Pioneers and AnswerLine

John Lawrence’s message from July 31, 2017

We talk a lot about Perry Holden’s seed corn work with Iowa farmers beginning in 1903, but he’s not our only extension pioneer. Mary B. Welch was developing home economics at Iowa State as early as 1870. As part of that development, she attended a school for cookery in New York City and the London School of Cookery for Chefs. Iowa State’s 1882-83 college report indicated that she was giving presentations around the state, including a course of six lectures to 60 women in Des Moines. She was a pioneer in developing off-campus education. Her work paved the way for Home Economics Extension – which in the 1990s became Extension to Families and now is Human Sciences Extension and Outreach.

Another pioneering Mary – Mary Jo Williams – created AnswerLine as part of her graduate thesis. She had an idea to help consumers get their questions answered quickly by phone, while saving time for extension specialists. AnswerLine began in March 1975 as a toll-free hotline, and after a six-month pilot in several counties, the service expanded statewide. Did you know?

  • In FY16 AnswerLine responded to 17,064 calls.
  • Each year roughly two-thirds of the calls are related to food (food and nutrition, food preservation and food safety).
  • However, the hotline gets asked about a little of everything. In FY16, AnswerLine also fielded calls related to horticulture, cleaning, entomology, child development, consumer management, housing and household equipment, textiles and clothing, art and design, agriculture, wildlife and miscellaneous (that’s how they categorize everything else). If they can’t answer a question with research-based information, they find a source who can.
  • AnswerLine also responds to questions in the face of natural disasters such as flooding or drought, storms resulting in power outages or product recalls.
  • Since 2003, ISU Extension and Outreach has partnered with University of Minnesota Extension to provide services to Minnesotans, and South Dakota came on board in 2011.

AnswerLine staffing has changed many times over the years, but qualifications remain the same: a degree in family consumer sciences (food related degrees are preferred) and two years of relevant work experience. They still answer the phone, but they’re always looking for new ways to connect with Iowans. Staff members Liz Meimann, Beth Marrs, Marcia Steed and Marlene Geiger maintain a Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest account and a blog. They squeeze in time between the phone calls to write all the entries. AnswerLine carries on ISU Extension and Outreach’s pioneer tradition, providing Iowa State education and resources to Iowans.

One more thing: Please join me in thanking Jessica Stolee for stepping up for Iowa State. She has completed her term as Iowa State’s interim ombuds officer, and is back fulltime as human resources coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach, working alongside Kaela Black. Employees with human resources questions may contact Jessica at or 515-294-1444.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Our creed

John Lawrence’s message from July 24, 2017

I can’t let July pass by without acknowledging a special anniversary. For 90 years the Extension Professional’s Creed has been the official creed of Epsilon Sigma Phi, the national extension fraternity. It likely was a hot day in Reno back in July 1927 when the creed was adopted at ESP’s first national council meeting. Did you know?

  • ESP founder W. A. Lloyd prepared the original creed as a New Year’s greeting to county agricultural agents. It’s included in the 1952 book “The Spirit and Philosophy of Extension Work,” edited by Iowa State’s own R.K. Bliss.
  • The creed is older than Iowa State’s Alpha Mu Chapter of ESP, which was established Oct. 30, 1928.
  • “The Extension Worker’s Creed,” as it was originally titled, focused on agriculture. As extension work has developed and expanded over the years, the creed has been revised from time to time to reflect changes in societal values, educational trends and federal laws.

We recite the creed together during our annual conference once a year. But we live the creed every day. I keep a framed copy above my desk, and oftentimes I’ll find myself reflecting on its message. I believe that when we provide individuals with the best information, they will make the decision that’s not only best for them, but for their community and for society as a whole.

I’ve been an extension professional my entire career. My first job out of graduate school was with University of Minnesota Extension. I was up there for about a year and a half before an opening came up at Iowa State. (I’ve been back on campus since July 1, 1991.) I’m passionate about ISU Extension and Outreach because of what we accomplish. I see our colleagues out there doing great things every day, bringing research based information and knowledge to Iowans. Whether we’re working with communities, families, youth or agriculture, ISU Extension and Outreach is making a difference in our state. We’re having an impact on people’s lives.

The Extension Professional’s Creed is a touchstone that can help all of us stay grounded. So when you’re having a good day or a not-so-good day, read the creed and remind yourself why you are part of ISU Extension and Outreach, why you’re passionate about your work, and why we all do what we do, together.

One more thing: Areas of abnormally dry and moderate drought are expanding across Iowa. To help you respond to questions you may be asked, we’ve updated our webpage, Dealing with Drought 2017. You’ll find links to current educational resources from ISU Extension and Outreach, Extension Disaster Education Network and other partners.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

County fairs

John Lawrence’s message from July 17, 2017

Picture this: a summer day, hot and humid, with no discernable breeze. Do you know where your county extension professionals are? On any given day between mid-June and mid-September, they can be found at their county fairgrounds. That’s not surprising, since the Association of Iowa Fairs membership includes 106 Iowa county and district fairs plus local festivals and related activities. Our partnership with county fairs is part of our history and tradition. R.K. Bliss wrote that “from the first the Extension Service was called upon to give help to fairs during the fair season … The principal contribution of extension to fairs in the early years of the Extension Service was to make them more educational.” Our county fair contribution continues, as we provide education and build partnerships to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

4-H Youth Program Specialist Mitch Hoyer probably has lost track of how many times he’s heard fairgoers say, “I didn’t know you could do that in 4-H!” (He’s superintendent of the 4-H Exhibits Building at the Iowa State Fair.) Iowa 4-H’ers’ fair exhibits represent the broad scope of our 4-H Youth Development program, covering animals, ag and natural resources, creative arts, family and consumer sciences, personal development and STEM. 4-H youth also participate in communication events, educational presentations and working exhibits. 4-H at the fair is far more than cows and cooking, though there are plenty of these exhibits too. The Association of Iowa Fairs gathers statistics from the financial reports that all fairs are required to file. For 2016, did you know?

  • 17,139 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors brought 70,311 livestock entries to their county fairs.
  • 14,885 4-H and FFA building exhibitors showed 66,814 exhibits.
  • 4-H/FFA premiums totaled $533,324.

However, more important than the money, ribbons and competition, is the education that occurs. Fairs give 4-H’ers an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. The evaluation they receive helps them measure their progress toward meeting their goals and against standards of excellence. They also gain encouragement and inspiration to expand their project interest and activity. In addition, their families get to work together and the public gets to see what it means to be involved in 4-H. The whole county fair experience is one more way 4-H meets the needs of Iowa youth.

County Fair Memorandum of Understanding

Our county extension councils have great partnerships with Iowa’s county fair boards. About 60 counties even have a written, signed MOU that lists each group’s responsibilities for making their fair successful. That’s a great idea that we’d like to expand statewide. So we’ve started a committee with representation from fair boards, FFA, and ISU Extension and Outreach. They’re thinking about the key aspects that make a great fair and developing a template that other counties can use to write their own MOUs. We hope to have a draft ready for extension councils and fair boards to review this fall, with a finished template available in December.

With turnover on county fair boards, within FFA programs and in our county extension offices, it makes sense to capture some county fair best practices and get them down in writing. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please contact a regional director, Bob Dodds or yours truly.

One more thing: The Black Hawk, Polk and Jefferson County Extension Councils are partnering with College of Human Sciences researchers in the next round of the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. It’s a great opportunity for councils to invest in new research with Iowa State and partner with ISU Extension and Outreach to bring educational programs to county residents.

 — John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Field days

John Lawrence’s message from July 10, 2017

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think this old adage can be applied to field days, a learning tool that ISU Extension and Outreach has used at least since 1903, according to R.K. Bliss. Those early extension professionals understood that a good way to teach was to show, not just tell. Through field days and demonstrations, ISU Extension and Outreach could help people help themselves and work with people rather than for people, as Bliss liked to say.

We still use field days to engage Iowans with university research. Did you know?

One more thing: in June we started gathering and posting updates from the leadership team on my Did You Know blog. To see this month’s information, check the July 2017 Program Update.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

July 2017 program update

Updates from the ISU Extension and Outreach leadership team

Community and Economic Development

  • The Shop Healthy Iowa program continues at two Latino grocery stores in Sioux City. Jill Sokness is the local coordinator, partnering with the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Jill trains store owners on such things as reading nutrition labels, best placement of fresh produce and store layout changes to encourage the purchase of healthy items. The stores will receive Shop Healthy marketing materials and new produce displays, and Jill will help store owners create “Healthy Zones” within the stores where customers will more easily be able to find healthy options. ISU Extension and Outreach’s local “Buy. Eat. Live Healthy.” team will provide food demonstrations at each store. The goal is to increase the consumption of healthy foods by community members and sales for the locally owned businesses.
  • Lisa Bates and Jon Wolseth will conduct research and informational interviews with Chamber of Commerce executives in Tama and Denison to assess needs of their organizations to address retail environments and conditions in their communities.
  • Becky Luers is facilitating Ricochet leadership workshops for middle school students in Des Moines County’s summer school program. Ricochet uses adventure and experience to bring about learning. The students are gaining skills that will prepare them for leadership roles, while they have fun and get involved in a real project in their community.

Human Sciences

  • Human Sciences Extension and Outreach is increasing service to families who are immigrants or refugees, and is hiring staff who bring their own personal immigration experiences to their work. New staff members with “Buy. Eat. Live Healthy.” include Grisel Chavez, an educator in Marshall County, who speaks Spanish and English. She is originally from Mexico. Suzanne Tanner, a new educator in Scott County, speaks German, French and English. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2008. Her skills in French will be valuable as we engage more families from Africa.
  • Staff members are learning an updated “Buy. Eat. Live Healthy.” curriculum reflecting feedback from educators, updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans and improved physical activity education. With this updated curriculum comes a change in policy that will allow educators to serve income eligible families with children up to age 18. Previously eligibility was restricted to those with children age 10 and under.
  • Guidance and discipline continues to be the most popular search topic on the Science of Parenting blog, which includes blog posts, podcasts and webinars. So the SoP work team developed a “Stop, Breathe, Talk” campaign to market and promote the site. A magnetic clip and message cards are being used with “parenting through divorce” participants in northwest Iowa, giving them a chance to think about discipline differently.

4-H Youth Development

  • Iowa 4-H has completed the C6 BioFarm iPad Game and supporting curriculum in partnership with CenUSA BioEnergy. Players manage a farm and make decisions through a triple-bottom line perspective — economic, environmental and social. The curriculum is standards-based for STEM and agriculture and was developed in consultation with Iowa State faculty and staff. More than 3,000 youth already have been reached, and evaluation data show a gain in understanding in the carbon-based economy and the role agriculture can play in switching from old carbon (fossil fuels) to new carbon (bio-based). The project was supported by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from NIFA.
  • Iowa 4-H, in partnership with the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, prepares curricula and kits for use by 4-H county programs. For example, Iowa youth may participate in Iowa 4-H Solar Eclipse Day Camp Aug. 21 throughout the state. 4-H will use the solar eclipse phenomenon to reach youth with STEM, since many schools will not yet be in session.
  • Story County 4-H Team Neutrino competed at the North Star FIRST Robotics Competition in Minneapolis in April. After 80 qualification matches, the team was ranked second, and finished in elimination matches as semifinalists, but received an even bigger reward — the Chairman’s Award, which qualified them for the World Championships in St. Louis.

Agriculture and Natural Resources

  • Nearly 500 people participated in the sixth annual Iowa Swine Day June 29. A cross section of Iowa and Midwest pork producers, feed company representatives, genetics suppliers, equipment companies, pharmaceutical companies and others participate each year. This year’s topics included the future of the pork industry, science of meat production, commodity trends and food security. Iowa Swine Day is planned and hosted by the Iowa Pork Industry Center with support from ISU Extension and Outreach, ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, ISU Department of Animal Science and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
  • The 72nd annual Ag Credit School, jointly organized by ISU Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Bankers Association, concluded on June 16. A two-week program conducted over two years, the school hones the professional skills of agricultural lenders and credit managers in Iowa and surrounding states. ISU Extension and Outreach farm management specialists and campus staff teach the curriculum, which combines agricultural case studies, reviews of agricultural production and financial decisions, and computer simulations of farm-level marketing and finance. More than 100 professionals attended this year.
  • The third Iowa Watershed Academy training event was May 9-10 at the Field Extension Education Laboratory. On day one, 25 watershed coordinators developed messages to effectively communicate with farmers, the media and stakeholders to increase public engagement with watershed projects. On day two, 25 commodity group field representatives, NRCS field staff, consultants and engineers joined the discussion to focus on scaling up edge-of-field practice implementation. Classroom sessions included drainage water management, wetlands, bioreactors and funding sources. Hands-on field training was conducted on saturated buffer siting, field data collection, construction and checkout. Participants noted that being in the field was helpful in understanding the process to determine where an edge-of-field practice should be placed.

County Services

  • The Iowa Corn Promotion Board elections in Crop Reporting Districts 1, 3, 6 and 9 will be held in ISU Extension and Outreach county offices. Producers in 48 counties will have the opportunity to vote on Tuesday, July 18, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • A draft of the county office safety assessment has been completed and submitted to LMC (insurance carrier) and the County Services risk management committee for review. Safety assessments will take place in all 100 county offices and will be part of the accreditation program.
  • Rising Star interns are working in five extension regions this summer. The internship program is a partnership with the colleges of Design, Human Sciences and CALS; the office of the Vice President for Extension and Outreach; and 22 county extension districts. The interns are exploring local foods and projects to promote main street development in small rural communities.

Social capital and civic measures

John Lawrence’s message from July 3, 2017

July seems like a good time to take the temperature of Iowa’s communities – figuratively, that is, in the form of activity and engagement. Fourth of July, county fairs and other celebrations are indicators of community involvement and leadership. These events and their success don’t spontaneously occur – they take planning, creativity, cooperation and hard work by local people.

Associate professor and extension rural sociologist David Peters has found that the strongest drivers of quality of life are social capital and civic measures – whether residents participate in the community and whether the community provides social supports. Like a lot of good research, the results confirm what we have suspected for a long time. R.K. Bliss reported that during the Great Depression communities came together and created their own entertainment with singing and plays that ISU Extension and Outreach helped communities to organize. Even earlier, Iowa State short courses took faculty by train to communities for a week of extension education in our four program areas of agriculture, home economics (as it was called back then), youth and community development. Paraphrasing Bliss, the short course was effective in education and in leadership development because it required a large amount of work and effort on the part of the local people to carry it through.

Today our Community and Economic Development faculty and staff are organized as knowledge teams, all striving to build Iowans’ capacity to sustain their communities. Did you know?

  • The local governments and nonprofits team helps Iowans develop leadership skills and knowledge to generate policies, procedures and planning to improve their communities and regions.
  • The team is gearing up for the 42nd Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute and Academy, beginning July 17 and cosponsored with the Iowa League of Cities. The annual institute is one of the nation’s largest, each year bringing together more than 200 city clerks, finance officers and others for specialized training. (Learn about one participant’s story in this video.)
  • Our State and Local Government Programs reach public officials in all 99 Iowa counties and in a majority of the state’s 950 incorporated cities every year.

One more thing: Extension Information Technology says two-thirds of our faculty and staff whose net-ID passwords hadn’t been changed in 10 years or more, have stepped up and changed their passwords. Of course, that means we still have a few laggards out there, proving the adoption diffusion curve. The deadline is nearing. On July 11, anyone with a 10-year-or-older password will not be able to login and will have to upgrade. So you might as well change that password now.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Cy, Abe Lincoln actor and John LawrenceP.S. Happy anniversary, Morrill Act! Abraham Lincoln signed our land grant act on July 2, 1862. I ran into Abe recently in Warren County and we shared a photo op with Cy.

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