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

Aware and prepared

John Lawrence’s message from June 12, 2017

When I took on this interim role, I inherited a top notch leadership team. We’ve been working together for the last few years and I feel very comfortable with them. Last week we had our spring leadership retreat at a park in Story City. But unlike the park’s colorful carousel, we were not going round in circles. We focused on keeping ISU Extension and Outreach moving forward.

We spent the majority of our time on our ISU Extension and Outreach strategic plan and determining what changes we want and how to have it fit with the new university strategy plan. The ISU strategic plan embraces the Land Grant ideals of higher education open to all, providing practical learning and sharing knowledge and discoveries. The mission statement is direct and to the point: Create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place. That is in our wheelhouse and a mission we can support.

The university plan calls on ISU Extension and Outreach specifically in Goal 3: Improve the quality of life for all Iowans through services and programs dedicated to economic development and the promotion of healthy communities, people and environments. We will share this responsibility with the office of Economic Development and Industry Relations, and there are specific sub goals we will address and indicators to track. It is what we do and I am excited to showcase our activities and impacts.

Another part of the university strategic plan is Goal 4: Continue to enhance and cultivate the ISU Experience where faculty, staff, students and visitors are safe, and feel welcomed, supported, included and valued by the university and each other. ISU Extension and Outreach is a people organization and our success depends on having great people working in a supportive environment to develop and deliver programming for people of Iowa and beyond. Our strategic plan will address Goal 4 as well.

Speaking of great people doing amazing things, I rely on the leadership team to make sure I am well informed about what’s happening throughout our organization. In particular, the program directors give me monthly updates so I have a ready supply of current program information and statistics to share with stakeholders, partners and decision makers. I want to share these updates with all of you as well, and I’ll start with Community and Economic Development. Did you know?

  • In his new publication “What Drives Quality of Life in Iowa Small Towns?” David Peters, associate professor and extension rural sociologist, discusses what towns can do to attract new residents, as well as what pushes people away.
  • The data on quality of life and social conditions are from the Sigma Study, a long-term USDA-funded research effort in Iowa. Residents of 99 small towns (population between 500 and 6,000) were surveyed in 1994, 2004 and 2014 and were asked to subjectively rank their community on things like overall quality of life, jobs, medical services, schools, housing, child and senior services, retail and entertainment.
  • Peters found that the strongest drivers of quality of life were social capital and civic measures – whether residents participate in the community and whether the community provides social supports. These factors are within a community’s control and don’t cost a lot of money. The degree to which people participate in the community and feel safe, supported and trusted, is something a community can take action on.

To see the rest of this month’s updates from the program directors, check the June 2017 Program Update on my Did You Know blog. Each month we’ll post these updates on the blog and I’ll let you know when they’re available.

It’s good for all of us to be aware of what’s going on elsewhere in our organization, so we’re prepared. For example, a farm couple may contact a county extension office concerned about weeds in their fields or their cattle not performing properly. But after talking with the couple, an extension professional may discover they’re also dealing with financial concerns, family stress, problems at school or issues in the community – and can connect them to whatever extension assistance they need.

That’s always been one of our strengths. Even those early short courses that R.K. Bliss wrote about in his history book included agriculture, home economics (which became human sciences), youth programming and community development. From the beginning we were doing comprehensive, integrated, education and outreach. Whether we’re serving farmers or families, kids or communities, being aware and prepared with a comprehensive approach is our niche.

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

Feeding people, then and now

John Lawrence’s message from May 30, 2017

As I was paging through my extension history book the other day, I found myself reading about ISU Extension and Outreach work during wartime – an appropriate topic for Memorial Day weekend. R.K. Bliss was extension director during both World War I and II, leading our organization in all-out efforts to produce and preserve more food. During World War II in particular, extension professionals engaged Iowans in increasing meat, milk and egg production. Extension pamphlets shared calls for teamwork on the battle field and the home front – from producing and conserving food, to sharing labor, power and machinery. Iowans answered the call, as Bliss noted: “Never before in recorded history had so few people produced so much food.”

One hundred years ago in April 1917 the United States entered World War I and Iowa initiated a War Emergency Food Committee. The committee used the budding county extension system and county farm bureaus (the forerunner of the Iowa Farm Bureau) to deliver the message about increasing food production and reducing waste. There was a particular emphasis on increasing grain and hog production to support the war effort. A slow growing season and early frost in 1917 threatened corn production, because much of the corn froze before it matured and would not germinate when planted in 1918. Extension led a seed corn inventory and testing program to find and evaluate seed for the following year. The U.S. Food Administration declared that “pigs are as essential as shells” in winning the war. Extension helped Iowa farmers answer the call to raise more pigs, and Iowa has been a major pork producer ever since.

During WWII our organization helped identify and coordinate 28,000 volunteers – 14,000 men and 14,000 women – to provide leadership in the war food production program. That was a man and woman volunteer for each four square miles and 15 or 16 farm families. Think of the task before them. Men and women were leaving their homes and communities to go off to war or to industries supporting the war, and resources were being rationed. Iowans were being asked to increase production of food and reduce waste through education and improved efficiency – our wheelhouse. Compared to the prewar 1938-1940 average, by 1943 Iowa had increased total production of corn 30 percent, hogs 53 percent, eggs 51 percent and soybeans 300 percent. Farmers even added 45,000 acres of a new crop, hemp, for ropes and fiber. It was estimated that there were 455,000 gardens in 1943 and that rural and urban Iowans canned 150 million quarts of food, dried a half million pounds of food products and stored 5.7 million bushels of fruits and vegetables.

A focus on feeding people always has been part of ISU Extension and Outreach’s history and continues as part of our future. ISU Extension and Outreach is not mobilizing farmers and families during war time, but we still address timely and relevant issues. Did you know?

  • More than 1,100 livestock producers, veterinarians and feed distributors in Iowa participated in workshops, webinars or podcasts to increase their knowledge of the new animal antibiotic use regulations, improve their management related to judicious use of antibiotics in animal production, and improve record keeping related to medication use. They manage or impact more than 4 million animals.
  • Over one-half of Iowa farmland is under some form of lease agreement, and farmland leases are an on-going discussion between tenants and landowners. In 2016 some 2,100 participants attended farmland leasing meetings to increase knowledge on leasing arrangements, and 96 percent indicated they were satisfied the meeting met their expectations. Popular publications on leasing were downloaded more than 415,000 times, and new videos received 3,176 views.
  • ISU Extension and Outreach provides Pesticide Safety Education Program training to more than 25,000 certified applicators who each year safely apply pesticides to virtually all of Iowa’s 24 million crop acres, as well as to residential and recreational land.

Even in Agriculture and Natural Resources we focus on the people, rather than things you buy in a bag or spray over the field. We help Iowans build their capacity to better their lives and make sound decisions. Of course, this also applies to our Human Sciences faculty and staff working with families from cradle to grave, from training child care providers to working with eldercare. It applies to Community and Economic Development – whether that be planning and zoning or new businesses on main street. And it certainly applies to 4-H, as we build capacities and strong individuals through positive youth development and leadership opportunities. Because a strong Iowa requires not only feeding people, but also keeping them healthy, helping their communities prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it.

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

Watch and share our videos

John Lawrence’s Monday Message from May 22, 2017

I am beginning to feel more comfortable as the Interim VP of our organization. I hope you are becoming more comfortable with me. For those of you who don’t know me, Advancement put together a brief video interview with me that gives you more background and perspective, and gives them more material for the blooper reel. I’m reminded of the reference about making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but I think it turned out all right.

 still from John Lawrence video

People have been asking questions about whether there are changes in direction for ISU Extension and Outreach and where are we headed. The simple answers are no and forward. As I listen and learn about our organization, people and work, I believe that we are doing well and I encourage you to continue moving forward. Iowa State has a new strategic plan and ISU Extension and Outreach along with the colleges are reviewing and revising their plans to be consistent with the university’s plan. Through that process we will assess direction and function and share any changes through our system. Similarly, as I learn things that deserve attention and we adjust to budget pressures, those changes also will be shared.

We still want a #StrongIowa. We achieve it by feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it. We serve as a 99-county campus, connecting the needs of Iowans with Iowa State University research and resources. We provide education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

By the way, in spite of what you thought about my video interview, you should watch and share our videos that showcase the work of our people throughout the state. Did you know?

  • Our Story videos share the stories of our programs and people working for a strong Iowa.
  • UKnow features a variety of ISU Extension and Outreach “how to” videos with research-based, do-it-yourself advice.
  • The ISU Extension and Outreach YouTube channel is your connection to videos about our organization, as well as from our program areas and university partners.

One more thing: Mark your calendars and save the date for Annual Conference 2018. It’s set for Monday, March 26, 2018 – at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State campus in Ames.

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

A priceless heirloom

John Lawrence’s Monday Message from April 3, 2017

Feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it: Sounds like a plan for a strong Iowa. As I take on this new role as acting vice president for extension and outreach, I am thankful for the leadership and stewardship of Dr. Cathann Kress. She is leaving our organization in a strong position for what is ahead. And as I said at Annual Conference, I will try not to screw it up. I feel like I have been handed a priceless heirloom and told not to drop it.

Jay Harmon has been named interim director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and interim associate dean for extension and outreach programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. During the interim, ANR will be taking a team approach to cover programs that I gave leadership to over the past seven years.

As recent rains prove, sometimes there are dark clouds on the horizon. However, our strong position and bright future will help us navigate the rough weather, as we turn into the wind to stay on course.

  • We face the uncertainty of a new Iowa State University president. We know Ben Allen and, more important, he knows Iowa State and ISU Extension and Outreach. I am confident that we can work with him in the interim. However, we will need strong representation on the search committee for our new president. I will be asking some of you to participate.
  • The press release announcing my appointment mentioned a national search for a permanent vice president for extension and outreach “in the coming months.” I don’t know the impact President Leath’s departure may have on the timing. You may have me around for a while. I made a firm commitment to be flexible on my interim appointment and to do what is best for ISU Extension and Outreach.
  • There’s uncertainty at the federal level. The Administration’s Budget Blue Print called for a 21 percent reduction in USDA, but didn’t mention the land-grant universities or SNAP-Ed specifically. Longer-term, discussions have started on the new Farm Bill that will set the policy direction for the next five years and beyond. The Farm Bill is not just for farmers, as it sets direction for nutrition, conservation, commodity risk management and other policy, and specifically addresses research and extension programs.
  • There is less uncertainty at the state level, and that is good news. The bad news is that budgets will be tighter and likely will remain so for the next two to three years, while the economy recovers and the rainy day fund is replenished.

Moving forward, it will be like drinking from a fire hose as I learn more about our organization, but here is my promise to you. I will listen and learn. I plan to meet with program directors to learn about their programs and people. I will consult with our partners, including councils, colleges, agencies and NGOs to understand how we work together today and in the future. I will engage with stakeholders, to better appreciate their needs and what they expect from us.

I have an open door policy, open inbox and open phone for you – the staff, faculty and county councils of ISU Extension and Outreach. Invite me out. I would like to meet with you and your stakeholders. Together with the leadership team, I will work to maintain your trust and will share information throughout the process.

We are going into this stretch of rough weather without a map, but we do have a compass to help us stay on course.  That compass is our mission and vision, our core values and our culture.  It is who we are.  We are one system. We are Iowa State University Extension and Outreach! I look forward to working with you as acting and then interim vice president. Together we will keep our organization on course toward a bright future.

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

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