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4-H: Opportunity Knocking

I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

Thousands of youth repeat this pledge, stating the guiding principles and outcomes for 4-H. These principles not only continue to be relevant, but represent thinking ahead of its time. Next week is National 4-H Week, a great time to celebrate our 4-H youth development program and Iowa’s youth.

From its inception, 4-H Youth Development has been creating opportunities for young people to learn about the natural world, technology, themselves, and their communities. Emphasizing learning by doing, 4-H began to impress upon schoolchildren the importance of becoming lifelong learners. But it was bigger than that. When early land-grant researchers took their latest innovations out to citizens, they found many adults unwilling or reluctant to adopt new practices. So early pioneers like Jessie Field Shambaugh took innovations to young people. They became the early adopters and not only learned by doing, but also led by example. 4-H’ers changed their communities as adults saw their seed corn or food preservation projects and began adopting the technologies themselves. In other words, 4-H played a large part in the remarkable technology transfer so important to our country’s success.

Today, taking the resources of our university to our youngest citizens — both rural and urban — is critically important. We are poised to strengthen our program through leveraging partnerships and priorities within our state. Consider these opportunities:

  • The Governor’s STEM Hub initiative demonstrates Iowa’s commitment to K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. We are the North Central Hub and have ISU Extension and Outreach staff on the advisory boards of each regional hub.
  • The College of Human Sciences’ new School of Education has identified key priorities in STEM, literacy, social responsibility, and education policy. Outreach projects will focus on Iowa communities and will be coordinated with our K-12 youth outreach and 4-H youth development staff.
  • We have convened a campus-wide K-12 youth outreach group that has identified several activities we can work on jointly. We also have enhanced partnerships with the College of Engineering and the College of Design to coordinate K-12 youth outreach and share resources.
  • I serve on a national 4-H working group that will begin developing a framework from which to review roles, responsibilities, and relationships across all levels of the 4-H program.

Our future includes challenges. We must clearly articulate our priorities within the 4-H program, and rethink our curriculum and materials to ensure our offerings are up-to-date, interesting, and challenging. We also must manage priorities to offer youth many opportunities without overwhelming our staff. Finally, we must focus on efficient and accountable management of resources and operations.

Please celebrate National 4-H Week and recognize our many partners — including the youth and volunteers who are essential to our efforts. We do really good programs for young people, but we can evolve. My goal is for our K-12 Youth Outreach and 4-H Youth Development programs to continue their legacy to be outstanding. See you there.

— Cathann

The Greatest Results

It’s good to periodically scrutinize what you do to figure out if it’s worth doing. Over the years, extension work has been the subject of numerous studies ― nationally, at the state level, and in the counties.

Reasons for the studies vary: war, drought, surpluses, shortages, economic issues, social concerns. The studies addressed programs and methods; clientele, training, or financing; or the ever-changing environment in which we operate. But whatever the study, whatever the reason, it led to a similar outcome ― perhaps best stated in the 1948 national study of extension, known as the Kepner Report:

“whereas extension has done much for people, it is what extension has helped people do for themselves that achieves the greatest results.” (See Journal of Extension, http://www.joe.org/joe/1984september/a1.php)

This summer, we began celebrating county centennials in the first five counties that organized for extension work and hired the first extension agents. One of these was the first county home economist hired in Black Hawk County, Tura Hawk, who had to be proficient in many areas. With a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State Teachers College and two master’s degrees from Iowa State College, she was well prepared, and in her first three months created interest in sanitation, convenient kitchens, food conservation, and clean and pure milk. She also started 4-H club work, mostly in sewing. According to county records, she demonstrated to the county board that she could even shoe a horse. I’m grateful that while I was out celebrating last week, Extension Council members didn’t require my demonstration of that particular proficiency.

These centennial celebrations are honoring extension professionals past and present, not just for what they’ve done (and they’ve done great things), but for what they helped citizens to accomplish.

The Extension Professionals Creed says it best: we believe in people’s “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.”

This idea was affirmed this past year as we articulated our guiding principles and our core purpose. And it’s exemplified in stories such as the work of Joe Cordray in our meat science extension program that Meat & Poultry magazine has ranked first in the nation. “Perhaps nowhere is the commitment to keeping industry managers more informed about food processing and food safety technologies more evident than at Iowa State University,” said the editors in the citation. Joe conducts workshops on meat processing skills and safety for small processors in Iowa and the nation. He also develops and delivers training programs for some of the nation’s largest processors: West Liberty Foods and Smithfield. West Liberty Foods is an Iowa farmer-owned cooperative that, because of its food safety program and performance, is the major supplier of sliced meats for Subway. As part of Smithfield training, employee-developed plans have saved the company several million dollars annually.

We truly are people advancing people, putting university research into action.

What ISU Extension and Outreach helps people do for themselves achieves the greatest results. See you there.

–Cathann

One Week After …

Last week, more than 500 of us from 89 counties and campus came together for our leadership summit.  We agreed upon fundamental principles to guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  We also prioritized that we must collectively focus on some specific actions if we, as an organization, are going to thrive.  Finally, we pulled from the principles and actions to identify a set of priorities for our action. We agreed to strategically support partnerships and collaborations, the development of effective planning and coordination systems, including ones for professional development, and needs assessment.  The Leadership Team is already reviewing ways to realign resources and begin moving toward these priorities.  Prior to the summit, I pulled together a team that is already at work compiling everything we worked on into a report that will become our playbook. This action plan will guide how we invest resources—people, funds, and time—in the coming year and will be ready in a month.  In the meantime, see the one-page summary.

This summit marks the start of the new way we are going to do business in ISU Extension and Outreach. No more ad hoc, seat-of-the-pants operations. We have a lot of knowledge and best practices in ISU Extension and Outreach, and it would be good to have systems to share them. Think of the extraordinary capacity we would have if we could stand on each other’s shoulders.

We will have to strike a balance on a number of issues, and it won’t be easy:  how do we allow flexible entrepreneurship vs. having common structures, when do we use common systems vs. providing tailored responses, when is it most efficient to operate in a centralized vs. decentralized manner?  We’ll need to make these decisions as we proceed.

I went to the summit probably much like you, with expectations. I hope that like mine, most of your expectations were fulfilled.

  • I hoped that we would remember we are a team. No matter which category you selected during voting, we are all one team with common mission and common principles.
  • We are all part of moving us forward — decisions each of us makes determine our success and whether we create something meaningful as our “what’s next?” or whether we just go back to business as usual.
  • We want to be a part of a meaningful endeavor—a relevant, vibrant organization. The summit certainly offered evidence of our shared commitment.

As I’ve said before, here in Iowa, people care about each other and their communities. They believe if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Iowans see the value in serving the public good, and they come together to get things done.  But, WE ARE NOT done. Please keep engaged; when asked, give input, serve on committees, pilot new systems. Take responsibility for helping us become what our early pioneers envisioned. Let’s live according to our principles. Let’s carry out our mission. Let’s be Iowa State’s treasured resource. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. We are still taking comments related to the summit on the blog site.  To be able to review and share ideas when appropriate, we need comments by noon next Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Guiding Principles

This week ISU Extension and Outreach is proud to be partnering in the Iowa Hunger Summit and World Food Prize activities in Des Moines.  It’s a great opportunity to showcase Iowa’s leadership in the fight against hunger – both at home and around the world. The goals of the summit, the World Food Prize, and ISU Extension coincide, and that makes a natural collaboration. Extension works toward creative solutions to strengthen local and regional food systems and increase access to food for all.

But this work to fight hunger is only one of the ways that Iowa is unique. Maybe it helps to leave, to really see something — but I notice there are key events which define the values which characterize Iowa and form our state’s guiding principles:

  • Iowan Norman Borlaug worked to feed the world and sparked the “Green Revolution.”
  • The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services (the only state bureau in the nation) resulted from Governor Ray’s and Iowans’ commitment to opening Iowa to those who needed a home (Tai Dam and Boat People), even when the federal government closed its borders.
  • George Washington Carver devoted his research to identifying alternative crops to cotton that revolutionized the rural economy, improved farm family nutrition, and benefited the land.
  • Iowan (and Iowa State alumna) Carrie Chapman Catt worked to get women the right to vote.
  • Iowa State was one of the few universities which admitted women from its beginning.
  • Several routes of the Underground Railroad came to Iowa.
  • One of the first thing Iowa pioneers built were schoolhouses, and that commitment led to Iowa’s strong public schools, three Regent universities, and a network of community colleges.
  • Jessie Field Shambaugh, a teacher who inspired rural children, was “the mother of 4-H.” As a pioneering educator in Clarinda, “Miss Jessie” started the Boys Corn Club and Girls Home Club to educate youngsters in after-school sessions at the turn of the 20th century. Through 4-H our youth learn by doing and lead by example.
  • And of course, Iowa is home to the first Extension Service in the nation — ISU Extension and Outreach.

Iowans value education and equality and demonstrate their concern for others. It’s no surprise that ISU Extension and 4-H resonate and are valued here in Iowa. Thank you for everything you do as part of Iowa State, Extension and Outreach, and 4-H.  Education, Equality, Concern for others – early Iowans set a pretty good example. How do we carry that on? See you there.

–Cathann

Fundamental Principles

What drives our decision-making in ISU Extension and Outreach: our fundamental principles or the laws of nature? We like to say that we base our decisions on the mission we hold dear — building partnerships and providing research-based learning opportunities to improve quality of life in Iowa. But what we say isn’t always what we do. That’s when the laws of nature win out and we do what’s easy, what makes us look good, or what causes the least amount of conflict.

For instance, how many times have we worked to keep a county client happy even when doing so may not have been aligned with our mission? When keeping everyone happy becomes an organization’s fundamental principle, that organization is setting itself up for failure.

Our fundamental principles — whatever they may be — do guide our decisions, behavior, and priorities. A few weeks ago, I discussed a list of reasons for Cooperative Extension– perhaps a few of those reasons resonate as principles for you.  Several years ago, I co-authored a report on Managing the Changing Portfolio of the Cooperative Extension System which included what a Joint Task Force identified as Guiding Principles, (http://www.csrees.usda.gov/qlinks/pdfs/portfolio_report.pdf). Together at our leadership summit in November we’ll be identifying the fundamental principles of ISU Extension and Outreach, on which we will base our future decisions and actions. See you there.

— Cathann