Legacy: Going Forward

In our year-end video (Watch “Legacy: Looking Back, Looking Forward.”) we took a look back. It was a chance to think about how far we’ve come – and wonder how much further we can go.  I can feel the momentum building all around me. We’ve come a long way. And we are just beginning.

It’s powerful to remember the good things, to pull from our combined efforts and successes as we look ahead. In that frame of mind, I’d like to ask you to tuck these things away in a place where they are easily accessible to reflect upon:

  • Our work in ISU Extension and Outreach is for the public good, and our communities and families depend upon us.
  • We’re honored to serve our state – because Iowans believe education and partnerships are how you solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.
  • We are committed to carry out Abraham Lincoln’s – and now – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s legacy, that higher education should be practical and available to everyone.
  • In good times and in challenging times we continue to put the university’s research and resources to work for a strong Iowa.

Thank you for all your dedication, hard work, and service. Enjoy your holidays, and as we look forward to the New Year, we do so with anticipation, gratitude, and excitement. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Leading Indicators

I wonder how the Eared Grebes are doing. You might remember that during a storm nearly five years ago, thousands of them crash landed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Utah, mistaking the rain-slicked pavement for a lake. As I wrote in my blog at the time, the impact left some birds dead, some injured, and some terribly confused. They needed some time to recover. (See “No More Crash Landing.”)

Back then ISU Extension and Outreach had been recovering from the aftermath of earlier leadership decisions, seemingly random processes, and unclear principles. That’s why we came together for a leadership summit, where we agreed upon the fundamental principles that would guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities across our programs. Our work over the past five years has made us a stronger organization, enabling us to better focus on what we all want – a strong Iowa.

As we’ve focused on our goal – providing education and building partnerships – we’ve discovered a few things about ourselves and our organization. We understand that our relationships – among our staff and faculty and with our clients and partners – make what we do worthwhile. We’ve become more comfortable using our values and purpose to guide our work. And we’re beginning to accept the continually changing, dynamic nature of ISU Extension and Outreach. That’s how we increase our capacity to be effective, to evolve, to develop opportunities, and to fully express the vision and mission first articulated by our extension pioneers. We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans.

There are a few leading indicators that help us see where we are headed:

  • The proposed university strategic plan includes ISU Extension and Outreach.
  •  ISU Extension and Outreach contracts and grants are up – an increase of $2.7M or almost 19 percent.
  • As appropriated funds remain level, we redirected resources to leverage four new Presidential High Impact Hires (faculty) and by streamlining processes grew “Program” vs. operations funds to 73 percent of all appropriated funds.
  • Our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program has launched with two projects and eight counties participating in the program. Projects begin July 1.
  • Our Data Indicators Portal has launched.
  • We completed the county wireless project to maintain technology in all 100 offices.
  • Our faculty and staff are leading the applied research, demonstrations, and education on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Monarch and pollinator habitat revival, managing herbicide resistance, managing farm financial stress, and other issues facing Iowa.
  • We’re rebuilding strong linkages between ISU research farms and extension districts.
  • Extension expenditures in 2015 totaled $90.2M, of which counties invested 38 percent and ISU (federal, state, and other resources) 62 percent.
  • The Rising Stars program continues to expand and grow within the state, starting with six interns during the summer of 2014 and now has grown to eight.
  • Extension and Outreach in the state of Iowa currently employs 1,200 people: 450 county paid and 750 ISU paid (all sources of funds).

Now back to the Eared Grebes. Wildlife officials relocated many of the survivors to a nearby lake so they could recover and continue their migration. We have focused on our structure and priorities and continue to serve the university and the people of Iowa. Thank you for all you do to keep building a Strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

What We Really Cultivate

Spring field work can turn an extension professional’s thoughts to cultivation – and I’m not just talking about our agriculture and natural resources specialists. Though some of us in ISU Extension and Outreach regularly focus on tillage and planting, all of us should be centered on a much bigger and more important crop – the people of Iowa. Our real job is to cultivate an educated and informed citizenry.

Upon signing the Morrill Act, President Abraham Lincoln said, “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.” Ever since the first students arrived on the Iowa State campus in 1869, ever since the extension idea took shape in Sioux County in 1903, and ever since counties began organizing for extension work in 1912, Iowans have looked to the land-grant mission to guide their education and partnerships.

We can provide technical training and increase competency – that’s the easy part. (Iowa State’s motto is “science with practice” after all.) But while training and competency are important, they are not enough. Likewise, we can spur scientific and technological innovations, which also are important, but still not enough. We need people who can make wise decisions about how to use these innovations and knowledge in ways that grow our economy, enhance our world, and enrich our lives. When we cultivate educated and informed Iowans, we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

Strong Iowa State University, Strong Iowa

This week as we wrap up from Annual Conference and look ahead to Extension and Outreach Week 2016, I’m happy to share a guest blog message from Iowa State University President Steven Leath:

LeathWhile I was proud to report back in fall 2015 that Iowa State was a campus of exactly 36,001, our university community is much larger than that. That’s because ISU Extension and Outreach faculty, staff, council members, volunteers, and partners are an essential part of Iowa State.

You ensure that our education and research extend well beyond the walls of Iowa State and our campus in Ames. You help translate our research and our knowledge beyond the classroom and the lab. You ensure our science-based solutions and our resources are accessible and understandable. You partner with communities to help families become healthier, happier, and more financially secure. You partner with businesses to help them expand, create jobs, and become more profitable. You partner with farmers to help them become more innovative, sustainable, and efficient. And you partner with young Iowans to prepare them for future success through youth programs like 4-H.

Partnerships are at the very foundation of how we will move our university, our communities, and our state forward. Right now, we’re developing Iowa State’s new 5-year Strategic Plan to position the university for excellence in education, research, economic development, and service to Iowans, while ensuring we provide a safe, inclusive environment. From the very beginning, I’ve said that I want Iowa State to be known as the “partnership university.” By fostering new partnerships, we’ll be able to achieve our goals – sharing knowledge and expertise, leveraging resources, gaining exposure to different perspectives, developing a greater appreciation for diversity, and ultimately leaving our university and our state in a stronger position for the next generation.

Extension and Outreach is changing lives every day, in every county, so I offer this challenge: Work to become a more innovative, flexible, and agile partner. Connect with those outside your college, community, or area of expertise. Embrace diverse ideas and new perspectives, and become demand-driven by listening more as you develop original, science-based solutions. Your big ideas and your ability to take bold action to implement those ideas is how, together, we will create a strong Iowa State and a strong Iowa!

See you there (and Go, Cyclones!).

— Cathann

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

Here’s to Bright Days

Thanks to recent rainy mornings and later day sunshine, an old song lyric has been playing in my head (thank you, Johnny Nash): “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” (And yes, it’s at about this point in the song that my children start rolling their eyes.)

With summer two-thirds gone, field day season in full swing, Community Gardens popping, 4-H camps and activities in rain and mud, and several more county fairs and the Iowa State Fair still to go,  ISU Extension and Outreach is caught up in a whirlwind of activity across the state. In addition, we’re dealing with both the farm and the human side of avian influenza. And let’s not forget the emerald ash borer. The insect pest has been found in 26 counties and that number will increase. It all certainly can feel overwhelming, particularly when you throw in Iowa summer heat indices in the 100s, deluges of rain and mud, and trying to keep up with all that email back in the office.

I encourage you to give yourself a moment to step back and to see clearly what are (and what really aren’t) obstacles in your way. Because even with the rain, the heat, and musical earworms, ISU Extension and Outreach is still the #BestJobEver. Thank you for your long hours, hard work, patience, and unending dedication as you provide research-based education and continue this lifelong partnership with the people of Iowa. We have many bright days ahead. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.
Learn more about ISU Extension and Outreach at the 2015 Iowa State Fair.

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.

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.

Listening with Purpose

One of my favorite family events is coming soon. To kick off our holidays, members of my family gather and light candles, bake a Buche de Noel, and then proceed to eat and talk until most of the candles go out. Stories are told, and retold, often embellished. Sometimes myths are corrected or new stories emerge. My favorite part of the event is watching everyone’s faces in the candlelight and listening — really listening to our family lore from the silly to the sublime and hearing it told from different perspectives. It’s been fun to hear about the escapades of my elderly uncles as young rapscallions, to hear younger members tell a new story, or remember with fondness tales of those we’ve lost. I always gain strength from listening and it broadens my understanding of my family.

Sometimes we just need to get someone else’s point of view, to gather different perceptions, to see issues from other angles. To limit the future to only what we know shrinks our capacity. It’s easy to fall into patterns of preserving our view over all else — but this is how important listening is — it is the beginning of learning.

That’s why in 2014 we called upon potential constituents and long-time partners to listen to their perspectives firsthand about how to best serve the needs of Iowans. We heard from Iowa Millennials and Gen X’ers during our Young Iowans Speak forum. It was the first in a series of “Extension Reconsidered” forums held throughout the nation to mark the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act. The young Iowans, ages 18 to 35, were from both urban and rural places. Some had prior experience with us, while others knew nothing about our work. We asked the young Iowans to share their views and visions of the future and Iowa State’s role in that future.

From May through November, West Pottawattamie, Kossuth, Warren, Dubuque and Linn county extension councils hosted town meetings. Participants in these sessions included rural economic development groups; community college presidents; Councils of Governments; representatives from K-12 schools, public health, and local nonprofit organizations; and other community leaders. We asked our partners about why they engage with ISU Extension and Outreach, how we can improve our relationship, and ways we can further collaborate.

Then we listened. Intentionally. Respectfully. With purpose.  Because here’s the thing: listening makes us stronger and it broadens our understanding of our work.  See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Watch the video, get the story, and print the report to learn more about Young Iowans Speak and Partner Perspectives. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Report Card Time

Cathann and friends at ISU graduationSelfie taken at ISU Spring Commencement – President of the Senior Class Ben Zelle, Associate VP for Student Affairs Martino Harmon, Provost Jonathan Wickert, Dean of the Graduate College David Holger, Senior VP for Student Affairs Tom Hill, VPEO Cathann Kress, and Dean of Students Pamela Anthony.

I always enjoy graduation season. As usual, Iowa State’s commencement was a fine occasion of pomp and circumstance, as well as tweets and selfies and unfettered happiness as our students became graduates and alumni of our land-grant university. Hilton Coliseum was filled with young people in their caps and gowns, triumphantly walking across the stage and out into the world. (There were a few not-so-young people there, too, as this selfie attests.) Similar scenes have been playing out in high school auditoriums and gymnasiums throughout the state in recent weeks, with so many of our young people moving on to the next stage of their lives. But even the younger students, who may have a long way to go before their graduations, are filled with anticipation at this time of year as they await their report cards.

Report card time, for many of us, was a time of wonder, as in, I wonder what grade I’ll get in math class. Did that last English paper make the difference? Was that chemistry final good enough to land a passing grade for the semester?

We’ve all had our performance reviews so we know how well we did individually this past year. But how did we do as a group? What does Extension and Outreach’s report card look like? Let’s take a look at some of the things we said we’d do.

  • Update and finalize the ISU Extension and Outreach Strategic Plan: Done
  • Streamline ISU Extension and Outreach Administration into functional units responsible for key actions: Done
  • Develop and support systems to improve internal communications, coordination, and collaboration: Underway
  • Complete our business plan: Underway
  • Invest in meaningful partnerships: Underway
  • Refine a system to collectively identify emerging and current needs: Done, and sharing
  • Develop and support a structure to sustain professional development: Launching

We set these goals at our leadership summit, and we’ve made substantial progress in the last two and a half years. Yes, there’s more we can do. That’s why we began examining our organizational culture during our 2014 annual conference, so we can better align our behaviors with our values and vision. The conference report, with action steps based on our facilitated discussions and our post-conference evaluations, will be released next week.

We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans. Together we try new ideas and approaches, we get our report card, and we learn from our experiences. See you there.

— Cathann

Sustaining the Future

Coalitions, partnerships, and collaborations are built one relationship at a time. It may be relatively easy to bring a number of people and groups together around an issue. However, getting them to stay and work together is another matter — even though there is good evidence that people working together are better off and more successful than people working alone. They’ll have more ideas, develop more capacity to get things done, and feed off one another’s energy to keep the effort moving. If it’s possible, concerted action is almost always more effective in the long run than one person or organization going it alone.

To that end, we have started our Partnership Perspectives meetings around the state to bring together small groups of key partners to learn more about our positioning and collaboration with programs. Invitees include mayors, city council members, community college presidents, AEA directors, hospital foundation directors, Farm Bureau regional directors, chamber of commerce directors, extension council members, and other leaders. We are discussing their past involvement with ISU Extension and Outreach, as well as gathering their ideas on future opportunities to partner and further mutual goals.

The case for partnership in community-based education is compelling. The challenges facing communities across Iowa are such that solutions must be found and scaled up. Many of us must respond to increasingly complex challenges, usually with restricted budgets, so finding ways we can maximize impacts by leveraging the extraordinary problem-solving abilities of partners, and the reach and the complementary resources partnership can bring, is critical.

It’s worth noting that partnerships don’t just happen. Clear management allows partnerships to flourish and partners can focus on programs rather than the details and processes. We also should ask ourselves how well our organizational culture supports our ability to sustain effective partnerships. According to Katie Fry Hester, a senior associate with The Partnering Initiative:

Organizations that have historically operated using transactional relationships find it hard to relinquish control and are resistant to change; especially without the stimulus of a high profile success or failure. For others, while ‘humility isn’t the natural currency of most big organizations, there is a genuine recognition that the organization can’t go it alone.’ The research identified a number of key elements conducive to an effective partnering culture — humility, equity, transparency and adaptability.

It’s our relationships – among our staff and with our clients and partners – that make what we do worthwhile. Your efforts – small and large – touch and help many people. Staying focused on what sustains partnerships also sustains our communities, our organization, and our shared future. See you there.

— Cathann

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