A Nugget of Pride

In 1965 astronaut Ed White, on the Gemini 4 mission, became the first American to conduct a spacewalk. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and over 2,500 others were arrested in Selma, Alabama, during demonstrations against voter-registration rules. The last link was placed in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. And here in Iowa, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was established and Marilyn Walker was hired as an office professional with ISU Extension and Outreach in Monroe County. Essentially, Marilyn’s career has spanned nearly half of our organization’s existence and she will be recognized for her 50 years of service during our ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception March 8. We’ll be honoring Marilyn along with other extension professionals who have reached the 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5 years-of-service milestones. What a tremendous legacy of service for our fellow Iowans.

People sometimes ask me what I’m proud of in ISU Extension and Outreach. Well, I’m proud that we have dedicated faculty and staff throughout the state – like Marilyn and all the others being recognized for their length of service. I’m proud that people are committed to ISU Extension and Outreach for the long haul, and I’m proud that new people continue to join the ranks of our extension professionals. I’m also proud of the faculty, staff, and council members who will be receiving awards for their programming, partnerships, innovation, creativity, scholarship, engagement, achievement, and impact – and for demonstrating the Spirit of Cy. But here’s the nugget of pride for me: I’m proud to be part of an organization full of people who daily choose to see possibility rather than just succumbing to the status quo. People who are eager to explore ways to serve their fellow Iowans and ensure our state and communities are able to sustain and thrive.

Most of all, I’m proud of the work that we all do together in ISU Extension and Outreach, because I’ve seen firsthand the impact on the communities and people of Iowa. I’m enormously proud to be part of an institution that values this work for the public good and sees its role as fulfilling a partnership with our citizens. We all can be proud that together we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. The ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8 at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

What We All Want

This time of year many of us are contemplating “wish lists” as we approach the holidays. Maybe someone you know has the latest Star Wars light saber on his or her list. Or an Alex and Ani bracelet. Even though my children are mostly grown (Wren’s a senior — how did that happen?), they still like putting together their lists of what they want. I’ve noted that the older they get, the more expensive the items on their lists seem to get, too. For several years, besides the things they want, my children also have talked about what they hope for the coming year, their wishes about doing well at college, or managing the challenges that come with growing up.

That got me thinking about what we want and hope for in ISU Extension and Outreach. Every year more than a million people directly benefit from our programs. That translates to about 1 in 3 Iowans. But it’s more likely we impact everyone in the state in some way. Do you eat in restaurants? We train foodservice workers in safe food handling practices. Do you want clean water? Iowa State helped develop the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and engages Iowans in this science and technology-based approach to improving Iowa waterways. Do you want to protect monarch butterflies? We’re part of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, working to enhance butterfly habitat in rural and urban areas of our state.

Our work is for the public good. We do the work that needs to be done, and our communities and families depend upon us. That’s why we serve Iowans every day. To celebrate that idea, I invited a few young Iowans to join me in creating this year’s video. It was a fun morning and I hope you enjoy what we did. These children and so many others like them across our state are the reason we do what we do every day in ISU Extension and Outreach. We’re working together to build a strong Iowa for their future. As we look forward to a new year, ISU Extension and Outreach will continue our commitment to harnessing the resources of our university for communities and farmers to thrive, for families and children to be healthy, and eventually to turn the world over to the next generation better than we found it. Because what we all want is a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

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

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.


7 Reasons for Co-op Extension

Grocery lists, bucket lists, Letterman’s Top 10 — many of us are list makers. An interesting list I’ve come across lately is “Seven Reasons Why We Need Cooperative Extension in the 21st Century,” by Jim Langcuster of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. (You can read Langcuster’s list at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/E/EX-0120/EX-0120.pdf.) Although his categories are clichés, his concepts are sound. Here’s a condensed version of Langcuster’s message.

1. With extension education, our clients can adopt sustainable practices in all facets of their lives.

2. We can see the big picture and point clients to cost-effective solutions they might not have considered.

3. We empower people to do more with less.

4. Our face-to-face relationships can enhance the connections that emerge from technology.

5. Our diverse audiences understand knowledge, as well as how to use it to enhance their lives in lasting, meaningful ways.

6. We can move ideas from the drawing board to the assembly floor and, ultimately, to the end user.

7. Our clients aren’t passive; they actively collaborate in our outreach efforts.

Keep the list in mind as you talk to Iowans about the value of our work. Use the concepts to start local discussion about Extension’s competitive advantage; then develop your own list. See you there.


We the People

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The preamble from our constitution is heady stuff and we probably don’t think about how it fits our work. In my previous job, we thought about it. The Department of Defense’s central mission is to defend the constitution, and Americans have heard the phrase, “Freedom isn’t Free” applied to service members willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom. I’ve thought about that as I’ve watched all the service member homecomings this past week here in Iowa. But warriors aren’t the only citizens to whom this applies. To be a free individual, living in a democracy comes with expectations, like those listed in our constitution. Our founders believed when we were free, we would choose to join with others for the common good, for magnification of common purpose, for protection, development, and support of common desires.

Freedom can appear to be selfish, like a two-year-old testing early wings of freedom —declaring “mine” or defiantly saying “no” to everything. But that’s not freedom in its maturity. Freedom, as our founders understood it, is about selflessness, about understanding the responsibilities that come with liberty. Out of this freedom comes a natural desire to join together. As a free individual, you engage daily in action to ensure domestic tranquility — from stopping at a red light, or holding a door for the next person, to volunteering at the hospital, to educating others about important local issues.

Extension is a system created to support this ideal. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, at its finest, provides a mechanism for individuals to join together to address common concerns and creates an organized, unbiased environment in which they can make decisions and act. Good democracies need systems to coordinate efforts of individuals. Commercial enterprises can’t do it, without injecting a self-serving agenda — and most of these activities can’t, and shouldn’t, be legislated directly from government. The power of the public university and its extension and outreach is that we sit in a unique position with the potential to nurture democracy through engaging citizens in common aspiration, common concerns, and common purpose. See you there.

– Cathann

Mission Drift

Last week, I got out to a few counties and met several of you. I can report that Harrison County children prefer chocolate ice cream and rocketry and are holding up fairly well with the extended impact of the flood. In Benton County, our tremendous volunteers made it possible for the Fair to go on in the midst of substantial damage from the straight-line winds. In Greene County, the heat proved too much for some events like the greased pig contest, but the cribbage tournament went on as planned.

At all these events, a lot of people talked to me about their concerns and asked me about my vision and intentions for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Iowans want to know what we plan to do.

Iowa State University Extension builds partnerships and provides research-based learning opportunities to improve quality of life in Iowa. Stated another way: we support healthy people, environments, and economies. These phrases are today’s way of stating our land-grant mission. We have to stay true to our mission, our purpose — helping Iowans make positive changes in their lives. Otherwise we’ll drift.

The Democracy Cell Project says mission drift occurs when external or internal events cause the organization to depart from purpose and core values, often in the interest of survival: “The organization limps along, attempting to do and be everything for everyone, with no limits, no parameters, and no focus of attention. … In time, the lack of a focused purpose and the collapsed consensus kills all pretense of excellence. Excellence itself can survive only in an organization committed to a strong purpose.”

Mission drift doesn’t “just happen” — it’s the logical, inevitable result of an organization losing its focus. To avoid mission drift, we have to be intentional. So here are my intentions:

1.     Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will create an educated citizenry and engines for innovation.

  • We will lead Iowa in sustaining a commitment to educational equity and access.
  • We will raise the profile of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach across the university, throughout the state, across the nation, and around the world.
  • We will collaborate across the university to ensure that extension outreach and economic development are central activities at Iowa State.

2.     Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will deliver on the land-grant university commitment to Iowans by providing public goods and services.

  • Iowa State University will provide educational goods and services that benefit many, but would not be available to everyone if individuals had to provide them.
  • Extension and Outreach activities will promote efficiency and economic equity. 

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides education to serve Iowans’ common concerns and our shared future. That’s the best of intentions. See you there.


The Land-grant Mission in Action

Hello, It’s been a great first week and I wanted to reflect on that for a moment.  In the future, I plan to send a message out every Thursday afternoon and post them on the blog mentioned below.  I’m hoping that these won’t be one-way conversations, but that you will go to the blog and share your thoughts or feedback — both with me and your colleagues.  

I am honored to serve as vice president for extension and outreach at Iowa State University. I’ve come home — to the university where I got a solid start for both my education and my extension career.

But this homecoming means more than simply returning to an alma mater. I’m also returning to my home state and to my people. 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.  I saw great examples of that already this week in Ottumwa, where multiple partners are working to create greater opportunity for their city, to enhance their Main Street, and to ensure their children thrive.

Nearly 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln introduced the radical idea that higher education should be practical and available to everyone. Today Iowans and Iowa State continue to carry out the land-grant mission, putting the university’s research to work throughout the state. It’s a shared commitment to Iowa, to our people, and to our future.

My first order of business is to learn more, firsthand, about what ISU Extension and Iowans are doing throughout the state. So I’ll be heading out to field days and other events in the next few weeks — but as a participant rather than as the main attraction. I’ll be sharing some highlights from my on-the-ground education with you in upcoming weekly messages.

I’m looking forward to watching Iowa’s land-grant mission in action. See you there.


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