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Legacy: Going Forward

In our year-end video (Watch “Legacy: Looking Back, Looking Forward.”) we took a look back. It was a chance to think about how far we’ve come – and wonder how much further we can go.  I can feel the momentum building all around me. We’ve come a long way. And we are just beginning.

It’s powerful to remember the good things, to pull from our combined efforts and successes as we look ahead. In that frame of mind, I’d like to ask you to tuck these things away in a place where they are easily accessible to reflect upon:

  • Our work in ISU Extension and Outreach is for the public good, and our communities and families depend upon us.
  • We’re honored to serve our state – because Iowans believe education and partnerships are how you solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.
  • We are committed to carry out Abraham Lincoln’s – and now – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s legacy, that higher education should be practical and available to everyone.
  • In good times and in challenging times we continue to put the university’s research and resources to work for a strong Iowa.

Thank you for all your dedication, hard work, and service. Enjoy your holidays, and as we look forward to the New Year, we do so with anticipation, gratitude, and excitement. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Coming Together in Mutual Interest

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Recently we dug out a few archival photographs for the office walls here on campus. We thought it fitting to celebrate both where we are today, as well as where we came from. That’s when we came upon this one from over a hundred years ago. This was pretty much the entire extension staff and faculty in those days. What a crew they were. Although they look rather somber given photography at that time, the truth is they were on the cusp of greatness. They were forward-thinking people committed to the land-grant mission and the cooperative extension idea. These folks led Seed Corn Gospel trains and short courses, and provided demonstrations to improve farm homes and families. They also recognized the importance of educating rural youth – with corn clubs that later became 4-H. Their work led to the establishment of extension nationwide, and their stories and so many more are part of our history in ISU Extension and Outreach, a history we continue to celebrate this year as 13 more counties observed their 100 year anniversaries of extension work.

What strikes me is how this small group of people came together to accomplish something really big. It wasn’t just shared self-interest. It rose above and embraced the ideals of sharing with and helping others. It wasn’t just a pipeline for technology transfer, but a mutual, positive view of others in society, and a particular identification with the ordinary, the humble, and the least privileged. The beginning of extension funneled the mission of our institution to a commitment of limiting self-interest and focusing on altruism. That’s what cooperatives do.

Some people say, the more things change, the more they stay the same – and in some fundamental ways that is true. We remain true to our land-grant mission and we continue our goal and role: Together, we provide education and build partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Look again at the photo, at the faces of people who could have chosen to just look out for themselves, but instead chose to build an extension system, which looks out for others. That’s who we still are. That’s who we will always be. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

What We Really Cultivate

Spring field work can turn an extension professional’s thoughts to cultivation – and I’m not just talking about our agriculture and natural resources specialists. Though some of us in ISU Extension and Outreach regularly focus on tillage and planting, all of us should be centered on a much bigger and more important crop – the people of Iowa. Our real job is to cultivate an educated and informed citizenry.

Upon signing the Morrill Act, President Abraham Lincoln said, “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.” Ever since the first students arrived on the Iowa State campus in 1869, ever since the extension idea took shape in Sioux County in 1903, and ever since counties began organizing for extension work in 1912, Iowans have looked to the land-grant mission to guide their education and partnerships.

We can provide technical training and increase competency – that’s the easy part. (Iowa State’s motto is “science with practice” after all.) But while training and competency are important, they are not enough. Likewise, we can spur scientific and technological innovations, which also are important, but still not enough. We need people who can make wise decisions about how to use these innovations and knowledge in ways that grow our economy, enhance our world, and enrich our lives. When we cultivate educated and informed Iowans, we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

What Extension and Outreach Means to Us

What does it mean to you, personally, to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach? I asked that question of the leadership team recently and I’d like to share some of their answers.

To Debra Sellers, associate dean and director of Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, being part of ISU Extension and Outreach means “to engage with others in a shared vision of empowering people and growing lives, to contribute to a legacy that is larger than just myself, and to have a little fun along the way.”

Our budget analyst, John Flickinger, says, “I have the privilege to provide assistance to program leaders and staff so they can focus on educational and training opportunities for the citizens and communities of Iowa, our nation, and our world – opportunities that will enable youth, adults, business owners, and community leaders to make better choices for themselves, their families, and their overall lives. Even though my role is ‘indirect support,’ knowing the end product and our mission for ISU Extension and Outreach is what brings fulfillment to me.”

According to John Lawrence, associate dean and director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach, “There is not just one thing, but rather many things that it means to me. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to serve agriculture and Iowa. I get to participate and to make a difference. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to work with and earn the respect of great people as colleagues and clients. I’m proud to be part of an organization that has and continues to impact people, policy, and the planet.”

Bob Dodds, assistant vice president for County Services, says, “Through education, ISU Extension and Outreach improves the lives of Iowans. I work for ISU Extension and Outreach because of this, but equally important, I learn each day with those we serve. I appreciate the opportunity to be innovative and create, and the opportunities are endless. I know firsthand the impact the land-grant mission has had on my life, my family, and my community. To be a part of the Iowa State land-grant mission is very rewarding. I truly believe the land-grant mission is as relevant today as it was when Lincoln signed the Morrill Act.”

We all could provide our own answers about what it means to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach. Take a moment to ask a colleague and be sure to ask yourself. It’s all good food for thought as we continue building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter.

Our Greatest Asset

Showing new Iowans how to buy, eat, and live healthy; helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses; assisting farm families as they transition their operation from one generation to the next: These are wonderful examples of how ISU Extension and Outreach is harnessing the resources of our university to build a strong Iowa. At our annual conference yesterday we began sharing our #STRONGIOWA stories. We have so many compelling examples of the importance of education and partnerships. These stories demonstrate our commitment to excellence, access, community, and engagement. We all need to share our stories so people understand the private and public good of our work in ISU Extension and Outreach.

As President Leath pointed out yesterday, serving as a 99 county campus requires a strong university, connecting Iowans from river to river and border to border. That is why we have expanded ISU Extension and Outreach into all ISU colleges, developed programs like the Rising Stars Internship and our new Data Center, and established our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. Today, we are in a solid position to enhance the university through building capacity for extension and engagement. Five years ago we made a commitment to rebuilding a strong ISU Extension and Outreach. Because we made and carried through on that commitment, now we are in a position to work in partnership with the people of this state – to build a strong Iowa.

One of the keys to our success these past five years has been the investment in our greatest asset – our people. For those of you among the nearly 500 who came to Hilton yesterday, thank you for coming and I hope you felt enriched and valued. I know I walked away with a few ideas percolating around in my head: Napoleon’s regret, understanding more about the larger land-grant family through Carrie Billy, Iowa trivia, and my favorite, from Chris Bashinelli, “I thought I was here to change the world, now I know the world is here to change me.”

The progress we’ve made within ISU Extension and Outreach during the past five years is the direct result of the dedication and talent of all of you – the many people who make up our system, including faculty, staff, council members, and volunteers. Our strength is our team, our collaborations, and dedication to our mission. “We believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions…I believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to humanity”*

See you there.

— Cathann

*From the Extension Professionals’ Creed

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter. For a glimpse at what happened at Annual Conference, search social media under #STRONGIOWA.

Do Things Which Count

I recently learned some interesting extension history from my friend and fellow extension director over in Kansas, Daryl Bucholz. He asked me if our regional director Alan Ladd had ever shared the story of the re-discovery of The Extension Worker’s Code after years of it being somewhat forgotten.

The Extension Worker’s Code, Extension Bulletin No. 33, was published by the Division of College Extension at Kansas State Agricultural College in February 1922, and there’s a great deal of wisdom packed into the booklet’s 20 pocket-sized pages. Author T.J. Talbert covered everything from basic decorum – arriving promptly, dressing appropriately, and not smoking on the job – to building relationships and reaching as many people as possible with research-based educational programs.

Daryl shared that a doctor and his son were restoring their old stone house on the west side of Manhattan and up in the attic found a stash of extension publications, including The Extension Worker’s Code. The doctor knew Alan and presented him with the treasures. When Alan gave a program on the principles in the booklet, Daryl told him that they needed to reprint the publication and get it back into circulation to remind everyone of these important principles of extension work. Many of his colleagues know that Daryl carries this small booklet with him, so I asked him what the code means to him.

“With all the changes that have taken place in technology, transportation, communication over the past 100 years, human connection and relationships remain constant,” Daryl replied. “To become a trusted source. Also, the principles of planning, implementing, evaluating, and reporting were all cited in this 1922 publication! It carries such a great message of extension’s foundational principles, and is a simple, fun read. I carry it in my computer bag all the time. I present a copy of it to our new employees, and tell them I expect they will read it!”

At one time all the USDA CSREES workforce was provided a copy. When Rajiv Shah was REE under-secretary and chief scientist, he carried copies with him when travelling the world. Daryl learned of that when he received a call from Dennis Kopp, USDA – CSREES, asking if they could send more copies because Dr. Shah had given his last copy to a minister of agriculture in an African nation as they were talking about taking the research to the people and the need for extension.

Daryl said he finds it useful to reference with people asking about “the why or how of extension.” Much has changed, but many foundational elements of our ability to know and serve the people have not changed, and T.J. Talbert captured those principles so well in his description of how to be successful as an extension professional. It’s a great reminder and refresher from time to time, simply thumbing through the topical headings and then reading a paragraph or two.

While there are great sections throughout, Daryl and I recommend our favorite sections which start on page 15: Have a Vision, Keep Your Eye on the Big Things, Do the Things Which Will Count, and Finish What You Start. Great advice for all extension professionals in being successful in our work. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. The Extension Worker’s Code is available online from K-State Research and Extension.

Caring for the Commons

During my teen years on a farm in southeast Iowa, my summer job was to move our flock of about 500 sheep from pasture to pasture at the appropriate times. Some people would have called me a shepherd, but I called myself a pasture steward, because my family had taught me that before you could be a shepherd you had to have a healthy pasture. I didn’t just regulate how long the sheep stayed on one patch. I worked long and often hot days cutting down bull thistle and nettles, fighting back multiflora rose, repairing fence, reseeding sections, and studying drainage and grazing patterns. I paid attention to weather forecasts and I spent hours walking throughout the pastures to the point that I knew the fine detail of each one’s condition and potential.

Today my view is a lot better than the backsides of 500 sheep; but the work, well, it’s kind of the same. Only instead of taking care of a pasture, together we are caring about the things we share in common, which build a strong Iowa.

For any community – virtual, social, or physical – to thrive, there must be those who care for the things we hold in common, but for which none of us has actual individual responsibility. Frances Moore Lappé put it this way: “How do we protect, not what we own individually, but those indivisible goods we inherit, share, and yearn to pass on unharmed or enriched to our children?” This idea is well documented in environmental issues, but no less important in other community assets. Caring for the commons is an act of individual stewardship (long-term care for a resource for the benefit of oneself and others, including the resource itself). Caring for the commons means more than just regulating. We must be caretakers in a system, nurturing cooperation in society and sharing goods and thoughtfulness of generations to come.

Within environmental stewardship, the notion has even generated a fable, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” in which ecologist Garrett Hardin pointed out that if each individual attempts to take more than his or her share by even a small amount, the consequences can be devastating. Hardin said education could counteract our natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but with each new generation the basis for this knowledge must be constantly refreshed. In ISU Extension and Outreach, we are the stewards of this engagement mission. That’s how we care for the commons. Our land grant mission is our legacy – offering opportunity, providing access, and sharing knowledge with all. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

The “Doing” Matters

Right before Thanksgiving, I attended the national meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. It’s a stellar crowd with presidents, provosts, and other education leaders, and the discussions usually are interesting and thought-provoking. One of our keynotes was provided by Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, and former Secretary of Homeland Security and Governor of Arizona.

President Napolitano talked about how students – and others seeking education – don’t just want information. They are seeking skills to turn education into opportunities to make a difference in the world. She challenged us as educators to think about how to prepare those we educate for the “giving back that makes life meaningful.” She encouraged us to consider ways to make our educational classes and programs living labs to test ideas within communities.

Napolitano suggested we regularly ask, “What do we want our society to be and how can the university help us meet our aspirations?” It’s a good question and clearly involves ISU Extension and Outreach. Napolitano believes that the greatest hope for a resilient and dynamic society is the full engagement of the public university with its communities.

She ended her speech by quoting Kurt Vonnegut, “To be is to do.” She also pointed out that the “doing” matters. She said we needed to realize that not all cost is waste at public universities; we’re making investments in opportunity. She urged us to keep our universities strongly connected to our communities. Then she ended with a powerful thought: “Hope is the future we deliver.” See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Stuff We Need to Know

In ISU Extension and Outreach, we must be in front of transformation, not waiting to react to it. This means realizing there is stuff we need to know.

1. We must know our state and what’s happening in it.
2. We must know our university and its strengths.
3. We must know our people and what they care about.

The lifelong partnerships we build, the learning opportunities we provide, and the experiences we deliver have one over-arching goal – to improve the quality of life in Iowa. We’ve been working toward this goal for some time now. That’s why we had our leadership summit. That’s why we agreed on our fundamental principles. That’s why we started examining our organizational culture.

We’re addressing Iowa’s changing demographics. We’re working to widen our circle of service with urban audiences and increase the diversity of our workforce, partners, and participants. We’re adapting to our new reality, as we deal with complex problems and broaden the role of ISU Extension and Outreach, and as we manage the role technology plays.

Through our land-grant mission we make good on our shared commitment to Iowa, to our people, and to our future. Our land-grant mission compels us to provide high-quality, research-based education. Equally important, our mission also should drive us to deliver the most remarkable experiences that we possibly can. Land-grant universities are called “people’s colleges” for a reason. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Proud of Our People

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Well.  WOW.  We had our 2015 ISU Extension and Outreach Annual Conference this week and I’m still pumped! Thank you to the 480 who attended and filled Benton Auditorium.  Our theme was “it’s all about people,” and was it ever! From the opening drumming of the Iowa State Groove to Jim Harken and Julie Hlas’ closing thank you notes, being together for this conference felt like coming home to family. With lots of coffee, food, and time to visit, we could catch up with one another. (Thanks to Lake Laverne swans Lance and Lainey for taking over Twitter duty and scoring our highest number of impressions ever.) We learned more about what our other family members were doing all over the state and we had the opportunity to recognize them for their great work (and hold a hissing cockroach).

As Provost Wickert reminded us, Iowa was the first state to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act to establish a land-grant university. Iowa State was the first in the nation to engage citizens and begin Extension and Outreach. Today we carry on the legacy of a forward-thinking people, because Extension and Outreach is all about people: the Iowans we serve, our partners and volunteers, and our faculty and staff throughout the state. I appreciate the great work you all do for the people of Iowa. I am regularly impressed by your dedication and creativity, and your commitment to turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it.

It really is as simple as the extension professional’s creed starts: I believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions; in their ability and power to enlarge their lives and plan for the happiness of those they love. You are rising to our unique legacy, but you don’t have to take my word for it: Watch this video message from our boots on the ground throughout the state.

We all can be proud to be Iowans. Proud to be Cyclones. Proud to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach and the Land-Grant System. When each of us joined Extension and Outreach, whether that was 40 years ago (We’re talking about you, Donna Donald!) or just this week (Hey there, Ryan Breuer and Renae Kroneman!), we began a lifelong partnership with the people of Iowa.  And, we also began the #BestJobEver. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.