Going Together

I recently attended the 2016 World Food Prize Symposium, which was amazing for many reasons – including the featured speakers. I heard from foreign dignitaries, scientists, corporate CEOs; the array of people all in some way concerned with global food security and production.

I have many notes from the sessions, but one idea kept circling in my head. Kellogg Company CEO John Bryant quoted it as he announced Kellogg’s 3 Billion Better Days effort. Mr. Bryant attributed it to being an African proverb, which we’ve been unable to confirm, but it’s still a powerful saying:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Mr. Bryant was using it because he was focused on how Kellogg plans to fight hunger by donating food to people in need; expanding breakfast programs for children worldwide; and supporting 500,000 farmers, their families, and communities with Climate Smart Agriculture practices. Kellogg’s plan will take time – about nine years – and the efforts of many; but if they can make it happen, they will indeed have gone far for many.

Of course, this is something we’ve always known in our work. Extension is based on partnership, on cooperation, on public good – on going together. Sometimes it takes a long time to see the results of that work, and that can be frustrating. But we don’t want to go alone – we want to go far. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Strong Iowa State University, Strong Iowa

This week as we wrap up from Annual Conference and look ahead to Extension and Outreach Week 2016, I’m happy to share a guest blog message from Iowa State University President Steven Leath:

LeathWhile I was proud to report back in fall 2015 that Iowa State was a campus of exactly 36,001, our university community is much larger than that. That’s because ISU Extension and Outreach faculty, staff, council members, volunteers, and partners are an essential part of Iowa State.

You ensure that our education and research extend well beyond the walls of Iowa State and our campus in Ames. You help translate our research and our knowledge beyond the classroom and the lab. You ensure our science-based solutions and our resources are accessible and understandable. You partner with communities to help families become healthier, happier, and more financially secure. You partner with businesses to help them expand, create jobs, and become more profitable. You partner with farmers to help them become more innovative, sustainable, and efficient. And you partner with young Iowans to prepare them for future success through youth programs like 4-H.

Partnerships are at the very foundation of how we will move our university, our communities, and our state forward. Right now, we’re developing Iowa State’s new 5-year Strategic Plan to position the university for excellence in education, research, economic development, and service to Iowans, while ensuring we provide a safe, inclusive environment. From the very beginning, I’ve said that I want Iowa State to be known as the “partnership university.” By fostering new partnerships, we’ll be able to achieve our goals – sharing knowledge and expertise, leveraging resources, gaining exposure to different perspectives, developing a greater appreciation for diversity, and ultimately leaving our university and our state in a stronger position for the next generation.

Extension and Outreach is changing lives every day, in every county, so I offer this challenge: Work to become a more innovative, flexible, and agile partner. Connect with those outside your college, community, or area of expertise. Embrace diverse ideas and new perspectives, and become demand-driven by listening more as you develop original, science-based solutions. Your big ideas and your ability to take bold action to implement those ideas is how, together, we will create a strong Iowa State and a strong Iowa!

See you there (and Go, Cyclones!).

— Cathann

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

Because We’re People

Those who know me know that I read a lot – books, blogs, cereal boxes – you name it, I’ll read it. You never know where the next good idea will come from – particularly if it has something to do with education. (It’s hard to stop being an education professor). In one of the blogs I follow, I read about Joan Murphy and her school’s use of the “Responsive Classroom.” Murphy, a K-5 school counselor, explained that this research-based approach to teaching is based on the idea that the social side of education is as important as the academic side. Murphy shared the example of a new student who asked, “Why is everyone so nice here?” The teacher answered, “Who we learn with is as important as what we learn. It’s important to show that we care about each other.” In a responsive classroom, the greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

As I read through the guiding principles, I thought about how they could apply in extension and engagement work. When I replaced the word children with people, and the reference to teachers with extension professionals, they seemed a pretty good fit.

  • How people learn is as important as what they learn.
  • To be successful academically and socially, people need to learn and practice a specific set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  • Knowing the people we teach individually, culturally, and developmentally is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  • Knowing the families of the people we teach is as important as knowing the people we teach.
  • How we, extension professionals, work together is as important as our individual competence.

I’ve said many times that our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. Because we’re people and our clients and partners are people. The education and experiences we provide and the interactions we share work together to build a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can read Joan Murphy’s article, “The Responsive Classroom: ‘Why Is Everyone So Nice Here?’” in Edutopia.  You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

It’s Still about People

As our nation has been commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday and numerous events this month, 41 people from across all of ISU Extension and Outreach gathered together to begin developing a diversity and inclusion strategic plan to guide our work in building a strong Iowa. On behalf of our whole system, I expressed my appreciation to these colleagues for their willingness to take on this challenge and provide this much needed leadership.

Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but there’s a reason we do what we do in ISU Extension and Outreach. We want a strong Iowa. That’s why we partner with the people of Iowa and harness the resources of our university. We want all communities and farmers to thrive. We want all families and children to be healthy. And eventually we want to turn the world over to everyone in the next generation better than we found it. We want to best serve Iowans, no matter their location or need.

Our legacy in Iowa is forward-thinking people – people ahead of their time, people determined to make life better for others, people who want to make a difference. Within ISU Extension and Outreach, we also are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and safe. So we must constantly review, evaluate, and improve our practices and our processes. And we must remove any barriers that may get in the way.

We’ve asked our diversity and inclusion strategic planning team to focus on the next three years. They are thinking about how we can embody diversity and inclusion in our programs, practices, and people. They also are considering how to help faculty and staff see that their individual actions contribute to our collective effort. Although the team is leading the strategic planning effort, we all need to thoughtfully address these issues.

Extension and Outreach is a 99-county campus. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how diverse cultures can work in partnership to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. See you there.

– Cathann

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

What We All Want

This time of year many of us are contemplating “wish lists” as we approach the holidays. Maybe someone you know has the latest Star Wars light saber on his or her list. Or an Alex and Ani bracelet. Even though my children are mostly grown (Wren’s a senior — how did that happen?), they still like putting together their lists of what they want. I’ve noted that the older they get, the more expensive the items on their lists seem to get, too. For several years, besides the things they want, my children also have talked about what they hope for the coming year, their wishes about doing well at college, or managing the challenges that come with growing up.

That got me thinking about what we want and hope for in ISU Extension and Outreach. Every year more than a million people directly benefit from our programs. That translates to about 1 in 3 Iowans. But it’s more likely we impact everyone in the state in some way. Do you eat in restaurants? We train foodservice workers in safe food handling practices. Do you want clean water? Iowa State helped develop the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and engages Iowans in this science and technology-based approach to improving Iowa waterways. Do you want to protect monarch butterflies? We’re part of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, working to enhance butterfly habitat in rural and urban areas of our state.

Our work is for the public good. We do the work that needs to be done, and our communities and families depend upon us. That’s why we serve Iowans every day. To celebrate that idea, I invited a few young Iowans to join me in creating this year’s video. It was a fun morning and I hope you enjoy what we did. These children and so many others like them across our state are the reason we do what we do every day in ISU Extension and Outreach. We’re working together to build a strong Iowa for their future. As we look forward to a new year, ISU Extension and Outreach will continue our commitment to harnessing the resources of our university for communities and farmers to thrive, for families and children to be healthy, and eventually to turn the world over to the next generation better than we found it. Because what we all want is a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

A Gift through Time

Cathann Kress touring USS IowaI recently spent some time out on the west coast with national meetings and conferences. Those of you who know my appreciation for history won’t be surprised to learn that I made a point of touring the USS Iowa, now permanently located in Long Beach as a museum. It’s impressive and I couldn’t help but ponder that I was standing where incredible leaders like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once stood. The USS Iowa was known as the Battleship of Presidents because NO other battleship in our nation’s history has been host to more U.S. Presidents than the IOWA. Her other accolades include designation as the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” due to her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity and modernization. She kept pace with technology for more than 50 years.

As part of the tour, I read an essay by Professor James Sefton of California State University on why the Battleship Iowa museum matters. In it, Professor Sefton argues that one of the most important elements of education is continuity and the way we learn how we are related to earlier generations. This reflection helps us begin to understand how their decisions and actions affect ours and helps us contemplate what we have done with their legacy.

Professor Sefton (and I’ll forgive him for this, since he’s a history professor) also argues that history is the most important vehicle for securing continuity and enables us to educate ourselves and secure our heritage for the future. Here’s where I respectfully disagree: History is not the most important vehicle, relationships are. History is the collective story of people and their relationships, that’s why I find it so fascinating.

Of course, this made me think about our collective work — our decisions and actions and what our legacy will be that future generations of Iowans will experience. I regularly think about a future Vice President for Extension and Outreach (someday way in the future) and hope that my decisions and actions today will make his or her job easier and more productive. A legacy is essentially a gift handed through time from the past to the future. It’s a vision, a hope, and a commitment rolled up into a series of actions and decisions and delivered years later. Those sailors serving aboard this battleship had a vision of a strong IOWA. So do we. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Better Men and Women

“Extension work is not intended primarily to make better crops and animals, but better men and women.” — M.C. Burritt, Director, Cornell University Extension, 1922

When I was with the Department of Defense, we continually were reminded that our job was to serve as “defenders of the Constitution.” That’s heady stuff but makes sense, since DOD’s mission is to deter war and to protect the security of our country. However, there’s more than one way to preserve democracy. In ISU Extension and Outreach we can serve in this role by cultivating informed and engaged citizens. I urge you to consider whether we’re taking full advantage of this opportunity.

Too often we tend to undersell ourselves. We say we’re just providing education or we’re merely a neutral source of information. But we are so much more. The only thing that separates us from a robust and dynamic future is our view of ourselves, our institution and its colleges, our participants, and our role in connecting them.

Remember our “Young Iowans Speak” forum in 2014? We wanted to engage the 18- to 35-year-olds we weren’t seeing in our programs, so we went to them. They said they wanted us to be their lifelong partner for retooling, reinvention, and reawakening. They believed that Iowa State should act as a resource to society and as a co-learner with citizens. They said ISU Extension and Outreach could help them find their “true north” as they seek personal and professional satisfaction and success for their communities. Sounds like they want us to help them become informed and engaged citizens.

That’s exactly what we’re doing when we focus on building the capacity of Iowans. We relentlessly pursue creating remarkable experiences and delivering value. We engage with Iowans in real time and work on issues they care about. We create better men and women for a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Here’s to Bright Days

Thanks to recent rainy mornings and later day sunshine, an old song lyric has been playing in my head (thank you, Johnny Nash): “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” (And yes, it’s at about this point in the song that my children start rolling their eyes.)

With summer two-thirds gone, field day season in full swing, Community Gardens popping, 4-H camps and activities in rain and mud, and several more county fairs and the Iowa State Fair still to go,  ISU Extension and Outreach is caught up in a whirlwind of activity across the state. In addition, we’re dealing with both the farm and the human side of avian influenza. And let’s not forget the emerald ash borer. The insect pest has been found in 26 counties and that number will increase. It all certainly can feel overwhelming, particularly when you throw in Iowa summer heat indices in the 100s, deluges of rain and mud, and trying to keep up with all that email back in the office.

I encourage you to give yourself a moment to step back and to see clearly what are (and what really aren’t) obstacles in your way. Because even with the rain, the heat, and musical earworms, ISU Extension and Outreach is still the #BestJobEver. Thank you for your long hours, hard work, patience, and unending dedication as you provide research-based education and continue this lifelong partnership with the people of Iowa. We have many bright days ahead. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.
Learn more about ISU Extension and Outreach at the 2015 Iowa State Fair.

Plan for Friction

We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but friction plays a pretty big role in our lives –both positive and negative. Friction is part of what makes it hard to get my bike up the next hill (take note those of you planning to ride RAGBRAI), but it’s also what makes it possible to stop my bike before the railroad tracks. While we can reduce or minimize friction, it’s always present.

So it’s not surprising that when engineers design engines they plan for friction. They know that when an engine runs, unexpected stuff will happen. Determining the exact cause of the problem can be complicated. Seasoned mechanics often will combine computerized diagnostics with their own knowledge and experience to figure out the issue. It’s just part of the design process. There’s no drama involved. We could learn from that approach.

When stuff happens in life, things get more complex. Friction in human relationships or endeavors is more difficult to understand. Maybe we don’t like drama, but most of us will respond in similar ways. Often, we increase complexity even more by seeking more information and conducting more analyses. That’s not all bad, but it can spiral into levels of complexity, including organizational complexity — more meetings, decision delays, and specialized teams. We add layers of policy and processes intended to address the complexity, but it could make it worse. Essentially, we replace clarity with detail. As a result, activity increases and so does confusion. At the same time, trust decreases and so does effectiveness. It’s hard to stay focused on staying clear and focused when your legs feel like lead weights from trying to pump up that last hill.

Just because we encounter friction doesn’t mean we’re headed in the wrong direction or need to abandon the project. We rarely will have the ideal conditions we might wish for. Stuff will happen, so plan for friction. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Working at the Speed of Trust

Your mindset matters when you want to get something done. What’s in your head affects who you decide to engage with, how you work together, and how you progress toward your goals. I’ve been reading lately about the difference between collaboration and organizing for collective impact. The authors said collective impact succeeds only when it uses evidence and builds relationships, because change happens at the speed of trust.

The speed of trust. Isn’t that true? I thought about that a lot this past week as I was out traveling across our state. I’m fortunate to work with so many whom I not only respect, but also trust. When you think about it, we don’t want Iowans just to have an experience with us. We don’t want just to have a relationship with them. We want them to trust us.

From where I sit, trust requires a few things. You all know what I’m talking about — being reliable, honoring promises, and being loyal. A few that don’t get as much attention, but should, are to seek clarity and to be clear. In other words, when an opportunity to be vague arises, don’t take it. Create transparency whenever possible, right wrongs (there is perhaps a whole post I could write about just that), and keep trying to be better.

However, the number one ingredient for building trust is the ability to offer it to others first. My dad firmly believed that any of the important things we want in life (trust, love, respect, happiness, success, etc.), we get only by first giving them to others.

More than 100 years ago, Iowans throughout the state began turning to Iowa State because they trusted their land-grant university. The original extension workers provided farmers and families and 4-H’ers with research-based information that they could apply to their own farms and in their own lives. Extension also extended trust back to Iowans by engaging them in this work, not just as recipients but as co-creators. Together, we create the social experience through which innovations spread. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. You can read “Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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