Because of ‘We’

This week’s message is from guest contributor John Lawrence, director for Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach, and an associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

I always have been proud to be part of our Iowa State University Extension and Outreach team. Although we don’t wear a full uniform like a sports team, we have name tags and similar shirts that say Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Administrators, specialists, and county staff all wear the same brand. We all wave the same flag when things go well, and we’re all painted with the same brush if something goes wrong. So it’s in our best interest when we all are at the top of our game.

ISU Extension and Outreach is strong because we are talented people working together. Promotion and tenure or revenue generation may cause us to focus on “me” from time to time, but our success is because of “we.” We find comprehensive solutions from across programs and disciplines to educate and serve Iowans. We help colleagues to be successful by sharing information, lending a hand, or being a sounding board. The communication and camaraderie make us stronger as we care for our organization and our colleagues.

Our new Mentor Academy is one way we are formalizing this culture. Iowa State hasn’t mastered cloning, so effective coaching is our best chance for replicating great colleagues. The academy will help participants become great mentors to carry our culture and skills into the next generation of our organization.

Effective mentoring takes time to learn and do, and it will compete for time with programming, revenue generation, and engaging stakeholders. All of us may have to shoulder more of the load as mentors work with our new colleagues. Administrators and program leaders must encourage mentoring and acknowledge the mentors’ time and talent. We all have an investment to make in the next generation of ISU Extension and Outreach professionals who will proudly wear our brand.

See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can share your comments about this message on the blog, at You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Stay Curious

A few weeks ago Lyn Brodersen, our assistant vice president for Organizational Development, welcomed junior high and high school students who’d come to campus for the State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks.

Continue exploring science as you prepare for your career. The basic principles of scientific investigation — experimentation, shaping hypotheses, testing theories — are the foundation for formal education and the world of work. When I was your age, I was fascinated by botany, biology, math, and languages. Those topics encouraged me, as a college student, to engage in history and education, and to share the knowledge I had found with those around me. I explored literature, philosophy, and political science as well. Ultimately, the thing that bound these differing interests together was curiosity.

What changed for me along the way? The complexity of the problems with which I grappled. The culture and habits of the people around whom I lived. The context with which I approached issues and problems. What never changed? The fact that I was curious. I never wanted to stop hypothesizing, experimenting, proving, learning, and sharing. Because the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education. The ability to think, share, create, imagine, talk with other people, and solve problems for the benefit of all is a gift of infinite value.

Take advantage of your interest in science. Make it apply to other interests as well. Don’t stop experimenting, learning, and creating. Don’t stop sharing your dreams and approaches with others. And, above all, maintain your curiosity about our world for the rest of your life.

Lyn’s advice is appropriate for all of us. We should always believe in our ability to learn – and stay curious. See you there.

— Cathann

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

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.

Own It. Solve It. Do It.

This week we released the follow-up report from our annual conference. Our four-page report summarizes themes that emerged from our discussions. Overall, we issued a call for more fully uniting campus and county. The report also provides three action steps based on the data gathered from our discussions and post-conference evaluations: addressing Iowa’s changing demographics, adapting to our new reality, and continuing to invest in professional development. Embedded in these action steps is a recognition that we need to get moving and make some changes.  Like now.  Even when it’s uncomfortable.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable! Roosevelt Thomas said it best, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  We’re not alone.  I just came from a strategic planning session for National 4-H Council and we found ourselves asking, “Does Extension want to grow?”  If the answer is yes, it means we are going to have to do some things differently. Extension across the nation is grappling with these issues and we can join the dialogue (see Extension is Broken or go to Twitter and search #FixExt).

Each of us has a role in carrying out these action steps. How will you use technology more effectively?  Who will you interact with to develop new relationships?  How will you adapt to new audiences?  What can each person in Extension and Outreach do to build a better culture for our organization?  Own it. Solve it. Do it. See you there.

— Cathann

Key Influencers

County Office Professionals were in town this week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn more about how things are really going out in the counties – and there’s no one better than this group of key influencers for finding out a thing or two. Here’s what we talked about, what I learned, and what I know.

  • This is a very important group of individuals.
  • They represent us. They are the first face, the first voice, the helping hand, the kind gesture, the gentle reminder, the history, the changing culture, the “get it done,” the good idea.
  • They are eager to learn. We introduced them to the brand new Hansen Agricultural Learning Center, we provided professional development key to their daily work, we encouraged, and we listened.
  • I reminded them that they are key influencers and the guardians of our educational mission. They have the opportunity to inspire people to live up to their talents and do the best work of their lives – work they never imagined they could do – and THEY have that same opportunity. I encouraged them to reflect, to care, and to be confident.

Our office professionals are working for ISU Extension and Outreach for the same reasons we all are. We all want to make life better, all across the state. Here’s something to consider: think about what even one day would be like in your professional lives without them. There; that says it all.

I hope our county office professionals – and all our office professionals – feel appreciated. I know I appreciate them. Whatever your role for ISU Extension and Outreach, I want you to remember that today– and every day that follows, for the rest of your life – each day is an opportunity for you to make the world better. See you there.

— Cathann

Make It Rain

Although we received some rain (and snow!) in the past few weeks, we will need more as we head into the growing season. I recently happened upon a conversation in a café in Independence about needing “rainmakers.” On my way back home, I began thinking about the power of belief in getting things done. Rainmakers aren’t just those who create rain; the term also refers to people known for achieving excellent results in a profession.

Adept faculty and staff, council members, and volunteers are crucial for success in ISU Extension and Outreach. Washington State University Extension, which also is moving toward a university-wide extension system, has focused on this concept of being a rainmaker. At Washington State, a rainmaker is someone who through his or her skills and abilities can bring people and resources together to meet the challenges facing extension now and in the future. Rainmakers are continual learners. They have an area of expertise, but also must be entrepreneurial and capable of working in multidisciplinary teams. They must be competent in establishing partnerships, able to empower constituents, and adept in developing relevant educational programs. Subject matter specialization is desirable, but “big picture” thinking is required.

Washington State even has published an extension rainmaker job description ( Potential rainmakers must have appropriate academic degrees, but most of the job description lists the skills, abilities, and attitudes that rainmaking requires. However, rainmaking can be learned. These attributes can be gained through professional development.

ISU Extension and Outreach encourages and supports professional development and growth in faculty, staff, council members, and volunteers, because we seek to be a dynamic organization — and to become the university that best serves its state. As you plan for your professional development, think about what skills you can build upon so you can make a difference for Iowans. Let’s make it rain. See you there.

— Cathann

Superstars … Or the Whole Team?

Former NBA player Walter Bond gave the keynote address at the 2011 Farm Bureau annual meeting — and his message has been noodling around in my head ever since.

Walter talked about our tendency to focus on basketball superstars. However, he noted that it takes many people for the NBA to function. Superstars do not “make it” on their own. They need the other players, coaches, trainers, managers, and so on, to successfully compete. Together they are the whole team.

Walter really wasn’t talking about basketball; he’s a motivational speaker now, after all. He was talking about organizations and what organizations need to succeed. A few superstars aren’t going to cut it — a successful organization needs a team with the right combination of staff at all levels, doing the right things. All the members of the team have to be really good at what they do and provide exceptional service to their customers — so their customers will enjoy the experience and return for more.

We’re building for success in ISU Extension and Outreach — so we all can be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. That’s why we are restructuring extension administration into teams for County Services and Outreach, Operations, Program Leadership, and Organizational Advancement. That’s why we’re working on a professional development plan for our organization, but in the meantime we’re training our players. For example, ANR staff gathered for in-service in March, our office professionals participated in their conference April 4, and Families and 4-H staff held in-service this week. 

As we continue to follow up on our Leadership Summit, carry out our Strategic Plan, and implement our Business Plan, we will continue to address how we work as well as what we do, so we can more effectively engage Iowans and create increased impact through both existing and new programs. See you there.

— Cathann

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