One of the many joys of my job is the breadth of people I get the opportunity to interact with on a regular basis. Yesterday for example, I was at a meeting with the Lt. Governor and heard fifth graders explaining their STEM project on habitats for small creatures. There were frogs and millipedes involved in the demonstration. A few weeks ago, I was meeting with winery owners and hearing their challenges with Iowa’s temperature extremes. NOTE: Wine was not part of that demonstration. And this morning, I was in a meeting with some physics professors as they attempted to “dumb down” the latest thinking on a coherent theory of the universe so I could grasp it. I go home with my mind blown a lot.
That last one, though, is worth pondering. It used to be that physicists believed that they would one day uncover a coherent theory of how the entire universe holds together and works. Now, the thinking is — maybe not. Marcelo Gleiser at Dartmouth College argues against the likelihood of a unifying theory to explain the origins of the universe and our place in it. In fact, according to Gleiser, the latest evidence reveals not only that there are imperfections in the fabric of the universe — they are the driving, creative forces behind its very existence. The universe, it turns out, is not elegant. It is gloriously messy.
I loved that idea when I heard it — and I saw Extension and Outreach as one small microcosm in that universe. The beauty of Extension and Outreach is that it IS kind of gloriously messy, and that’s where creativity happens. There isn’t one formula, or one way to organize, or one easy-to-follow blueprint that explains Extension and Outreach or predicts success in programming. Our diverse partners and their ideas are wide-ranging and we want them engaged with us. They often have different ideas about what they want, sometimes even contradictory. This messiness gives us permission to experiment and be innovative. There likely will be more messiness this year as we take a closer look at our organizational culture and the direction we want Extension and Outreach to take moving forward.
To that end, all faculty, staff, and council members are welcome to participate in the 2014 Extension and Outreach Annual Conference. You’ll learn about our organizational culture, project and budget management, and putting new technology to work for programming — skills to help you navigate in this wonderful, organized chaos of Extension and Outreach.
It takes really dedicated people to do Extension and Outreach work. You have to be willing to experiment, to try different approaches, to live with ambiguity and imperfection. Sometimes our ideas work — sometimes even better than we thought they would. But sometimes they don’t work or don’t fit what our partner wanted and we have to start over and that’s part of the process. We are a learning organization. An important part of how we operate is that we try things, we learn from the experience, and we go on. Our 2014 annual conference will help us move Extension and Outreach forward. Here’s to embracing our gloriousness. See you there.