Leading Indicators

I wonder how the Eared Grebes are doing. You might remember that during a storm nearly five years ago, thousands of them crash landed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Utah, mistaking the rain-slicked pavement for a lake. As I wrote in my blog at the time, the impact left some birds dead, some injured, and some terribly confused. They needed some time to recover. (See “No More Crash Landing.”)

Back then ISU Extension and Outreach had been recovering from the aftermath of earlier leadership decisions, seemingly random processes, and unclear principles. That’s why we came together for a leadership summit, where we agreed upon the fundamental principles that would guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities across our programs. Our work over the past five years has made us a stronger organization, enabling us to better focus on what we all want – a strong Iowa.

As we’ve focused on our goal – providing education and building partnerships – we’ve discovered a few things about ourselves and our organization. We understand that our relationships – among our staff and faculty and with our clients and partners – make what we do worthwhile. We’ve become more comfortable using our values and purpose to guide our work. And we’re beginning to accept the continually changing, dynamic nature of ISU Extension and Outreach. That’s how we increase our capacity to be effective, to evolve, to develop opportunities, and to fully express the vision and mission first articulated by our extension pioneers. We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans.

There are a few leading indicators that help us see where we are headed:

  • The proposed university strategic plan includes ISU Extension and Outreach.
  •  ISU Extension and Outreach contracts and grants are up – an increase of $2.7M or almost 19 percent.
  • As appropriated funds remain level, we redirected resources to leverage four new Presidential High Impact Hires (faculty) and by streamlining processes grew “Program” vs. operations funds to 73 percent of all appropriated funds.
  • Our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program has launched with two projects and eight counties participating in the program. Projects begin July 1.
  • Our Data Indicators Portal has launched.
  • We completed the county wireless project to maintain technology in all 100 offices.
  • Our faculty and staff are leading the applied research, demonstrations, and education on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Monarch and pollinator habitat revival, managing herbicide resistance, managing farm financial stress, and other issues facing Iowa.
  • We’re rebuilding strong linkages between ISU research farms and extension districts.
  • Extension expenditures in 2015 totaled $90.2M, of which counties invested 38 percent and ISU (federal, state, and other resources) 62 percent.
  • The Rising Stars program continues to expand and grow within the state, starting with six interns during the summer of 2014 and now has grown to eight.
  • Extension and Outreach in the state of Iowa currently employs 1,200 people: 450 county paid and 750 ISU paid (all sources of funds).

Now back to the Eared Grebes. Wildlife officials relocated many of the survivors to a nearby lake so they could recover and continue their migration. We have focused on our structure and priorities and continue to serve the university and the people of Iowa. Thank you for all you do to keep building 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.

Strong Iowa

EOADV15-37C-messageplatform400wAccording to Simon Sinek, organizations and the people within them know what they do, and many know how they do it, but very few know why they do what they do. Why does Extension and Outreach exist? What’s our purpose? Why do we get out of bed in the morning?

Simon Sinek’s model for inspirational leadership starts with what he calls a golden circle, and “Why?” is in the middle of that circle. A leadership expert, Sinek says it’s all about purpose. According to Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.” Sinek’s work is based in neurobiology and it explains a lot about how we approach our work and what inspires us to take action.

So what do we believe in ISU Extension and Outreach? What’s in our golden circle?

  • WHY? We want a strong Iowa.
  • HOW? We are everywhere for Iowans. We serve as a 99-county campus, connecting the needs of Iowans with Iowa State University research and resources.
  • WHAT? We provide education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

When we start with why – a strong Iowa – our purpose is clear. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. See Simon Sinek’s TED talk.

Legacy of Genius

C.J. Gauger and Cathann KressA few months ago we lost an Iowa icon, C.J. Gauger. As Iowa’s state 4-H leader from 1959-1979, C.J. was a visionary. He saw the need for change in 4-H and he knew how to make it happen. Even though it wasn’t always easy or popular, with his guidance, the boys’ and girls’ 4-H programs came together and emphasized life skills development for all youth, rural or urban. C.J. truly believed in listening to Iowa’s young people and involving them in shaping their 4-H program.

One of the first people I went to see when I returned to Iowa State was C.J. He was so very proud of Iowa 4-H and we shared ideas about how to enhance and grow the program. He also assured me that our desire to grow 4-H was shared by many all across the state. I have found that as usual, C.J. was right.

C.J.’s legacy lives on through one of every five Iowa youth, who participates in our 4-H programs today. His place in 4-H’s history paved the way for 4-H’s future. C.J.’s memorial service is July 17 and the Iowa 4-H Foundation has set up a “Genius of 4-H” endowment in his honor. That’s very fitting. Because as C.J. said, “the greatest contribution of 4-H is the leadership, both in youth and adults, it has developed and which has gone on to enhance the lives of themselves and others in unlimited, never ending ways. This is the genius of 4-H.”

C.J. simply enjoyed helping young people grow into their full potential. We carry on this legacy of genius. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Where We Are and Looking Ahead

Four years ago when I interviewed for the vice president position, I challenged the participants in my open forum to think about ISU Extension and Outreach five years in the future and imagine failure. Why? Because it’s a way for an organization to prevent its own death. The participants in my forum provided six consistent reasons ISU Extension and Outreach might fail. (See my blog post,  Pre-mortem for Organizations.)

As you know, I got the job and now I am beginning Year 5. So I’d like to take another look at those reasons for potential failure.

  • In 2011 my forum participants – these were ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff, mind you – said the first reason we would fail would be poor communication both internally and externally.
  • Second, they said our inability to change would do us in – our unwillingness to let go of familiar programs as well as irrelevant programs.
  • The third reason was isolation from constituents and critical partners, as well as field, campus, and upper administration.
  • Fourth, we were suffering from an unclear vision and mission – we weren’t in sync with the values of Iowa, constituents, and the university.
  • Number 5 was poor leadership – leaders who don’t motivate others, solve problems holistically, or build public support for the public good.
  • The final reason was insufficient resources, since the participants were concerned about continuing decreases in funding.

I think we have made gains in some of these areas, and in some we still struggle, but we are trying to figure out how to more fully address them. So what do you think? I challenge you to respond – and please be honest. Over the next three weeks, add your comments to my blog. Then I’ll summarize your comments, add my own, and get back to you with an update on where we are now. See you there.

— Cathann

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

The Magic Continues

Last week as I visited several communities across the state, it was quite common for Iowans to share their thoughts about Coach Hoiberg’s departure from Iowa State men’s basketball. While there is some sadness, for the most part Cyclone Nation is wishing Fred well as he pursues his dream to coach in the NBA. As I’ve thought about how we’ve been amazed by Fred’s coaching abilities over the past few years, I realized that with or without Fred we appreciate what we have going forward. We’ll show our support for the student athletes and our new Iowa State basketball coach Steve Prohm. The Mayor may have re-ignited Hilton Magic, but it will continue because of Cyclone Nation.

We also should appreciate what we have here in ISU Extension and Outreach. (Other extension services are amazed at what we have.) For example, we had the forethought 20 years ago to create our statewide online network. Other state extension services did not. When the network installation was completed on June 28, 1995, every county office had a local area network tying office computers with a file server and laser printer. A wide area network gave access to printers and file servers located in other offices. Plus, we all were connected to e-mail, Gopher (Remember Gopher?), and the World Wide Web. The project cost $2.1 million and was completed in 21 months. So as you read this message on your smartphone or iPad or laptop or desktop, wish a happy birthday to our ISU Extension and Outreach Information Network.

In addition, we’ve embedded ISU Extension and Outreach throughout the colleges of our university. Many extension services are astounded that we have elected county extension councils who guide local programs and levy taxes. In ISU Extension and Outreach, we continually have worked to build our capacity, and other extension services look to us to see what’s next on the horizon.

We appreciate the forward-thinking people who came before us (such as Perry Holden, Jessie Field Shambaugh, and more recently of course, Fred Hoiberg) and those who will follow us, as we strive to turn the world over to the next generation better than we found it. Even though our structure in ISU Extension and Outreach can be cumbersome, it has resiliency built into it, much more so than other states. We can rightly feel proud to be part of Iowa State University. We’re helping our state be strong. Our magic was ignited a long time ago, but it will continue because of ISU Extension and Outreach Nation. 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.

Forward-Thinking People

When it comes to people, Iowa is a small state. With a population of 3 million, we’re just slightly bigger than Chicago. But more than 30 million acres of the world’s best agricultural land lies between the two rivers that make up our state’s borders. On it, we produce about 19 percent of the nation’s corn supply and 15 percent of the soybeans. In addition, Iowa produces nearly 30 percent of the pork, 22 percent of the eggs, and 2 percent of the milk: Talk about a complete breakfast! Not to be outdone, our state also produces 10 percent of the nation’s cattle, 3 percent of the turkeys, and a staggering array of yeast, enzymes, sweeteners, flavors, proteins, fibers, gelatins, and binders critical to the world’s food industry. And did I mention this? We produce about 25 percent of the nation’s ethanol.

We also produce special people. Iowa has been known for people who are ahead of their time, bolstered by common sense and determined to make life better for others. Have you ever heard of Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, or George Washington Carver? How about John Atanasoff, Black Hawk, or Carrie Chapman Catt? And then there’s Arthur Collins, of electronics fame; Jesse Field Shambaugh, the mother of 4-H; and Alexander Clark, who was tireless in his efforts to improve the lives of African Americans. And that’s only the short list, here are a few more.

Iowa is the state whose people first accepted the terms of the Land Grant Act, to create access to education for the common people; the state whose farmers engaged with their land-grant university to begin extension work. Iowa was home to American Indians who utilized domesticated plants more than 3,000 years ago, leading to flourishing settlements. This state provided a disproportionate number of our young men to fight in the Civil War and support President Lincoln. When Saigon fell in 1975 and pleas went out to U.S. governors to provide a home for the Tai Dam families and preserve their culture, it was Iowa’s governor who answered.

Iowa always has been home to a blend of immigrants: French, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, Germans, Irish, English, Scots, the Sac and Fox who returned to Iowa, Italians, Czech and Croatians, Mexicans, African Americans, Tai Dam, Vietnamese, Laotians, and more. These are Iowa’s people.

People don’t come to Iowa or stay in Iowa because we have mountains (with apologies to our Loess Hills region) or seaside resorts (not even in Sabula, Iowa’s only island city). People come to Iowa for agriculture, for family, for community, for a better quality of life. Iowa is for people who want to make a difference. In ISU Extension and Outreach we amplify this legacy with our focus on signature issues: feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping communities prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it.  Our work isn’t just about creating access to education. Our work is about people – forward-thinking people. We have an obligation to the forward-thinking people who came before us, and those who will follow us, to focus on what matters most. It’s all about people. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Uncharted Territory

If you’ve ever watched Star Trek in any of its television or movie versions, then you know the captain and crew had one key mission: to boldly go where no one had gone before. That also holds true for Extension and Outreach. We are bound by our charter to explore what’s out there – to engage and discover – without knowing if we have the research, ideas, answers, or resources to fully address a particular need or issue. This has always been the case with Extension and Outreach. But now, for some reason, we think there should be a blueprint for the future, and if we just crunched the data, got the grant, or hired the right team, everything would go smoothly. However, we can’t control the experience of Extension and Outreach any more than we can control the experience of democracy. It’s full of interruptions, distractions, red herrings, serendipity, and glorious messiness.

The essence of Extension and Outreach is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s effective with a lot of participation from our clients and partners, and sometimes not as much as we had hoped. Trying to tie up the loose ends or clinging to what worked well in the past would surely kill Extension and Outreach, because those types of approaches reject the basic experience of extension work, which exists in the ongoing interaction of data, ideas, and people.

What I would offer is to embrace the experience. Thinking we can find the one solution for the future or that we can maintain exactly as we were in the past is futile. Just as our early educational pioneers did more than 100 years ago, we must step into the uncharted territory and accept the tension of creating as we go, co-creating with others, even those whose voices make us uncomfortable or rankle us. If we accept the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of Extension and Outreach, we increase our capacity to be effective, to evolve, to develop opportunities, and to fully express the vision and mission first articulated by our pioneers.  Go boldly. See you there.

— Cathann

The Secret Sauce

Kelsy Reynaga is a junior at Iowa State, recently selected to be a national Project YES! (Youth Extension Service) Intern, a program I helped start at the Department of Defense. While I’m proud of being there at its beginning, I’m even prouder that the talented educators I turned it over to have created an educational experience that greatly benefits the interns, the military families, and extension. Kelsy wrote me recently about starting this new internship and had a number of tough questions she wanted to ask, most without easy answers. Since Kelsy will likely expect some wisdom when we meet, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on her questions.

What drives me? As I begin my fourth year as vice president for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, I find our work of creating access to education to be incredibly meaningful. I feel an obligation to extension’s early educational pioneers to rise to their level and create educational opportunities and solutions for the future. I am regularly delighted by the dedication, creativity, and talent of the people I get to work with, and I want to leave things better than I found them.

Is this the path I envisioned for my future? Um. No. I’m not good enough at predicting the future, or understanding what opportunities might come up. Instead, I’ve learned to be ready and open and willing to leap.

So, is it possible to accomplish everything you want to do? Not alone. Not in a direct line. Not in the way you thought it would happen. Not as quickly as you might hope. Accomplishing things really depends on understanding the fundamental conditions that support accomplishment.  At the most basic level, there are only a few things one needs for accomplishment to thrive: Vision. Resources. An action plan. But the real secret sauce to getting things done is nurturing talented colleagues, making it easier for them to do their work, and recognizing and rewarding their efforts. In other words, our ability to strengthen Extension and Outreach lies in improving the conditions that shape our organizational culture.

As I thought about what to say to Kelsy, I realized I don’t really think so much about “accomplishing stuff” anymore — instead, I think about trying to create the conditions for good things to happen. See you there.

— Cathann

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