathann

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Today Is September 11

September 11th, 2014

A day we will never forget. As someone who worked in the Pentagon and lived in New York, I find myself reflecting on where I was and how those events shaped our perceptions of safety, community, and hope.

For me, what I choose to remember from that day is how many of us reached out for each other. On the Cornell University campus, we gathered and as a community, we affirmed an African greeting, which translated means –  I am here –recognizing our connections to each other and our unity.

Much has been written about September 11, but whatever our networks, our communities, our families – may we remember their importance, may we recognize our connections, and may we hold on to our hope.  I am here.

– Cathann

Weaker for the Kindness

September 4th, 2014

Well, campus is full again with students and I noted parents hovering around some of them. You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parent” used for parents who watch over their child’s every move, guiding everything they do and protecting them from all potential dangers. I have a confession to make. When I was a kid, I played on the monkey bars, I rode my bike without a helmet, and my softball team not only didn’t win, we didn’t get stickers for showing up. And yes, it’s true – my group of friends and I trick-or-treated without supervision on the streets of Kalona.

It’s not that our world became much more dangerous in the last 30 years, but we’ve become more aware of the dangers, which resulted in fears about letting children become independent. Here’s the thing: these parents mean well – they want what’s best for their children – but they may be doing more harm than good. My grandmother used to say that doing too much for other people and not letting them learn to do things on their own was ensuring they would be weaker for the kindness.

I read a Forbes article describing parenting behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders. The author referenced Dr. Tim Elmore, an expert on developing emerging leaders. Elmore says children will have a hard time becoming leaders if we don’t let them experience risk or if we rescue them too quickly. He says kids can’t learn to lead if we rave about them too easily or reward them regardless of their performance, if we let our own guilt get in the way, or if we don’t share our own mistakes. If our kids are intelligent or gifted, we may assume they also are mature. But most of all, if we don’t act as the example, who will our kids follow?

I find myself wondering whether these concepts extend to Extension and Outreach as well. Do we hover like helicopter parents, trying to save each other, our partners, and our clients from risk, or do we help others take calculated risks? Do we work through frustrations or try to simply minimize them? Are we willing to experiment, to learn from and share our mistakes, to be the example we want others to follow? Do we allow others to grow out of their comfort zones? Essentially, if we treat them as fragile, our partnerships and staff become fragile. If we encourage resilience and reward perseverance, we just might get it. See you there.

– Cathann

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The Real Golden Age

July 10th, 2014

If you’ve been around Extension and Outreach for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard someone refer to the past as if it were the “Golden Age of Extension.”   I know ever since I was a 4-H Educator in Benton and Tama counties, I’ve had this impression that once upon a time extension was characterized by peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During that time, we assume working in extension was easy and wonderful, with plenty of resources, and the unflagging appreciation of the public. But when was that, exactly? Was it a hundred years ago as extension began? When early extension pioneers made their rounds by horse and buggy with little value placed on a university which few citizens understood? Given the struggles those educators had just communicating, not to mention encouraging adoption of research-based techniques – I wonder. Maybe it was in the 1930s — the era of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression? Maybe not. How about the 1940s and 1950s — after all, isn’t that when Norman Rockwell painted that iconic painting of the County Agent? Oh, wait — with the recovery following World War II? Hmmmm.

I do believe there is a golden age of Extension — it is before us, right now. At no other time have we had the resources and technology at our disposal, the ease of communication and networking, or the recognition of the importance of access to the educational resources of our university.

Think about it: Our faculty and staff are about 1,000 strong, working with families and youth, farmers and agribusiness professionals, and businesses and communities all across the state. Each year nearly 1 million people directly benefit from our educational programs. We’re communicating with each other, our partners, and our clients face-to-face, as well as using computers, iPads, and smart phones. We can videoconference, teleconference, or still meet for coffee at the Ivy Bake Shoppe. Last year Iowans connected virtually with us through more than 1.5 million website visits and downloads of educational materials and courses. Can you imagine how our early educators would marvel at our technology and envy the resources we have in our program portfolio?

We must continue to build on this work, to widen the circle of our reach throughout the state, to live up to the legacy and the dreams of those extension educators who preceded us. Every dollar that Iowans invest in Extension and Outreach pays back dividends — when entrepreneurs start businesses, families make healthy choices, youth become leaders for the future, and communities become better places to live. We are lucky enough to be stewards of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach when a golden age is upon us. See you there.

– Cathann

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The Secret Sauce

June 26th, 2014

Kelsy Reynaga is a junior at Iowa State, recently selected to be a national Project YES! (Youth Extension Service) Intern, a program I helped start at the Department of Defense. While I’m proud of being there at its beginning, I’m even prouder that the talented educators I turned it over to have created an educational experience that greatly benefits the interns, the military families, and extension. Kelsy wrote me recently about starting this new internship and had a number of tough questions she wanted to ask, most without easy answers. Since Kelsy will likely expect some wisdom when we meet, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on her questions.

What drives me? As I begin my fourth year as vice president for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, I find our work of creating access to education to be incredibly meaningful. I feel an obligation to extension’s early educational pioneers to rise to their level and create educational opportunities and solutions for the future. I am regularly delighted by the dedication, creativity, and talent of the people I get to work with, and I want to leave things better than I found them.

Is this the path I envisioned for my future? Um. No. I’m not good enough at predicting the future, or understanding what opportunities might come up. Instead, I’ve learned to be ready and open and willing to leap.

So, is it possible to accomplish everything you want to do? Not alone. Not in a direct line. Not in the way you thought it would happen. Not as quickly as you might hope. Accomplishing things really depends on understanding the fundamental conditions that support accomplishment.  At the most basic level, there are only a few things one needs for accomplishment to thrive: Vision. Resources. An action plan. But the real secret sauce to getting things done is nurturing talented colleagues, making it easier for them to do their work, and recognizing and rewarding their efforts. In other words, our ability to strengthen Extension and Outreach lies in improving the conditions that shape our organizational culture.

As I thought about what to say to Kelsy, I realized I don’t really think so much about “accomplishing stuff” anymore — instead, I think about trying to create the conditions for good things to happen. See you there.

– Cathann

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Coping with Water

June 19th, 2014

Most of us don’t like change – it takes us away from the familiar, makes us learn something new, makes us think.  I did a quick search, and there are countless books, blogs, websites and magazines with strategies and methods for coping with change, both personally and professionally, at home and in the workplace. We tend to think it’s a new thing — perhaps change came along with the Internet because surely before then, not much changed, right?

Extension was created on the concept of change. Those early educators and researchers weren’t teaching citizens about practices everyone already knew or were comfortable with, but new ideas, different techniques, and innovative practices. Change is kind of our thing. Our early Extension professionals even understood how uncomfortable we adults can get with change, leading to the creation of 4-H, because, well … youth are apparently a bit more willing to be early adopters.  I think telling Extension professionals that they need to “cope” with change is like telling a fish to cope with water.

We make change into something that must be dealt with and adjusted to. And maybe that’s our problem. We give change a life of its own. We say change is hard and responding to change takes time and effort. But really, change simply “is” and we can’t really keep it from happening.

We will change now and then, as we deliver our fundamental programs, address signature issues, take on emerging program opportunities, and transition programs that can be spun off to a partner, sustained locally, or are no longer needed. We will change as we shape our organizational culture and move forward on our action steps from annual conference. But ISU Extension and Outreach always will put the land-grant resources to work, applying university research and evidence-based practices across the state. There are things that make it easier to rise to the example of our early Extension professionals, such as understanding that big picture of our work, having anchors such as our values, which provide stability, keeping our expectations realistic, and relying on each other.  See you there.

– Cathann

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Own It. Solve It. Do It.

June 12th, 2014

This week we released the follow-up report from our annual conference. Our four-page report summarizes themes that emerged from our discussions. Overall, we issued a call for more fully uniting campus and county. The report also provides three action steps based on the data gathered from our discussions and post-conference evaluations: addressing Iowa’s changing demographics, adapting to our new reality, and continuing to invest in professional development. Embedded in these action steps is a recognition that we need to get moving and make some changes.  Like now.  Even when it’s uncomfortable.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable! Roosevelt Thomas said it best, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  We’re not alone.  I just came from a strategic planning session for National 4-H Council and we found ourselves asking, “Does Extension want to grow?”  If the answer is yes, it means we are going to have to do some things differently. Extension across the nation is grappling with these issues and we can join the dialogue (see Extension is Broken or go to Twitter and search #FixExt).

Each of us has a role in carrying out these action steps. How will you use technology more effectively?  Who will you interact with to develop new relationships?  How will you adapt to new audiences?  What can each person in Extension and Outreach do to build a better culture for our organization?  Own it. Solve it. Do it. See you there.

– Cathann

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Report Card Time

June 5th, 2014

Cathann and friends at ISU graduationSelfie taken at ISU Spring Commencement – President of the Senior Class Ben Zelle, Associate VP for Student Affairs Martino Harmon, Provost Jonathan Wickert, Dean of the Graduate College David Holger, Senior VP for Student Affairs Tom Hill, VPEO Cathann Kress, and Dean of Students Pamela Anthony.

I always enjoy graduation season. As usual, Iowa State’s commencement was a fine occasion of pomp and circumstance, as well as tweets and selfies and unfettered happiness as our students became graduates and alumni of our land-grant university. Hilton Coliseum was filled with young people in their caps and gowns, triumphantly walking across the stage and out into the world. (There were a few not-so-young people there, too, as this selfie attests.) Similar scenes have been playing out in high school auditoriums and gymnasiums throughout the state in recent weeks, with so many of our young people moving on to the next stage of their lives. But even the younger students, who may have a long way to go before their graduations, are filled with anticipation at this time of year as they await their report cards.

Report card time, for many of us, was a time of wonder, as in, I wonder what grade I’ll get in math class. Did that last English paper make the difference? Was that chemistry final good enough to land a passing grade for the semester?

We’ve all had our performance reviews so we know how well we did individually this past year. But how did we do as a group? What does Extension and Outreach’s report card look like? Let’s take a look at some of the things we said we’d do.

  • Update and finalize the ISU Extension and Outreach Strategic Plan: Done
  • Streamline ISU Extension and Outreach Administration into functional units responsible for key actions: Done
  • Develop and support systems to improve internal communications, coordination, and collaboration: Underway
  • Complete our business plan: Underway
  • Invest in meaningful partnerships: Underway
  • Refine a system to collectively identify emerging and current needs: Done, and sharing
  • Develop and support a structure to sustain professional development: Launching

We set these goals at our leadership summit, and we’ve made substantial progress in the last two and a half years. Yes, there’s more we can do. That’s why we began examining our organizational culture during our 2014 annual conference, so we can better align our behaviors with our values and vision. The conference report, with action steps based on our facilitated discussions and our post-conference evaluations, will be released next week.

We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans. Together we try new ideas and approaches, we get our report card, and we learn from our experiences. See you there.

– Cathann

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Let Freedom Rock

May 22nd, 2014

freedom-rockLast week I had the opportunity to visit southwest Iowa, specifically, our ISU Extension and Outreach Region 18. My trip included tours of Owner Revolution Inc. (a plastics manufacturing company that works with our partner CIRAS), a wind turbine, and the Warren Cultural Center and Adair County Extension office. I also had a great conversation with ISU Extension and Outreach staff about our organizational culture, outcomes from our recent annual conference, and where we’re headed as an organization.

I always appreciate the opportunity to stay in touch with our partners and the work our staff, faculty, and specialists do throughout the state. But this visit also was inspiring, because along the way I met an individual who in his own way is making a difference for Iowans. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II painted Iowa’s original Freedom Rock, a 12-foot-tall boulder located along Iowa Highway 25 about a mile south of exit 86 on Interstate 80. He repaints it every year, just in time for Memorial Day. It’s his way of thanking U.S. veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice for our nation. He doesn’t get paid and he doesn’t receive a commission to do it. He just does it, with his own funds, donations, and sales of Freedom Rock merchandise. Last year he began The Freedom Rock Tour, with the goal of painting a patriotic-themed rock in every Iowa county.

My family still calls it Decoration Day, but Memorial Day was intended to remember those who died in service to our country. I think of it as a day to reflect upon service, and Ray’s artwork provides a powerful visual of what service can entail. While I worked at the Pentagon, I attended national ceremonies at Arlington — a definite reminder of the service of so many. Next week many communities will be having parades, celebrations, or service events to commemorate the day. There are many kinds of service and at its best, it’s action necessary for communities to thrive and prosper.

Whether you celebrate with marching bands and 21-gun salutes, or let freedom “rock” in quiet contemplation by a painted stone, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on service and how critical it is for freedom. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. Special thanks to Deena Wells, Adair County office assistant, for taking this photo.

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