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

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