Coming Together in Mutual Interest

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Recently we dug out a few archival photographs for the office walls here on campus. We thought it fitting to celebrate both where we are today, as well as where we came from. That’s when we came upon this one from over a hundred years ago. This was pretty much the entire extension staff and faculty in those days. What a crew they were. Although they look rather somber given photography at that time, the truth is they were on the cusp of greatness. They were forward-thinking people committed to the land-grant mission and the cooperative extension idea. These folks led Seed Corn Gospel trains and short courses, and provided demonstrations to improve farm homes and families. They also recognized the importance of educating rural youth – with corn clubs that later became 4-H. Their work led to the establishment of extension nationwide, and their stories and so many more are part of our history in ISU Extension and Outreach, a history we continue to celebrate this year as 13 more counties observed their 100 year anniversaries of extension work.

What strikes me is how this small group of people came together to accomplish something really big. It wasn’t just shared self-interest. It rose above and embraced the ideals of sharing with and helping others. It wasn’t just a pipeline for technology transfer, but a mutual, positive view of others in society, and a particular identification with the ordinary, the humble, and the least privileged. The beginning of extension funneled the mission of our institution to a commitment of limiting self-interest and focusing on altruism. That’s what cooperatives do.

Some people say, the more things change, the more they stay the same – and in some fundamental ways that is true. We remain true to our land-grant mission and we continue our goal and role: Together, we provide education and build partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Look again at the photo, at the faces of people who could have chosen to just look out for themselves, but instead chose to build an extension system, which looks out for others. That’s who we still are. That’s who we will always be. See you there.

— Cathann

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

What Extension and Outreach Means to Us

What does it mean to you, personally, to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach? I asked that question of the leadership team recently and I’d like to share some of their answers.

To Debra Sellers, associate dean and director of Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, being part of ISU Extension and Outreach means “to engage with others in a shared vision of empowering people and growing lives, to contribute to a legacy that is larger than just myself, and to have a little fun along the way.”

Our budget analyst, John Flickinger, says, “I have the privilege to provide assistance to program leaders and staff so they can focus on educational and training opportunities for the citizens and communities of Iowa, our nation, and our world – opportunities that will enable youth, adults, business owners, and community leaders to make better choices for themselves, their families, and their overall lives. Even though my role is ‘indirect support,’ knowing the end product and our mission for ISU Extension and Outreach is what brings fulfillment to me.”

According to John Lawrence, associate dean and director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach, “There is not just one thing, but rather many things that it means to me. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to serve agriculture and Iowa. I get to participate and to make a difference. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to work with and earn the respect of great people as colleagues and clients. I’m proud to be part of an organization that has and continues to impact people, policy, and the planet.”

Bob Dodds, assistant vice president for County Services, says, “Through education, ISU Extension and Outreach improves the lives of Iowans. I work for ISU Extension and Outreach because of this, but equally important, I learn each day with those we serve. I appreciate the opportunity to be innovative and create, and the opportunities are endless. I know firsthand the impact the land-grant mission has had on my life, my family, and my community. To be a part of the Iowa State land-grant mission is very rewarding. I truly believe the land-grant mission is as relevant today as it was when Lincoln signed the Morrill Act.”

We all could provide our own answers about what it means to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach. Take a moment to ask a colleague and be sure to ask yourself. It’s all good food for thought as we continue building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Caring for the Commons

During my teen years on a farm in southeast Iowa, my summer job was to move our flock of about 500 sheep from pasture to pasture at the appropriate times. Some people would have called me a shepherd, but I called myself a pasture steward, because my family had taught me that before you could be a shepherd you had to have a healthy pasture. I didn’t just regulate how long the sheep stayed on one patch. I worked long and often hot days cutting down bull thistle and nettles, fighting back multiflora rose, repairing fence, reseeding sections, and studying drainage and grazing patterns. I paid attention to weather forecasts and I spent hours walking throughout the pastures to the point that I knew the fine detail of each one’s condition and potential.

Today my view is a lot better than the backsides of 500 sheep; but the work, well, it’s kind of the same. Only instead of taking care of a pasture, together we are caring about the things we share in common, which build a strong Iowa.

For any community – virtual, social, or physical – to thrive, there must be those who care for the things we hold in common, but for which none of us has actual individual responsibility. Frances Moore Lappé put it this way: “How do we protect, not what we own individually, but those indivisible goods we inherit, share, and yearn to pass on unharmed or enriched to our children?” This idea is well documented in environmental issues, but no less important in other community assets. Caring for the commons is an act of individual stewardship (long-term care for a resource for the benefit of oneself and others, including the resource itself). Caring for the commons means more than just regulating. We must be caretakers in a system, nurturing cooperation in society and sharing goods and thoughtfulness of generations to come.

Within environmental stewardship, the notion has even generated a fable, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” in which ecologist Garrett Hardin pointed out that if each individual attempts to take more than his or her share by even a small amount, the consequences can be devastating. Hardin said education could counteract our natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but with each new generation the basis for this knowledge must be constantly refreshed. In ISU Extension and Outreach, we are the stewards of this engagement mission. That’s how we care for the commons. Our land grant mission is our legacy – offering opportunity, providing access, and sharing knowledge with all. 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.

Proud of Our People

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Well.  WOW.  We had our 2015 ISU Extension and Outreach Annual Conference this week and I’m still pumped! Thank you to the 480 who attended and filled Benton Auditorium.  Our theme was “it’s all about people,” and was it ever! From the opening drumming of the Iowa State Groove to Jim Harken and Julie Hlas’ closing thank you notes, being together for this conference felt like coming home to family. With lots of coffee, food, and time to visit, we could catch up with one another. (Thanks to Lake Laverne swans Lance and Lainey for taking over Twitter duty and scoring our highest number of impressions ever.) We learned more about what our other family members were doing all over the state and we had the opportunity to recognize them for their great work (and hold a hissing cockroach).

As Provost Wickert reminded us, Iowa was the first state to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act to establish a land-grant university. Iowa State was the first in the nation to engage citizens and begin Extension and Outreach. Today we carry on the legacy of a forward-thinking people, because Extension and Outreach is all about people: the Iowans we serve, our partners and volunteers, and our faculty and staff throughout the state. I appreciate the great work you all do for the people of Iowa. I am regularly impressed by your dedication and creativity, and your commitment to turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it.

It really is as simple as the extension professional’s creed starts: I believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their 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. You are rising to our unique legacy, but you don’t have to take my word for it: Watch this video message from our boots on the ground throughout the state.

We all can be proud to be Iowans. Proud to be Cyclones. Proud to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach and the Land-Grant System. When each of us joined Extension and Outreach, whether that was 40 years ago (We’re talking about you, Donna Donald!) or just this week (Hey there, Ryan Breuer and Renae Kroneman!), we began a lifelong partnership with the people of Iowa.  And, we also began the #BestJobEver. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Coping with Water

Most of us don’t like change – it takes us away from the familiar, makes us learn something new, makes us think.  I did a quick search, and there are countless books, blogs, websites and magazines with strategies and methods for coping with change, both personally and professionally, at home and in the workplace. We tend to think it’s a new thing — perhaps change came along with the Internet because surely before then, not much changed, right?

Extension was created on the concept of change. Those early educators and researchers weren’t teaching citizens about practices everyone already knew or were comfortable with, but new ideas, different techniques, and innovative practices. Change is kind of our thing. Our early Extension professionals even understood how uncomfortable we adults can get with change, leading to the creation of 4-H, because, well … youth are apparently a bit more willing to be early adopters.  I think telling Extension professionals that they need to “cope” with change is like telling a fish to cope with water.

We make change into something that must be dealt with and adjusted to. And maybe that’s our problem. We give change a life of its own. We say change is hard and responding to change takes time and effort. But really, change simply “is” and we can’t really keep it from happening.

We will change now and then, as we deliver our fundamental programs, address signature issues, take on emerging program opportunities, and transition programs that can be spun off to a partner, sustained locally, or are no longer needed. We will change as we shape our organizational culture and move forward on our action steps from annual conference. But ISU Extension and Outreach always will put the land-grant resources to work, applying university research and evidence-based practices across the state. There are things that make it easier to rise to the example of our early Extension professionals, such as understanding that big picture of our work, having anchors such as our values, which provide stability, keeping our expectations realistic, and relying on each other.  See you there.

— Cathann

The Pride of Iowa

This has been a busy and exciting week, and not just because it’s ISU Extension and Outreach week. I’ve been in two capitols (in Washington, D.C., and Des Moines) attending two centennial celebrations (Norman Borlaug’s birthday and the Smith-Lever Act anniversary).

At the beginning of the week, I had the great honor of accompanying State 4-H Council members Megan Hughes and Michael Tupper and being part of Iowa State’s delegation to D.C. for the unveiling of the Norman Borlaug statue in Statuary Hall on what would have been his 100th birthday. It was a great day to be an Iowan, with many dignitaries, a lot of history, and a few speeches. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but I would like to highlight Rep. Tom Latham’s observation that while it was Borlaug’s research that was key to saving a billion people from hunger, it was also the ability to get that research to the people that led to the “green revolution.” In fact, Rep. Latham noted that Borlaug’s last words uttered after a colleague shared another discovery were, “Get it to the farmers.” Here at Iowa State, we understand the importance of connecting research and extension and the powerful impact when both efforts are strong. (Learn more about Norman Borlaug at http://www.normanborlaug.org/.)

Today, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which formally established cooperative extension, with the reading of a bipartisan resolution in our own statehouse. Iowa State was the first to establish extension — in 1903, when Sioux County farmers and Iowa State University established the basis for agricultural cooperative extension work across the country. With this resolution, the Iowa Senate celebrates historical, current, and future Extension and Outreach work in Iowa. The resolution also honors extension council members, volunteers, the Iowa State University faculty and Extension and Outreach educators and staff throughout the state who dedicate careers to providing trusted education to help farmers, families, youth, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future. (Learn more about the national Smith-Lever celebration at http://www.extension100years.net/en/administration/about_us/chancellors_office/extension/celebration/.)

Our work received a standing ovation in the Iowa Senate chambers this morning as the senators unanimously voted to adopt the resolution. What a week to be a proud Iowan and proud Cyclone! Education and partnership really are the pride of Iowa. We look forward to the next 100 years of innovative research, which we will take to the people. See you there.

— Cathann

C.J. and Smith-Lever

C.J. Gauger and Cathann KressRecently I attended a birthday party — a 100th birthday party — for an Iowa icon, C.J. Gauger. As Iowa’s state 4-H leader from 1959-1979, C.J. was a visionary, guiding 4-H. He brought the boys’ and girls’ 4-H programs together and emphasized life skills development for all youth, rural or urban. He truly believed in listening to Iowa’s young people and involving them in shaping their 4-H program.

Another icon with a 100th birthday this year is the Smith-Lever Act, which established Cooperative Extension nationwide. For 100 years, the Smith-Lever Act has stimulated innovative research and vital educational programs for youth and adults. State-by-state, a network of educators extend university-based research and knowledge to the people, improving lives and shaping a nation.  Later in May, I’m taking a delegation from Iowa State to Washington, D.C., to a national convocation to celebrate this birthday too.

Birthday parties are fleeting – the balloons deflate and the leftover cake dries out as we pick up the crumpled gift wrap. But the reason for the celebration remains long after the party is over. In C.J.’s case, his legacy lives on through one of every five Iowa youth, who participates in our 4-H programs. And as for Smith-Lever, in Iowa alone, nearly a million people directly benefit from our educational programs every year. During Extension and Outreach Week, March 23-29 we’ll be celebrating our continuing mission to provide access to education through meaningful partnerships. It’s a great time to celebrate icons like C.J. and Smith-Lever, and to show our appreciation for our clients, colleagues, volunteers, community leaders, organizations, agencies and many other partners who support ISU Extension and Outreach work in Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

It Really Is a Wonderful Life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd Class

Like many of your families, this time of year one of my family’s traditions is to fill the chipped blue popcorn bowl, head to the couch, and watch classic holiday movies. Of course a favorite is the classic of all holiday classics, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You know the story: Clarence the guardian angel shows George Bailey how different his community would be if he had never been born. George learns that his relationships with the people of Bedford Falls are what really matter. Although his life didn’t turn out the way he planned, he realizes he has a wonderful life because of those relationships, and he has touched, and helped, many people. He has lived a life worth living.

Sometimes Extension and Outreach work doesn’t turn out the way we plan, either. But it’s our relationships – among our staff and with our clients and partners – that make what we do worthwhile. That’s why we’re focused on feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it. I thank each of you for everything you do to carry out the land-grant mission and serve the people of Iowa. Your efforts – small and large – touch and help many people. Especially at this time of year, may all of us remember that despite our challenges, it really is a wonderful life making a difference for Iowans. See you there.

— Cathann

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