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.

Big Things — and Dents in the Universe

As another year gets underway, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to engage with Iowans and I’ve thought a lot about what ISU Extension and Outreach has done for more than 100 years. We’ve had some pretty impressive accomplishments: the response and education at the time of the Farm Crisis, the technology transfer of food preservation and hybrid seed, even our response earlier this year to the Avian Influenza outbreak, including our focus on the human side of it.

But not everything we do has to be big to be worthwhile. Is it not sometimes a good thing to take some small part of people’s lives and make it a little better? Not to disrupt anything, or dramatically change it, not to raise millions of dollars, not to have droves of people demanding it — but just to look around our small part of the world and try to make it a little better, try to hand it over to the next generation a little better than we found it.

However, making things a little bit better can be a hard sell. According to David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of the software company Basecamp, people these days aren’t content just to put their “dent in the universe.” Instead, they want to own the universe and capture their customers. But for those of us in ISU Extension and Outreach, is that what we really want? What is success in community-based education, for dedicated extension professionals?

We don’t need plans to corner the market, because we have something far better than that — our commitment to excellence, access, community, and engagement. That’s what spurs us to do big things in ISU Extension and Outreach, tackling the issues facing our state and responding in times of crisis. It also moves us to make our part of the world a little bit better. This combination of big things and dents in the universe is how we build a strong Iowa. 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.

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.

Let’s Celebrate

Sometimes, it’s time to assess the situation and plan. Sometimes, it’s time to dig deeper and try harder. This past week, however, it was time to celebrate. I had the privilege of representing all of us in Extension and Outreach as we celebrated the achievements of some dedicated people at the University Awards Ceremony.  These awards recognize excellence, but more importantly, they also celebrate the role Extension faculty and staff play in engaging the resources of our institution with our citizens.

Angela Rieck-Hinz, as an Extension Program Specialist for Agriculture and Natural Resources, has coordinated statewide training programs for over 3,000 manure applicators. Her leadership style fosters teamwork and collaboration on environmental stewardship programming across all levels within Extension, and soil health and water quality stakeholders. (Angela now serves as an Extension and Outreach field agronomist.)

Daniel Loy, Professor of Animal Science and Director of the Iowa Beef Center, was recognized for pioneering the use of microcomputers in data management for cattle feeding operations. He was also instrumental in the transition by beef producers to cattle diets that include corn co-products.

Darin Madson, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, is internationally renowned for his diagnostic medicine skills and outreach efforts. The discoveries made in his research have had a major impact on developing new approaches for assurance of the health and well-being of Iowa’s $12.5 billion animal agriculture industry.

And Mary Beth Kaufman, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Specialist in Family Finance, is on the cutting edge of emerging issues such as flood recovery, mental health, and poverty reduction.  A nominator called Ms. Kaufman a “gifted teacher,” and says her “presentations at educator and youth conferences represent Extension and Outreach at its best — grounded in research and focused on the learner.”

Just four people. Doing their jobs. I’m pretty proud of them and encourage you to join me in congratulating and thanking them. But here’s what makes me proudest – I know that in addition to these four, their 1,000 ISU Extension and Outreach colleagues across the state all have stories like Angie’s and Darin’s and Mary Beth’s, and Dan’s. All making a difference for Iowans. Every day. Congratulations. Thank you. See you there.

— Cathann

Scholarship of Impact

You might have seen that Iowa State University joined the Engagement Scholarship Consortium recently. (See the news release.) For those of us working in Extension and Outreach, you might wonder what the big deal is. After all, it sounds like stuff we’ve been doing for nearly a hundred years. You’d be right.

Turns out, not everyone on campus really understands what we do. At times, there is confusion that we just do “service” and that a faculty member sitting on a committee is doing fairly equivalent work. Sometimes people think we are the university’s version of the Red Cross or Department of Public Health.  Throw in the variety of terms such as extension, engagement, outreach … and pretty soon even those of us who have done it for a while might be a little confused.

That’s when it’s helpful to remember our guiding principles. First and foremost, our work is education — not emergency response or care services. To me (and I’m not alone in this) one of the most distinguishing features of our work is that it is mutually beneficial. It’s not simply an expert-based pipeline of information out from campus, but an interactive process. And although those who think of scholarship as only a research study may be surprised, our work is scholarship too — specific methodologies, scope, and sequence that yield the most effective community-based education.

Our scholarship has moved from emphasizing product (articles, etc.) to emphasizing impact. We all can appreciate how complicated isolating our impact can be in the broader context of community.  Education is public good, not just a private good for students. President Leath summed it up well by stating he wants ISU to be the university that best serves its state. See you there.

— Cathann

Facing House Rock

Last fall, Doug Steele, director of extension at Montana State University, shared this story during the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting.  I thought it was relevant for our work and asked Doug if I could share it.

If you have ever had the pleasure of rafting the Gallatin River in Montana, then you know that there is a bend in the river that is the location of “House Rock.”  House Rock is appropriately named, because it is bigger than a house, and is great peril for rafters. Right before the curve in which House Rock resides, there is a calming straight of water that requires little paddling where one can enjoy the passing scenery. It is during this brief intermission that the rafting guide will warn you and your boating companions that House Rock is just around the corner.  The guide will tell your group that you have three choices:

1. You can operate independently of each other and surely hit the rock, which may send some of your party overboard.

2. You can paddle with all your strength and might, but not work together, and end up in the internal vortex that swirls around House Rock, waiting for someone to rescue you.

3. You can work together as a team, paddling together, following directions, and striving for the same goal — to successfully navigate around House Rock.

In terms of ISU Extension and Outreach, let’s choose to work together to face upcoming challenges, realizing that we all have a vested interest in our mutual success. Let’s welcome opportunities to carry forth research, educational programming, and engagement with Iowa State in all the counties. Let’s ensure that ISU Extension and Outreach will be relevant, viable, and necessary for years to come. Let’s face our House Rock together. See you there.

 — Cathann

Building Relationships and Strengthening Communities

Monday was Memorial Day, recognized nationwide for great sales and bargains. At least that’s what all the advertising circulars would have us believe. Some people who had the day off, but who didn’t go shopping, may have thought of it only as the unofficial beginning of summer and grilling season.

My family still calls it Decoration Day, but Memorial Day was intended to remember those who died in service to our country. Many communities still have parades, celebrations, or service events to commemorate the day.  While I worked at the Pentagon, I attended national ceremonies at Arlington — a definite reminder of the service of so many.

I appreciate the time to reflect upon service. The community aspect resonates with me as well. Bringing people together for a common purpose builds relationships and strengthens communities.

When we carry out our land-grant mission, we build relationships and strengthen communities throughout Iowa. Iowa State’s new president, Steven Leath, wants the university to be fully engaged in moving our state forward. He calls himself “a land-grant guy” and he understands that through Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University is embedded in communities across Iowa to consistently engage with citizens. Let me share a few of his recent comments:

From Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, 3/2/12

“I started my career as an extension person in Illinois. I have great respect and understanding of extension.”

From the Des Moines Register, 4/12/12

“I think it’s going to be hard for Iowa as a state to really go forward economically and create the jobs Gov. Branstad wants if the university is not fully engaged.”

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2/11/12

“I think land grants, more than any other university type in this country, get their mission right. They’re based on high-quality education, research to benefit society, and then translating that research to effective engagement.”

From ISU Alumni Association’s Visions Magazine, Spring 2012

“[Iowa State] has done a very, very good job of transferring its innovation and faculty scholarship outside the campus where it makes a difference in society.”

“And what it really translates to when you come right down to it, it’s about relationships. They have to trust me, they have to trust the university, they have to know we’re a good partner. They’re going to have to know we’re accountable, we’re transparent, and we’ll make good partners with them. And then you build those relationships over time, across the state with different constituencies, and that’s what will make us successful long term.”

See you there.

— Cathann

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