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.

Proud of Our People


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.

Defining and Designing Experience

We often say we want people to not only gain information from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, but also have an“experience.” When someone makes this comment in a meeting, we all nod our heads in agreement. As I was driving back from eastern Iowa last week, I did what I often do, and started wondering about the stuff we all nod our heads about.

What do we mean when we say we want people to have an experience? What kind? Who gets to have it?  Who is defining the experience? Do we all mean the same thing when we say experience? I looked it up, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation. (See for starters.) So I did a little reading. Brian Solis, an expert in branding, says we are in a new era of marketing and service, “in which your brand is defined by those who experience it.” Solis argues that no one engages with a company or organization hoping for ordinary. Everyone is seeking a remarkable experience.

I think the future of our organization lies in shared experiences. However, do we have a responsibility to plan those experiences, or is whatever our clients experience by default good enough? We have to consider what these experiences involve, because our clients will tell their friends not only about what they learn, but also about what they actually experience. Do their experiences align with expectations of the ISU Extension and Outreach brand or are there gaps? How do we create and deliver meaningful and shareable experiences to ensure that more Iowans engage with us? What are we asking people to align with if we haven’t defined the experience? What do we want them to be part of?

When Iowans are having an experience with Extension and Outreach, it should be clear to them that they are engaging with Iowa State University. There should be no question that they are receiving research-based education. They should readily understand that we are their lifelong partner as they seek personal and professional satisfaction and success for their communities.  We provide education and deliver experiences; both are equally important. We need to define and design the experiences with as much thought and effort as we define and design the education so Iowans will engage with ISU Extension and Outreach as lifelong partners. See you there.

— Cathann

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

1,000 Strawberry Points

StrawberryPoint200Icons can be widely known symbols, like the little bird on my cell phone that helps me find my Twitter account. Other icons are objects of devotion, as evidenced by teenage girls swooning over the boy band One Direction. And there’s a wide range between these two extremes. In any case, icons offer insights into what we find important. They mean something to us.

If you’ve ever been to Strawberry Point, Iowa, you know there’s just something iconic about that great big strawberry that’s high in the sky above downtown. That giant berry represents a distinct identity and pride of place in a one-of-a-kind community. That’s why we used it in our 2014 annual report to help illustrate how many people ISU Extension and Outreach serves. Last year more than 1 million people directly benefited from our programs. That’s one thousand Strawberry Points.

There are other Iowa icons in our annual report as well – the High Trestle Trail, the American Gothic house, and “Main Street,” to name a few. They’re a shortcut to make our point: We are everywhere for Iowans. Iowa State educates more Iowa students than any other university, and ISU Extension and Outreach educates more Iowans. Having said that, it’s awfully hard to boil our work down to numbers or a brief report, because we all know that it’s more than numbers and more than Web clicks. It’s about children and their families, businesses and farmers, teachers, manufacturers, local leaders, caregivers, and legislators. The list goes on and on, because our work is about building capacity and mostly, it’s about people and our institution’s lifelong partnership with them. We know Iowa’s people and places, and we look forward to continuing to serve our fellow Iowans. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Review our 2014 annual report. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Whatever the future holds

Last week I blogged about listening with purpose and how in 2014 we heard from our partners as well as young Iowans, ages 18 to 35. Well, we also listened to really young Iowans, elementary school age. We asked them what they thought the future would be like, and oh boy, they told us. Imagine flying cars and jet packs and travelling through time to give dinosaurs a second chance. On a more serious level they talked about becoming scientists, taking care of the environment, and embracing differences.

Now some of the things they predict may sound far-fetched to you (fish ham?), but I’m old enough to recall when a hand-held portable “communicator” was Star Trek science fiction and now most of us carry smart phones around, or when the idea of GPS-driven farm equipment would have been unthinkable, just to name a couple.

The point is — some things change and change rapidly and will keep changing as we watch the future unfold.  We need to accept that, prepare for it, and yes, even figure out how to embrace it.  And some things — like a simple desire that we all be kind to each other — never change.  We’ll hang on to some of those no matter what comes our way.

So, here’s to the future. May Iowa’s children continue to inspire us with their dreams and wisdom, may we stay open to the possibilities, and may the squirrels never organize and attack.  Iowa State University will be ready to serve as a lifelong partner — whatever the future holds. See you there.

—  Cathann

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


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