Posts Tagged ‘Extension’

Key Influencers

April 3rd, 2014

County Office Professionals were in town this week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn more about how things are really going out in the counties – and there’s no one better than this group of key influencers for finding out a thing or two. Here’s what we talked about, what I learned, and what I know.

  • This is a very important group of individuals.
  • They represent us. They are the first face, the first voice, the helping hand, the kind gesture, the gentle reminder, the history, the changing culture, the “get it done,” the good idea.
  • They are eager to learn. We introduced them to the brand new Hansen Agricultural Learning Center, we provided professional development key to their daily work, we encouraged, and we listened.
  • I reminded them that they are key influencers and the guardians of our educational mission. They have the opportunity to inspire people to live up to their talents and do the best work of their lives – work they never imagined they could do – and THEY have that same opportunity. I encouraged them to reflect, to care, and to be confident.

Our office professionals are working for ISU Extension and Outreach for the same reasons we all are. We all want to make life better, all across the state. Here’s something to consider: think about what even one day would be like in your professional lives without them. There; that says it all.

I hope our county office professionals – and all our office professionals – feel appreciated. I know I appreciate them. Whatever your role for ISU Extension and Outreach, I want you to remember that today– and every day that follows, for the rest of your life – each day is an opportunity for you to make the world better. See you there.

– Cathann

Mission, professional development , ,

The Pride of Iowa

March 27th, 2014

This has been a busy and exciting week, and not just because it’s ISU Extension and Outreach week. I’ve been in two capitols (in Washington, D.C., and Des Moines) attending two centennial celebrations (Norman Borlaug’s birthday and the Smith-Lever Act anniversary).

At the beginning of the week, I had the great honor of accompanying State 4-H Council members Megan Hughes and Michael Tupper and being part of Iowa State’s delegation to D.C. for the unveiling of the Norman Borlaug statue in Statuary Hall on what would have been his 100th birthday. It was a great day to be an Iowan, with many dignitaries, a lot of history, and a few speeches. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but I would like to highlight Rep. Tom Latham’s observation that while it was Borlaug’s research that was key to saving a billion people from hunger, it was also the ability to get that research to the people that led to the “green revolution.” In fact, Rep. Latham noted that Borlaug’s last words uttered after a colleague shared another discovery were, “Get it to the farmers.” Here at Iowa State, we understand the importance of connecting research and extension and the powerful impact when both efforts are strong. (Learn more about Norman Borlaug at

Today, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which formally established cooperative extension, with the reading of a bipartisan resolution in our own statehouse. Iowa State was the first to establish extension — in 1903, when Sioux County farmers and Iowa State University established the basis for agricultural cooperative extension work across the country. With this resolution, the Iowa Senate celebrates historical, current, and future Extension and Outreach work in Iowa. The resolution also honors extension council members, volunteers, the Iowa State University faculty and Extension and Outreach educators and staff throughout the state who dedicate careers to providing trusted education to help farmers, families, youth, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future. (Learn more about the national Smith-Lever celebration at

Our work received a standing ovation in the Iowa Senate chambers this morning as the senators unanimously voted to adopt the resolution. What a week to be a proud Iowan and proud Cyclone! Education and partnership really are the pride of Iowa. We look forward to the next 100 years of innovative research, which we will take to the people. See you there.

– Cathann

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C.J. and Smith-Lever

March 20th, 2014

C.J. Gauger and Cathann KressRecently I attended a birthday party — a 100th birthday party — for an Iowa icon, C.J. Gauger. As Iowa’s state 4-H leader from 1959-1979, C.J. was a visionary, guiding 4-H. He brought the boys’ and girls’ 4-H programs together and emphasized life skills development for all youth, rural or urban. He truly believed in listening to Iowa’s young people and involving them in shaping their 4-H program.

Another icon with a 100th birthday this year is the Smith-Lever Act, which established Cooperative Extension nationwide. For 100 years, the Smith-Lever Act has stimulated innovative research and vital educational programs for youth and adults. State-by-state, a network of educators extend university-based research and knowledge to the people, improving lives and shaping a nation.  Later in May, I’m taking a delegation from Iowa State to Washington, D.C., to a national convocation to celebrate this birthday too.

Birthday parties are fleeting – the balloons deflate and the leftover cake dries out as we pick up the crumpled gift wrap. But the reason for the celebration remains long after the party is over. In C.J.’s case, his legacy lives on through one of every five Iowa youth, who participates in our 4-H programs. And as for Smith-Lever, in Iowa alone, nearly a million people directly benefit from our educational programs every year. During Extension and Outreach Week, March 23-29 we’ll be celebrating our continuing mission to provide access to education through meaningful partnerships. It’s a great time to celebrate icons like C.J. and Smith-Lever, and to show our appreciation for our clients, colleagues, volunteers, community leaders, organizations, agencies and many other partners who support ISU Extension and Outreach work in Iowa. See you there.

– Cathann

Land-grant mission, Partnerships , , , ,

Packages, Pizza, and People

February 20th, 2014

Recently, my oldest son was reading an article to me about how Amazon plans to start offering deliveries via drone-like “octocopters.” While there are numerous issues for them to still work out – like negotiating bad weather, sufficient battery life, and the fact that most human beings may not be able to resist knocking stuff out of the sky – it could be reality at some time in the not too distant future. Domino’s Pizza also is contemplating such a delivery system. I find this quite interesting, mostly because there’s just nothing like having a delivery system that brings you something you want quickly and efficiently.

This reminded me of comments from colleagues who responded to my informal organizational survey last summer. Some of them focused on Extension and Outreach as a distribution system with procedures to facilitate and monitor the flow of information from the university to the public. Carrying out the metaphor, the system has distribution centers linked to local franchises, but needs a host of delivery people to move the produce. One colleague talked about the importance of delivery people in this system:

In most cases you know them well and they are trusted faces. They go everywhere, are admitted in places where others aren’t invited, and are present in the daily lives of the whole of society. All of this is, of course, secondary to their primary role of deliverers of service. Who doesn’t anxiously wait for the arrival of that package ordered online or isn’t pleasantly surprised by a card in the mail? The pizza guy is a welcome and anticipated visitor at my house, because he brings us something valuable, something that we desire. … Our organization should aspire to be an efficient and effective delivery system represented by the best, friendliest, and most trusted delivery people around. … We should always be timely, courteous, and deliver only the highest quality product.

It begs the question: What do our constituents want delivered? To that end, we just completed our statewide needs assessment, and the major “Aha” for me was recognizing where the identified needs might fit in our overall program development process. While we must be responsive to our citizens, we also can’t walk away from mainstay programs in our portfolio. That’s why we are creating a model to help us all consider the layers of programs which make up our overall efforts. At Annual Conference, we will begin to identify work that falls into each layer and the revenue sources that will fund our work.

Extension and Outreach should aim to be that trusted delivery person, providing welcome access to university research and education. After all, there is a reason we call so much of the work we do “program delivery.” See you there.

– Cathann

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Extension and Outreach Can Be Gloriously Messy

January 31st, 2014

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.

– Cathann

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It’s Kind of a Big Deal

January 16th, 2014

2013annual-SYTWe recently published our 2013 annual report online. It’s amazing how much time it takes to shoot a 4-minute video. When you combine various locations (Hilton Coliseum, Jack Trice Stadium, and central campus), students walking into the shots, and yes, some flubbed lines by yours truly, it takes a while to get the end product “just right.”

So why do we do it? Because Extension and Outreach puts Iowa State University’s research and resources to work throughout the state of Iowa. That’s kind of a big deal. And it’s well worth talking about. Our stakeholders – clients, citizens, partners, funders, and public policy leaders – hold us accountable. They want to know that their investments in ISU Extension and Outreach are making a difference in Iowa. We have to tell our story in a way that they will remember and share with others. This is critical to our ability to survive and thrive. That’s why our 2013 annual report is part of the “Our Story” website and includes a video message, financial charts, and – new this year – infographics to show our impacts.

We’re serious about serving our fellow Iowans. So not only do we operate as a 99 county campus, we have to show and tell our clients what we’re doing to make a difference. Because what Extension and Outreach helps people do for themselves, achieves the greatest results. See you there.

– Cathann

Communication, Public value , ,

The Great One

January 9th, 2014

With our temperatures recently, we’ve been keeping an eye on the Petersen Pond near our house. If we can stand the cold, outdoor ice skating will definitely be possible (so far, we’ve gone to the indoor rink). While searching for my skates, my son and I got to talking about arguably the greatest hockey player, Wayne Gretzky.

I walked away from the conversation mulling a few thoughts about what made Gretzky “the great one.” Gretzky’s size, strength, and basic athletic abilities were not considered impressive. However, his intelligence and reading of the game was unrivaled, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going and execute the right move at the right time. In fact, he was most noted for his ability to think far ahead of what was currently happening and be ready for what was coming.

He also was considered an incredibly creative player, able to adapt and alter his playing style as situations required. When the Canadians played in the 1998 Olympics, they struggled with the larger ice surface and different style of play preferred by the Europeans, but Gretzky was legend for his ability to see the opportunity rather than the obstacle and shift his actions to take advantage of it.

While many were quick to credit Gretzky with impressive innate abilities, almost superpowers, Gretzky himself was always quick to point out that anticipation could be taught, practiced, and perfected. He credited his study of the game, and that he could instantly recognize and capitalize on emerging patterns because of his understanding of the details and nuances of the playing field. Gretzky also differed from other players in his ability to renew his energy quickly, and the commitment of time to practice. He credited both with being critical to his success.

Gretzky is famous for a quote describing how his dad would drill him on the fundamentals by asking him, “Where do you skate?” Gretzky’s response: “To where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”

As we think ahead to the next five years in Iowa, what lessons might Extension and Outreach learn from Gretzky? Are we teaching ourselves to anticipate, adapt, and be creative? Do we see opportunities in the changes ahead or only obstacles? Have we identified the trends that will most impact our fellow Iowans in the future? Have we begun to move in directions that will allow us to support and educate in response to those issues? Are we skating to where the puck is going? See you there.

– Cathann

NOTE:  This week we published our Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 2013 annual report, Making a Difference for Iowans. It includes a video message along with infographics of program impacts and financial information for FY13. The report is available online and is part of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Our Story website. The report shows how we’re making a difference for Iowans. It includes a video message along with infographics of program impacts and financial information for FY13. A printable pdf of the report is linked from the website.

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Pondering Signature Issues

December 5th, 2013

To raise the visibility of our work in ISU Extension and Outreach, we started using four signature issues to help communicate the breadth of our programs: Food and the Environment, Health and Well-being, Economic Development, and K-12 Youth Outreach. Capturing the breadth of programming across the state in a short, succinct statement is difficult, but necessary.  I think of our signature issues as shorthand to communicate the benefits that our current and potential clients get by engaging with our programs, services, or ideas. It “boils down” all the complexity of our vast endeavors into something that Iowans can easily grasp and remember.

When Regional Director Bob Dodds leaves Ames and heads home to Region 20, he has a four-hour drive and time to think. So he’s had time to ponder our signature issues — what they are and what they mean. From Bob’s dashboard perspective, no matter how sophisticated the world becomes, or how advanced the technology at our disposal, the focus of Extension and Outreach work always boils down to these four points: We’re feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation in better shape than we found it.

I’ve been following Bob’s example when I talk about our signature issues with staff, council members, and partners across the state. I encourage you to do the same. (Bob won’t mind.) It’s an easy way to help Iowans understand Extension and Outreach. To help us increase our visibility, we need communications that focus closely on what our clients really want and value. Iowans want to solve problems, to improve on existing solutions, to have a better life, build a better business or do more, better, faster, and so on. Iowans want to build a better future for our children. We’re using “signature issues” to describe our collective work because it helps others see the specific value ISU Extension and Outreach brings to them. And by doing so, we may grab their attention in such a way that they know, “Yes, that’s right for me.” See you there.

– Cathann

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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 , , ,

Client Centered and College Connected

July 25th, 2013

Which came first — the chicken or the egg? How about the client or the college? 

In 1991, ISU Extension restructured at the program level into client-centered units. We would first identify the needs of our clients and then develop appropriate educational programs to meet their needs — not the other way around. No acting as the ivory tower experts deciding what was best. Instead, we would extend the university to meet Iowans’ real needs. We even started calling our programs Extension to Agriculture, Extension to Business and Industry, Extension to Communities, Extension to Youth and 4-H, and Extension to Families.

When we began thinking of Iowans as our clients, we started placing higher value on their experience and expectations. Over the years we adjusted and fine-tuned as we worked to better identify their needs or even who our clients are, and expanded our efforts throughout the university — and we changed some names along the way. Extension to Agriculture became Agriculture and Natural Resources. The Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) became our main outreach to Iowa manufacturing and industry. Extension to Communities became Community and Economic Development. Extension to Youth and 4-H became 4-H Youth Development. And now Extension to Families is becoming Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. It’s not that we stopped being client-centered, it’s that we recognized it’s only one part of the equation which defines our work. 

Our programs for Iowa families will continue to focus on improving nutrition and health, parenting and caregiving, and personal finance, as well as reducing poverty. However, we’ll broaden our activities to encompass all academic areas in the college, as well as emphasize STEM education, health and wellness, economic development, and food and environment. We’re extending even more of Iowa State to Iowans as we expand our ability to provide research-based education that meets their needs.

The chicken or the egg is a causality dilemma – it points out the futility of attempting to identify the first case of a circular cause and consequence.  It’s not a chicken or egg question; which came first doesn’t matter. What really counts is that Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides research-based educational programs and develops diverse and meaningful partnerships to create significant impact in Iowa. By definition, Extension and Outreach is client centered and college connected. See you there.

– Cathann

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