Launching youth with 4-H Connect

John Lawrence’s message from March 26, 2019

Annually over the past few years, 4-H Youth Development has been offering two culturally based youth leadership accelerators, Maize and Ujima. However, in the 4-H spirit of making the best better, this year the two accelerators are being combined into one: the 4-H Connect Retreat. The new event, April 26-28 on the Iowa State campus and at the Clover Woods Camping Center, connects youth to 4-H while celebrating Latino, Native American, Asian, African, and Asian/African-American cultures. Many of the keynote speakers, youth leaders and educational programs reflect one or more of these cultures. Did you know?

  • Previously Maize was offered in the spring and Ujima in the fall. However, the fall accelerator timing was hard to arrange, as it competed with the start of the K-12 school year as well as the kickoff for 4-H club recruitment. Having a combined multicultural accelerator in the spring alleviates that issue. (And previous participants helped select the new name.)
  • 4-H Connect is offered at no cost to any young person (grades 8-11) enrolled in 4-H. The participating youth often are enrolling to become 4-H members as they register for the retreat.
  • During the retreat, youth will learn about healthy living, civic engagement and leadership, communication and the arts, and STEM. They also will explore campus life through visits to the ISU colleges, residence halls and dining halls. But perhaps most important, youth get to experience what it means to be a 4-H member and belong to this unique youth organization.

The 4-H Connect Retreat is a launching pad for youth who haven’t been reached by 4-H to begin engaging with their local programs. It also introduces 4-H volunteers and staff to culturally based leadership development best practices. After the youth return home from the statewide retreat, the goal is to help sustain them locally through a 4-H club or learning community, or other long-term experience.

More notes

  • The Internal Communications Task Force had its final meeting on March 14. For an update, read the summary on Cybox. The task force submitted its report to the leadership team during Annual Conference. An executive summary of the 215-page report is being developed and will be available online in the near future.
  • The Iowa Extension Council Association Annual Conference will be March 30. Nearly 100 council and staff members have registered to attend.
  • We continue to update our resources for dealing with flooding on our Disaster Recovery website. These resources always are available on the ISU Extension and Outreach website (from the “Learn More About …” tab). As you help Iowans deal with flooding issues this spring, please take care of yourselves, too.

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

Natural resources stewardship for all

John Lawrence’s message from March 18, 2019

In ISU Extension and Outreach, we have a program area focused on Agriculture and Natural Resources. However, taking care of our natural resources is not reserved for ANR alone; this work belongs to all of us. That’s why we all are invited to Natural Resources Stewardship Professional Development Day on Wednesday, May 1, at the ISU Alumni Center in Ames. This training and networking event will bring together extension professionals from across Iowa and a variety of program areas and disciplines to talk and learn about natural resource issues, educational needs and programming opportunities. Did you know?

  • This event is a chance to immerse yourself in natural resource conservation, including water quality, forest stewardship, outdoor recreation, reducing waste and healthy eating, and monarch butterfly conservation.
  • The program will feature speakers from Iowa State, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and local water quality experts.
  • During hands-on field trips you can explore agriculture water quality and research at Bear Creek, forest and wildlife management at Ledges State Park, or water quality and urban conservation at the new City of Ames Water Treatment Plant and Summerbrook Park in Ankeny.
  • Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and the Renewable Resources Extension Act are covering all facility, meal and materials costs for this professional development opportunity. Be sure to pre-register before midnight, April 26. If you have questions, please contact one of the organizers: Adam Janke (, Ann Staudt ( or Jamie Benning (

To preview some of the programs and topic areas on display at this event, see these examples of ISU Extension and Outreach programming on natural resources issues: Iowa Learning Farms; Monarchs on the Move; Master Conservationist Program; Nature Explore – Connecting Kids with Nature; and Water Rocks!

Goodbye … and welcome

In February, we said goodbye to the following individuals who left ISU Extension and Outreach:

  • Kayla Emery, Clayton County K-12 outreach coordinator.
  • Robbyn Duchow, Johnson County program manager, Big Brothers Big Sisters.
  • John Sjolinder, Cerro Gordo County executive director.

We welcome the following new staff:

  • Brenda Fuller, Buchanan County office assistant.
  • Alisha Davidson, Lee County office assistant.
  • Devan Cress, Jones County youth coordinator.
  • Mandi De La Cruz, Buena Vista County program assistant.
  • Peggy Schilling, Clayton County K-12 outreach coordinator.
  • Diane Wisniewski, program coordinator II, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
  • James Wisniewski, program coordinator II, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
  • Sean Nelson, program coordinator III, Vice President for Extension and Outreach/Office of Equal Opportunity.
  • Judith Dittmar, extension program specialist III, Human Sciences.

More notes

  • Applications now are being accepted for our 4-H state program leader position. Please see the job announcement and encourage people to apply. We’re seeking a new leader for 4-H to continue building on the growth and success of our youth development program. We are strengthening our clubs, curriculum and volunteers, and actively recruiting new participants. We are committed to being inclusive and welcoming, and to fulfilling the national 4-H goal of having members, volunteers and staff who reflect Iowa’s population. 4-H connects with almost 1 in 5 Iowa K-12 students. (Want the numbers for your county? Download 4-H Data for Decision Makers.)
  • Whether we’re dealing with flooding, drought or other severe weather, remember that disaster recovery resources are always available on the ISU Extension and Outreach website (from the “Learn More About …” tab). As you help Iowans deal with flooding issues this spring, please take care of yourselves, too.
  • During our recent trip to Washington, D.C., our CARET delegates shared this 2019 report with Iowa’s congressional delegation to advocate on behalf of Iowa State’s land-grant programs.
  • We need judges for the State Science and Technology Fair, March 28-29 in Ames. You can help make this event a great experience for the 700 young research students who are expected to participate.

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

Shared reporting is getting closer

John Lawrence’s message from March 11, 2019

I have good news to report – on reporting. For slightly more than a year and a half, a steering committee has been developing one Shared Reporting System for our entire organization. They have defined and aligned reporting terms, selected a database platform and hired a shared database coordinator. Construction of a practical, flexible and user-friendly database has steadily progressed, and this spring the committee will identify and invite three to five counties to voluntarily take the new shared system for a test drive. Did you know?

  • All campus, field and county staff who provide educational programming in the invited counties may volunteer to participate in the pilot.
  • Onsite user training will be scheduled at each of the invited counties, as well as on campus for the invited campus-based staff and faculty.
  • One guiding principle of the pilot is to take advantage of existing data collection processes and automatically bring them into the shared database when appropriate, such as registration data from Conference Planning and Management and participation data from 4HOnline.
  • Pilot participants’ feedback will be incorporated to make sure the final product meets as many county and program unit reporting needs as possible.
  • The pilot will continue for six to 12 months. Afterward, the committee will take the necessary time to incorporate required changes and develop appropriate professional development materials for the system-wide roll out.

The shared database will be rolled out in phases so it can be customized to the specific needs, uses and work cycles of ISU Extension and Outreach. Consequently, training for and timing of the database roll out likely will differ for each program unit and for county-based staff. If all goes as planned, the new database will be tested, tried and rolled out to the entire ISU Extension and Outreach system by January 2021. (If you want more background information about shared reporting, you can review my Everybody’s Job video message from September 2017.)

Tuition assistance available

As I said at Annual Conference, I am making tuition assistance available to all ISU Extension and Outreach staff for credit coursework that is consistent with their extension career path. My office will cover 50 percent of tuition (up to half the ISU tuition rate) for credit classes from Iowa State or other institutions beginning this spring. Details will be posted in the coming days.

Area meetings will be coming

I want to thank the Internal Communications Task Force for their 10 month research project. They officially presented the report at Annual Conference, and the leadership team will be reviewing the task force’s recommendations. In the meantime, as I said at conference, we are going to begin having quarterly area-wide county and field staff meetings. We’re dividing the state into five areas for meeting purposes only; this is not a reorganization and it is not another administrative layer. The boundaries aren’t fixed and they may change as our Structured for Success committee continues its work. There are more recommendations in the ICTF report and more steps to take, but this is a concrete action we can take now to improve communication in ISU Extension and Outreach. More details about these meetings will be available in the near future.

Insurance for county staff

Some of you left note cards after the Annual Conference panel discussion, or contacted me by email, wondering why we hadn’t discussed insurance for county staff. You correctly reminded me that it is an important topic and often was mentioned at the listening sessions. I apologize for not featuring it during the conference. I am working with County Services and Iowa Extension Council Association to evaluate alternatives and provide information to councils in the coming weeks. As you are aware, insurance is complex and costly, and will take careful preparation to move forward.

More notes

  • The 2019 Community Food Systems Annual Event is Friday, March 29 at the Ramada Tropics Resort and Conference Center in Des Moines. Keynote speakers are Sommer Sibily-Brown, founder and director of the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, and Arthur Neal, deputy director for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. ISU Extension and Outreach Local Foods, Value Added Agriculture, and Community and Economic Development are sponsoring the event. Cost is $60; register by March 18. Contact Courtney Long,, for more information.
  • Be sure to read the March program update from the leadership team for current examples of what is happening across our programs.
  • The Third Annual Extension Council Conference is March 30 in Ames. This conference is planned by councils for councils. Council members, county staff, regional directors and others who work with councils may attend. The early bird registration deadline is March 18.

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

March 2019 program update

Updates from the ISU Extension and Outreach leadership team

Community and Economic Development

  • Transportation assets and barriers focus-group workshops are continuing in Community Visioning Program communities. The workshops are part of the assessment process conducted in client communities to provide local decision makers with a framework for making informed choices. In March, CED specialists Abbie Gaffey, Eric Christianson and Scott Timm will assist in facilitating the focus groups in Durant, Van Meter, Audubon, Bedford and Treynor.
  • On March 20, the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission will hold its 33rd annual symposium. “Move Passion to Progress” will highlight the goal of helping people move beyond emotions toward tangible, substantive community progress. The symposium will feature national speakers Richard Edmond Vargas (subject of the CNN documentary, “The Feminist in Cell Block Y”), and Linda Sarsour (cofounder of the Women’s March) to motivate attendees to move beyond just being passionate and moving their communities toward progress. ISU Extension and Outreach community development specialist Kameron Middlebrooks is the chair of the Des Moines Human Rights Commission.
  • On March 29 in Des Moines, the Community Food Systems program will hold its fourth annual event. The goal is to engage, support and inspire individuals from all areas of Iowa’s food system in conversation about community food systems. Participants will attend workshops, hear from expert panelists and speakers, and network with colleagues, building robust local food systems all across Iowa.
  • In March, CED specialists Lisa Bates and Brian Perry will be in Osage working with a group to bring Leading Communities to the county. CED specialists Eric Christianson and Shelley Oltmans will be facilitating Leading Communities in Wever. CED specialists Himar Hernández and Jon Wolseth will deliver session five of Leading Communities in Mount Pleasant. The Leading Communities program is made possible in part by a Vice President for Extension and Outreach Initiative.

Human Sciences

  • Two new healthy food access specialists started work in February. They will partner with food banks, food pantries and Growing Together Iowa projects to promote healthy food access for Iowans experiencing poverty. Judy Dittmar is housed in the West Pottawattamie office and Jen Lamos is located in the Johnson County office.
  • During federal FY 2018, the “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” app was installed on 3,406 mobile devices. Apple installs were down, compared with FY 2017, while Android increased 150 percent. The “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” website had 119,546 users (an increase of 22 percent over federal FY 2017): 77 percent of users are age 44 or younger, and 73 percent of users are female. The vast majority of users access the website in English; 113 accessed it in Spanish and 105 in Chinese. Forty-seven percent of users now access the site via a mobile device.
  • “Market Outlook 2019 and Stress of the Farm: Strategies that Help” was developed to offer agriculture producers and agribusiness professionals an opportunity to learn more about the signs of stress, how to cope with stress, how to help others and available resources. In this way, the agriculture producer and agribusiness professional may be more aware of the signs of stress, and also be more willing to help others to find the assistance they need. This effort was a collaboration with Chad Hart, associate professor of economics and extension crop markets specialist, and eight human sciences specialists in family life; Lori Hayungs, Mackenzie Johnson, Kim Brantner, Joy Rouse, David Brown, Cindy Thompson, Dawn Dunnegan and Barb Dunn-Swanson. In January, the session was offered across Iowa at 14 Crop Advantage meetings. Approximately, 2,127 agriculture producers and agribusiness professionals attended, and 563 participants completed evaluations. The following results note the percentage of participants who responded either strongly agree or somewhat agree that they feel more confident that they can:
    • Recognize the signs that someone may be dealing with stress (82 percent; N = 481)
    • Use the strategies that help with stress for myself or to assist others (80 percent; N = 478)
    • Offer help to someone who may be stressed or in a crisis (79 percent; N = 476)

4-H Youth Development

  • Marybeth Foster, Leslie Stonehocker and Bonnie Dalager worked with field specialists and county staff to streamline the data collection process. The Annual County Plan of Work Form and new Program Data Collection Form (formerly known as the Group Enrollment Form) were simplified significantly. In all, nine separate forms were condensed to just two forms. The goal was to create a process that provides clarity and simplicity for county staff and youth program specialists, and encourages a culture of reporting by filling out a report form for every event, no matter the number of education hours. Compiled information will be used in state and federal reports.
  • The National 4-H Ag Innovator’s Experience national training was held Feb. 8-10 at Reiman Gardens in Ames. Twenty teens and adults from Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa came to the Iowa State campus for the national training to hear from experts and participate in learning experiences about pollination and native bees. They will take this information back to their states and host their own trainings. The state training for Iowa was March 2-3 in Ames.
  • Dickinson County started Clover Kids in January 2019 for the first time in 13 years. Clover Kids has been started as an after-school program in three towns. In two of the towns, 4-H is partnering with local libraries. Friends of the library are providing snacks for the program. This partnership is a perfect fit, as both libraries were looking to increase youth programming. Each month the Clover Kids receive a list of books available at the library for check out that tie in with the theme. The third location is in a smaller community that did not have many after school activities. Clover Kids sessions will be hosted at the school with the support of one faculty member per session. So far 52 Clover Kids have enrolled and they are in the process of making their first Clover Kids Fairbook.
  • Counties across Iowa spent January and February conducting annual 4-H volunteer training. This year the theme was “4-H Fosters Independence.”

Agriculture and Natural Resources

  • A new publication from the Iowa Beef Center highlights a project that was designed to identify costs, environmental impacts and best practices for Iowa cow-calf operations. “Iowa Cow-calf Production – Exploring Different Management Systems” (IBC 0131) is the result of cooperation of Iowa State and producers, with Iowa Beef Center faculty and specialists examining years of production results to better understand how traditional grazing, extensive grazing and limited or no grazing operations run across the state. The data were used to develop decision aids and educational tools to assist cow-calf producers across all systems and improve sustainability of the cow-calf segment in Iowa.
  • “Learn It. Do it. Share it.” is the theme of the third annual Women in Agriculture Conference, set for March 23 at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The conference’s goal is to show women of all ages the importance of not just learning something, but how to put that knowledge into action and share it with others. More information about the conference and registration can be found through the ISU Extension and Outreach Washington County office.
  • Growing Together Mini-Grants have been awarded to 22 Iowa projects. This is the fourth year mini-grant funds have been available through the ISU Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program, with more than $50,000 in grant money from the SNAP-Education program being distributed across the state. The projects being funded are focused on increasing food security and promoting healthy food access throughout Iowa. A full list of the projects funded through the mini-grants can be found online.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.