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.

Time for a Catalyst

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
– George Bernard Shaw (British playwright, 1856-1950)

ISU Extension and Outreach is a catalyst — and this really is at the heart of what we should be doing. Because of our networks and unique connections, we often are aware of different opportunities. We also can connect people in ways that perhaps they never thought of being connected. Through this sharing, we may create unique relationships or new funding opportunities that possibly didn’t exist before. This ability to catalyze, to gain energy from people coming together in some unique ways, results in great benefits for the state of Iowa. With our networks and connections, we bring the right people together to move Iowa forward. We’re not just sharing apples; we’re sharing ideas. See you there.

— Cathann

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.


Liberty Hyde Bailey

“Whenever a piece of work comes to the point where maintenance of the organization is the principle aim, it begins then to lose its direction.”
— Liberty Hyde Bailey

That bit of advice is from “America’s father of modern horticulture.” Liberty Hyde Bailey began the first department of horticulture in the United States — at Michigan State — and later helped establish a State College of Agriculture at Cornell. Bailey also was a pioneer in extension work, playing a key role in formalizing extension across the United States.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt named Bailey chair of the newly appointed Commission on Country Life. The country life movement, as Bailey described it, focused on “the desire to make rural civilization as effective and satisfying as other civilization.” The Commission gathered data from public hearings and other meetings throughout the country and more than half a million questionnaires. The Commission’s report offered three recommendations: a campaign for rural progress; continuing fact-finding surveys (which fostered the development of agricultural economics and rural sociology in universities and the federal government); and a nationalized extension service, which became law with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914.

The Commission on Country Life lasted six months — from initial appointment in August 1908 to the final report that Roosevelt presented to Congress in February 1909. But think about what it accomplished! The Commission wasn’t concerned about its own maintenance; it was focused on the work it needed to do.

Five weeks from now, we’ll be coming together for our ISU Extension and Outreach leadership summit. This is the time to focus on big ideas. It’s time to focus on our mission and explore partnerships we could build, learning opportunities we could create, and the structures that would be most efficient to best serve Iowans and our institution in the years ahead. Liberty Hyde Bailey and the Commission on Country Life envisioned an extension service that connected people with land-grant colleges to take advantage of everything research-based knowledge had to offer.  We can reclaim that vision. See you there.


Not Just the Light Bulb

My middle son, Payden, likes to know how things work and why. So, he asks questions. When he was 12, he asked a lot of questions about light bulbs — “Where does the light come from? What is the little wire made of?” — that kind of thing. His questions began to press upon his mother’s knowledge of such things, so I suggested he look it up. “Try ‘Edison,’” I said.

A few days later, Payden started reciting a dizzying array of facts about light bulbs.  I’ll spare you the full array, but one fact caught my attention. Thomas Edison created the electric light bulb and THEN created the system of electric power generation and distribution to make it useful.

I hadn’t ever thought about that, but obviously, as cool as the light bulb was, without an easy way to use it, no one would. Edison succeeded by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people wanted and needed in their lives and the way things were made, marketed, and supported.

As we think about the future of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, it’s key to consider whether we’ve become just “light bulb” thinkers or if we consistently seek a broad systems approach — which makes the cool ideas useful. That broader approach is much harder work, or “99 percent perspiration,” as Edison put it. See you there.



Welcome to See You There, a blog for ISU Extension staff and county council members. My posts are intended to spark conversation on issues affecting our organization. How do they apply to your county, region, or program area? How are you addressing the issues? Let’s make this blog a gathering space for a meaningful exchange of ideas.

I’ve linked a few key resources here as well. For example, take a look at the Morrill Act on the Library of Congress website. It’s inspiring to view the document as our Thirty-seventh Congress saw it. Also see the County Agricultural Extension section of the Iowa Code, Iowa State’s Strategic Plan, the Journal of Extension, and information on public value. As this blog progresses, please suggest additional resources that relate to the issues and would be helpful to staff and councils.

Please join the discussion regularly. Together we can make this blog a valuable resource for ISU Extension. See you there.

— Cathann

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