Posts Tagged ‘education’

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

Leadership , , ,


November 22nd, 2013

DNA is a double helix, two strands that curve beautifully around each other. Both strands are essential to determining an individual’s genetic makeup. Organizations have DNA too, in a sense — basic building blocks that determine what they will be and how they will operate.  In my view, education is central to our Extension and Outreach DNA. Iowans believe in education as a way to solve today’s problems and build toward the future. It’s why there’s a school house on our state quarter: our state is committed to education. Not every state shares this commitment, but it is central to the character of Iowa.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter calls it Iowa’s shared responsibility. In his recent Des Moines Register opinion piece he said our universities have the responsibility to provide world-class education. State government has a responsibility to financially support the universities. Students and parents have to plan for higher education and the financial obligations that come with it. The Board of Regents has to make sure our public universities remain accessible and affordable for future generations. (And ISU recently was ranked #1 on the A-List.)

In Extension and Outreach, providing access to education is our responsibility. This strand of our DNA connects to an equally important second strand: the belief that we do our work through our diverse and meaningful partnerships. We work in communities, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder with the people who live there, dealing with issues confronting our partners at the local level.  President Rastetter said that we all have to “assume our responsibilities and embrace all efforts to make our good programs great and our great universities exceptional.” But it won’t happen unless we’re willing to make tough decisions and implement change.

When I need to make a decision about allocating resources or strategic planning, or when I’m trying to figure out what’s the best direction for Extension and Outreach going forward, the components of our DNA are always driving decisions. Does a particular program help us work in the local community more effectively? Does it help us deliver high quality educational opportunities to our citizens? I encourage you to ask these questions as you make decisions in your particular role. If you understand the two parts of our DNA, you understand a whole lot about Extension and Outreach and sharing responsibility for education in Iowa. See you there.

– Cathann

change, Partnerships , , ,

A Few Essential Ingredients

May 9th, 2013

If you are on a campus this time of year, you start thinking about graduation — all the ceremonies, the pomp, the proud and happy parents. In sitting through commencement ceremonies, I’ve noticed that a lot of advice is freely dispensed. The advice usually is about being bold, accepting change, and going forth to do good things. I always like hearing that advice. It’s a fitting message, because I believe education is all about helping us to take risks and succeed.

Part of the objective of education is to impart facts and knowledge. But our world is changing so rapidly that the set of facts we can learn today will not be enough. Our greatest challenge is to develop skills to enlarge upon that small set of facts; to learn how to think and reason so that in the future we can easily add to our knowledge base. All of us will encounter situations that our knowledge may not directly prepare us to handle. Without the ability to find the answers, to think through to a unique and different solution, it will be difficult to succeed.

A wonderful quote by Eric Hoffer speaks to this: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

I believe Extension and Outreach creates capacity and opportunity for citizens to be learners. I believe we attempt to cultivate a few essential ingredients in ourselves and those around us: an open mind and a lifelong desire to learn and grow, a thirst for accomplishment that is not fueled by greed or ego, a curiosity about the world, and a desire to make a difference. See you there.

– Cathann

change , , , , ,

Just the Facts

September 13th, 2012

My daughter, Wren, enjoys the fun facts found on the inside of drink lids or on some of her favorite websites. She loves to regale me with such nuggets as, “On average, wherever you are, there is a spider within eight feet of you,”[1] and “Kangaroos cannot walk backwards.”[2] While mostly useless, some of them are rather intriguing. On occasion, she has read a fact that I have found bizarre: “Slugs have four noses,”[3] or “Horseshoe crab blood has probably saved your life.”[4]  We’ll be in the car, heading to some activity, and she’ll throw one out. We’ll mull it over and then move on to our activity. An hour later, I typically won’t remember whatever the fun fact was, except maybe that spider one. The reason?  Context. Without context or some framework to help make them meaningful, facts can’t translate into knowledge; they remain data.

Saunya Peterson, who identifies herself as a professional communicator, argues that story often gets lost when you present facts without context. Her example: “Young girl is mysteriously transported to a strange land where she kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” Peterson summarizes that while these are the facts of the Wizard of Oz, it is decidedly not the story.

John Kotter, a Harvard Business School Professor agrees. He argues that having more data often is less persuasive. It’s easy to get into a recitation of facts. It’s getting easier and easier to find them, like on drink lids. But it’s not just facts our constituents want — they are swimming in them. They want usable information or education within a meaningful context. Let’s not forget that in Extension and Outreach, we pull together the content derived from research, accumulated field experiences, and relevant principles to provide citizens with independent, impartial information, and through partnerships, the useful context. See you there.

– Cathann

[1] While it is debatable, from a mathematical perspective it’s possible unless you are floating in the middle of the ocean – at which point, you probably have other issues to worry about more than spiders.
[2] True. They cannot walk or hop backwards. But why would they want to?
[3] True. Although, calling them “noses” may be stretching it, they do have four pneumostomes, which are holes they breathe through (and which they can close).
[4] True. Horseshoe crab blood is used to test drugs from endotoxins. If you have ever had a tetanus shot, a flu shot, or any kind of shot, it was likely tested with horseshoe crab blood.

Public value, Quality , , , , ,

In the Trenches – The Very Hot, Dry Trenches

July 26th, 2012

This summer has not necessarily gone the way most of us might have envisioned it back in the spring.  You remember spring?  When temperatures hovered in the 70’s?  Craig Hill, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, says they planned this past week’s Agriculture Economic Summit with the idea that we’d be talking about a bumper crop of corn and managing prices.  As Harrison, Clinton, and Muscatine counties planned their 100th anniversary celebrations, I’m guessing they weren’t expecting the temperature to match or surpass the number of years of county extension work being celebrated.  And on a personal note, I can tell you that I had other plans for the funds I’m now paying for repairing my old AC unit and keeping up with my electric bills.

As Sherry Glenn and I traveled across the state in the last couple of weeks, we heard a lot about the impact of the summer’s weather on our friends and neighbors.  All of us in Extension and Outreach are attempting to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Extension and Outreach has been steadily assisting Iowans as they deal with this year’s drought conditions.

•    Joel DeJong reported that more than 250 people attended an emergency meeting that ISU Extension and Outreach organized in Le Mars on July 19 to receive updates on crop production, livestock feeding, and crop insurance from extension specialists and government crop programs from Farm Service Agency personnel. That same day in Davis County more than 60 people came to another emergency meeting, bringing their questions on chopping corn, baling soybeans, grazing cover crops, and more. Mark Carlton noted that the meeting had not even been advertised – clients heard through word of mouth. Extension field specialists are holding additional local meetings in stressed areas throughout the state. This year’s farmland leasing meetings are covering drought issues as well.

•    At least 11 locations hosted the July 20 webinar covering fruit, vegetable, lawn, and tree issues. The archived sessions are linked from the Dealing with Drought Web page, Thirty-six sites hosted the crop and livestock issues webinar on July 25. The archived segments from that webinar also are linked from the drought Web page.

•    Questions and answers from the webinars as well as answers to other frequently asked questions received from clients will be added to the Dealing with Drought Web page. Check the page frequently for resources to help Iowans deal with drought and other natural disasters. Iowans will find materials related to crops, livestock, dealing with stress, home and yard, financial concerns, and tips for businesses.

•    Lee County Extension Council member Steve Newberry and his wife, Linda Newberry, hosted U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack and FSA Executive Director John Whitaker on Saturday, July 21, for a tour of parched fields. See for a story from The Hawk Eye.

ANR Extension hotlines, Families Answer Line and Iowa Concern hotline are responding to calls and emails on drought related issues.  The Iowa Concern Hotline is available 24/7 to provide assistance.

Our Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) is scanning communities to determine water rationing policies and potential impacts on manufacturers.

We’re reaching out to Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, both partner institutions and requesting materials which were useful during their droughts and which may have utility in Iowa.

Faced with a situation that demands leadership, Extension and Outreach faculty and staff are ready.  We bring our mission to educate and our unwavering belief that education best prepares our citizens to recognize change is inevitable and that there will always be challenges.  An educational perspective allows us to see the opportunities and benefits in taking risks and learning from past mistakes.  It encourages us to constantly reflect on our actions and beliefs and think about the results and consequences of each and it best prepares us to make good decisions for the future.  See you there.


P.S. You can share your comments about this message on the blog, at

Attitude, Public value ,

Facing House Rock

June 7th, 2012

Last fall, Doug Steele, director of extension at Montana State University, shared this story during the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting.  I thought it was relevant for our work and asked Doug if I could share it.

If you have ever had the pleasure of rafting the Gallatin River in Montana, then you know that there is a bend in the river that is the location of “House Rock.”  House Rock is appropriately named, because it is bigger than a house, and is great peril for rafters. Right before the curve in which House Rock resides, there is a calming straight of water that requires little paddling where one can enjoy the passing scenery. It is during this brief intermission that the rafting guide will warn you and your boating companions that House Rock is just around the corner.  The guide will tell your group that you have three choices:

1. You can operate independently of each other and surely hit the rock, which may send some of your party overboard.

2. You can paddle with all your strength and might, but not work together, and end up in the internal vortex that swirls around House Rock, waiting for someone to rescue you.

3. You can work together as a team, paddling together, following directions, and striving for the same goal — to successfully navigate around House Rock.

In terms of ISU Extension and Outreach, let’s choose to work together to face upcoming challenges, realizing that we all have a vested interest in our mutual success. Let’s welcome opportunities to carry forth research, educational programming, and engagement with Iowa State in all the counties. Let’s ensure that ISU Extension and Outreach will be relevant, viable, and necessary for years to come. Let’s face our House Rock together. See you there.

 – Cathann

Attitude , , , , ,

The House that Abe Built

May 17th, 2012

“This is the horse and the hound and the horn
That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn
That woke the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.”
– Excerpt from “The House that Jack Built,” at

I don’t know if you read this nursery rhyme as a child, but I always liked it.  The rhythm is fun to read aloud and somewhere in the middle, it becomes clear that the house that Jack built involves a lot more than just Jack. Instead, it’s about all the connections in the house.

One hundred fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to create the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862. Our nation was at war, but Congress and our President realized the need to transform American agriculture and, barely two months later on July 2, to transform American education — when the Morrill Act became law, establishing the land-grant university system.

In his speech to Congress, President Lincoln said USDA was created “for the immediate benefit of our most valuable citizens” and that the department would become “the fruitful source of advantage to all our people.” Upon signing the Morrill Act, he said, “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.”

Together USDA and land-grant institutions across the country provide a firm foundation for educating our people and putting research into action. You might call it the house that Abe built — but as with Jack, this house really isn’t about Abe either. It’s about the connections, the partnerships that have flourished because of these two actions set in motion 150 years ago. From People’s Gardens to MyPlate, from conservation to biopreferred, our partnerships today continue to have far-reaching impacts on quality of life.

This summer the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the national Mall in Washington, D.C., will celebrate USDA’s heritage as well as our land-grant legacy. Demonstrations, discussions, and hands-on activities — including an exhibit from Iowa State featuring a partnership between Extension and Outreach and the College of Design— will show how we provide access to education and put research into action for agriculture and food, health care, sustainable living, and urban and rural revitalization.  The exhibit will also travel back from D.C. and be featured at the Iowa State Fair.

About that house that Abe built: We owe it to Abe and the rest of the congressional construction crew to take good care of the partnership they entrusted to us. But it takes more than light maintenance — it takes a lot of time, planning and hard work. It takes envisioning what our citizens will need in the next 150 years to ensure the result will last far into the future. See you there.

– Cathann

Land-grant mission, Partnerships , , , ,

High Quality Programs

April 13th, 2012

For years, those of us working in Extension and Outreach have hung our hats on being able to tout our programs as “high quality.” We’ve typically defined that as research-based, unbiased, and relevant. Essentially, our programs do what they are supposed to do: provide research-based education and extend the resources of Iowa State University to our state.

What we haven’t kept up with is the proliferation of quality. Think about the last time your car broke down. It happens so seldom to most of us that we find it surprising, which is a lot different than my first car, a Chevy Vega that habitually left me stranded on the side of the road.

Why does this matter? Because the proliferation of quality across educational organizations, across private or nonprofit companies, across even the Internet means that our claim to quality is not so unique anymore. If I can get quality knowledge from here or there, how do I choose? Most of us would go with convenience, and let’s not forget — cheapest.

What this means is that we no longer get to sail along on quality, but have to dig deeper to understand what other criteria our constituents want and will seek out. We have to talk about convenience, cost, responsiveness, connectedness, and new — all while maintaining quality.

Our streamlining of Extension and Outreach Administration includes a functional unit for Program Leadership. This unit will guide our efforts in educational program development. A team, with John Lawrence as temporary lead, is developing plans to carry out what we began during our leadership summit. We’re going to be digging deeper.

This functional unit will

  • Clarify and lead a system-wide program development process, including a system to identify emerging and current needs. 
  • Focus citizens’ advisory efforts at the programmatic level.
  • Create guidelines and criteria for successful program partnerships.
  • Strengthen connections to campus units and departments to enhance the outreach function of ISU colleges.
  • Increase cross-program interaction and coordination.
  • Improve connections between researchers and ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff.
  • Create and implement a professional development plan for ISU and county personnel on content and research associated with ISU Extension and Outreach educational programs. 
  • Identify and monitor the impacts and quality of programs.

We have to spend some time reconsidering the components of our high quality programs and recognizing that the components might be different, depending on the program or the audience. In other words, we have to redefine quality. See you there.

– Cathann

Quality , , , ,

Just Jam? All about Choices

March 8th, 2012

Many of us (especially in my generation) feel like we are constantly wandering through the midway at a large State Fair, with our senses assaulted by too much information. So many choices of what to read, what to listen to, where to go, what to do …

Maybe you’ve heard of the famous “jam study.” In 1995, Columbia University Professor Sheena Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth with samples of jams in a California gourmet market. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one jar of jam.

Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.

That study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory,” Professor Iyengar said last year, “but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.” Iyengar should know. She has a joint appointment in the Columbia Business School and the Department of Psychology and is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on choice.

Research also shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often that nagging feeling we could have done better.

So what might this mean for our clients and the educational programs we provide in Extension and Outreach? How many choices do they really want from us? How many choices should we be prepared to give them? Do they know what they want? Do we know what they need?

Perhaps we’d all be better off if we set priorities first.

As we move forward from our summit, we know our educational programs must be appropriate within the scope of our educational mission, and provide knowledge, instruction, or information. We know they also must be based strongly in research evidence, and/or be connected to ongoing research at Iowa State. Finally, we know that our educational programs must align the needs of Iowans with federal, land-grant system, and college and university priorities.

Let’s use what we know to develop the best educational programs that we can provide, and offer the choices that will best engage Iowans. See you there.

– Cathann

Mission, vision , , , ,

When a Mouse Was Just a Rodent: Technology and What It Means

February 16th, 2012

Last week I gave the keynote address at the North Central Extension Regional Science Academy in St. Louis. I believe in 4-H and the land-grant mission, and that we are uniquely positioned to ensure our young people have the science, technology, engineering, and math skills they need to be successful in their futures. But more importantly, I believe there is increasing need for all youth to understand these areas to be well prepared as citizens and leaders who can make good decisions about the future of our communities and our world.

As I prepared my comments, I thought about all the things my children know to get along in 2012 that I barely dreamed of when I was their age. My sons laugh when I tell them about bag phones the size of a shoebox, or carrying my punch cards across campus to run one statistical equation on the mainframe that took up the entire basement of a university building. That computing power has now been surpassed by something I carry around in my pocket.

Twenty years ago, most of us thought a mouse was just a rodent. The idea of a wireless phone that could transmit pictures was something found only in science fiction. Twenty years from now, by the year 2032, we will need to know stuff we can hardly guess today.

Our youth also will have to face the fact that technology favors some and ignores others. Bill Robinson, who spent 30 years as an electrical engineer in Canada, says it well: “We spend our time and effort creating exciting new communications technologies, yet half the world does not have access to a telephone. We use the Internet to order the latest novel, yet many people in the world don’t have access to books. We are now discussing embedded processors to connect our refrigerators to other appliances and the grocery store, yet many children in the world go to bed hungry at night.”

As our planet swells, today’s 4-H members may have to live their adult life knowing that a billion people are starving in their world. In 2032, today’s 4-H youth no longer will be the youth at the beginning of 4-H’s second century. They will be our community leaders, our scientists, and parents of the next generation.

This year, we are partnering with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as it hosts the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute with focus on Global Food Security. We also will increase partnerships with ISU’s other colleges to foster enhanced pre-collegiate outreach opportunities. 4-H started with the simple idea that youth would get excited about the newest discoveries and technologies and become early adopters who could then lead change in their communities. That simple idea seems even more relevant now, as Iowa works to create jobs, increase family incomes, improve our schools, and reduce the cost of government.

Leaders in both the public and private sectors recognize that America’s ability to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy largely depends upon two things: a population that is well trained and technically competent, and the scientific and technological innovations they produce. I would add a third: We also need to cultivate an informed citizenry and leaders who can make wise decisions about how to use these innovations and knowledge in ways that build our economy, enhance our world, and enrich our lives.

See you there.

– Cathann

Communication, technology , , , , , ,