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.

Kind and Brave

Cathann Kress and Cy with young girl in an elementary school classroomAuthor and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton says kind people are brave people. That’s because brave is a decision that compassion is more important than fear or fitting in.

When I read this in her blog, I remembered something a young Iowan once told me: “I wish that everybody – everybody – would be kind.” That was her brave wish for the future of our state. I met this young Iowan a few years ago while we were shooting an ISU Extension and Outreach video. She told me how she dreams that cities won’t have pollution and everybody will be healthy. We talked for several minutes about her ideas for the future, and then she was off on her way.

The grownup blogger and the young Iowan have the right idea. To be kind we have to be brave, because it requires putting the needs of others ahead of our own: like when we’re helping those hit by flooding to deal with the aftermath, or offering guidance to farmers under financial stress, or developing the necessary skills to engage in a diverse and global society. In ISU Extension and Outreach we have about 1,200 faculty and staff all across the state so we can be everywhere for all Iowans. We strive to be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. I think it’s safe to say we also strive to be kind and compassionate as we work with Iowans to meet common goals and aspirations. That’s what cooperatives do.

And that’s how we’ll achieve a strong Iowa – when we take care of each other, when we pay it forward, when we act with kindness. Because when we are kind, we are brave. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Maybe you’ve seen our video, but it’s worth watching again to learn what some young Iowans think about “Whatever the Future Holds.” 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 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.

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.

Our Greatest Asset

Showing new Iowans how to buy, eat, and live healthy; helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses; assisting farm families as they transition their operation from one generation to the next: These are wonderful examples of how ISU Extension and Outreach is harnessing the resources of our university to build a strong Iowa. At our annual conference yesterday we began sharing our #STRONGIOWA stories. We have so many compelling examples of the importance of education and partnerships. These stories demonstrate our commitment to excellence, access, community, and engagement. We all need to share our stories so people understand the private and public good of our work in ISU Extension and Outreach.

As President Leath pointed out yesterday, serving as a 99 county campus requires a strong university, connecting Iowans from river to river and border to border. That is why we have expanded ISU Extension and Outreach into all ISU colleges, developed programs like the Rising Stars Internship and our new Data Center, and established our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. Today, we are in a solid position to enhance the university through building capacity for extension and engagement. Five years ago we made a commitment to rebuilding a strong ISU Extension and Outreach. Because we made and carried through on that commitment, now we are in a position to work in partnership with the people of this state – to build a strong Iowa.

One of the keys to our success these past five years has been the investment in our greatest asset – our people. For those of you among the nearly 500 who came to Hilton yesterday, thank you for coming and I hope you felt enriched and valued. I know I walked away with a few ideas percolating around in my head: Napoleon’s regret, understanding more about the larger land-grant family through Carrie Billy, Iowa trivia, and my favorite, from Chris Bashinelli, “I thought I was here to change the world, now I know the world is here to change me.”

The progress we’ve made within ISU Extension and Outreach during the past five years is the direct result of the dedication and talent of all of you – the many people who make up our system, including faculty, staff, council members, and volunteers. Our strength is our team, our collaborations, and dedication to our mission. “We 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…I believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to humanity”*

See you there.

— Cathann

*From the Extension Professionals’ Creed

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter. For a glimpse at what happened at Annual Conference, search social media under #STRONGIOWA.

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.

It’s Still about People

As our nation has been commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday and numerous events this month, 41 people from across all of ISU Extension and Outreach gathered together to begin developing a diversity and inclusion strategic plan to guide our work in building a strong Iowa. On behalf of our whole system, I expressed my appreciation to these colleagues for their willingness to take on this challenge and provide this much needed leadership.

Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but there’s a reason we do what we do in ISU Extension and Outreach. We want a strong Iowa. That’s why we partner with the people of Iowa and harness the resources of our university. We want all communities and farmers to thrive. We want all families and children to be healthy. And eventually we want to turn the world over to everyone in the next generation better than we found it. We want to best serve Iowans, no matter their location or need.

Our legacy in Iowa is forward-thinking people – people ahead of their time, people determined to make life better for others, people who want to make a difference. Within ISU Extension and Outreach, we also are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and safe. So we must constantly review, evaluate, and improve our practices and our processes. And we must remove any barriers that may get in the way.

We’ve asked our diversity and inclusion strategic planning team to focus on the next three years. They are thinking about how we can embody diversity and inclusion in our programs, practices, and people. They also are considering how to help faculty and staff see that their individual actions contribute to our collective effort. Although the team is leading the strategic planning effort, we all need to thoughtfully address these issues.

Extension and Outreach is a 99-county campus. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how diverse cultures can work in partnership to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. 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.

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.

Subscribe to “See You There”

Enter your email address: