The Magic Continues

Last week as I visited several communities across the state, it was quite common for Iowans to share their thoughts about Coach Hoiberg’s departure from Iowa State men’s basketball. While there is some sadness, for the most part Cyclone Nation is wishing Fred well as he pursues his dream to coach in the NBA. As I’ve thought about how we’ve been amazed by Fred’s coaching abilities over the past few years, I realized that with or without Fred we appreciate what we have going forward. We’ll show our support for the student athletes and our new Iowa State basketball coach Steve Prohm. The Mayor may have re-ignited Hilton Magic, but it will continue because of Cyclone Nation.

We also should appreciate what we have here in ISU Extension and Outreach. (Other extension services are amazed at what we have.) For example, we had the forethought 20 years ago to create our statewide online network. Other state extension services did not. When the network installation was completed on June 28, 1995, every county office had a local area network tying office computers with a file server and laser printer. A wide area network gave access to printers and file servers located in other offices. Plus, we all were connected to e-mail, Gopher (Remember Gopher?), and the World Wide Web. The project cost $2.1 million and was completed in 21 months. So as you read this message on your smartphone or iPad or laptop or desktop, wish a happy birthday to our ISU Extension and Outreach Information Network.

In addition, we’ve embedded ISU Extension and Outreach throughout the colleges of our university. Many extension services are astounded that we have elected county extension councils who guide local programs and levy taxes. In ISU Extension and Outreach, we continually have worked to build our capacity, and other extension services look to us to see what’s next on the horizon.

We appreciate the forward-thinking people who came before us (such as Perry Holden, Jessie Field Shambaugh, and more recently of course, Fred Hoiberg) and those who will follow us, as we strive to turn the world over to the next generation better than we found it. Even though our structure in ISU Extension and Outreach can be cumbersome, it has resiliency built into it, much more so than other states. We can rightly feel proud to be part of Iowa State University. We’re helping our state be strong. Our magic was ignited a long time ago, but it will continue because of ISU Extension and Outreach Nation. See you there.

— Cathann

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

The Real Golden Age

If you’ve been around Extension and Outreach for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard someone refer to the past as if it were the “Golden Age of Extension.”   I know ever since I was a 4-H Educator in Benton and Tama counties, I’ve had this impression that once upon a time extension was characterized by peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During that time, we assume working in extension was easy and wonderful, with plenty of resources, and the unflagging appreciation of the public. But when was that, exactly? Was it a hundred years ago as extension began? When early extension pioneers made their rounds by horse and buggy with little value placed on a university which few citizens understood? Given the struggles those educators had just communicating, not to mention encouraging adoption of research-based techniques – I wonder. Maybe it was in the 1930s — the era of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression? Maybe not. How about the 1940s and 1950s — after all, isn’t that when Norman Rockwell painted that iconic painting of the County Agent? Oh, wait — with the recovery following World War II? Hmmmm.

I do believe there is a golden age of Extension — it is before us, right now. At no other time have we had the resources and technology at our disposal, the ease of communication and networking, or the recognition of the importance of access to the educational resources of our university.

Think about it: Our faculty and staff are about 1,000 strong, working with families and youth, farmers and agribusiness professionals, and businesses and communities all across the state. Each year nearly 1 million people directly benefit from our educational programs. We’re communicating with each other, our partners, and our clients face-to-face, as well as using computers, iPads, and smart phones. We can videoconference, teleconference, or still meet for coffee at the Ivy Bake Shoppe. Last year Iowans connected virtually with us through more than 1.5 million website visits and downloads of educational materials and courses. Can you imagine how our early educators would marvel at our technology and envy the resources we have in our program portfolio?

We must continue to build on this work, to widen the circle of our reach throughout the state, to live up to the legacy and the dreams of those extension educators who preceded us. Every dollar that Iowans invest in Extension and Outreach pays back dividends — when entrepreneurs start businesses, families make healthy choices, youth become leaders for the future, and communities become better places to live. We are lucky enough to be stewards of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach when a golden age is upon us. See you there.

— Cathann

Own It. Solve It. Do It.

This week we released the follow-up report from our annual conference. Our four-page report summarizes themes that emerged from our discussions. Overall, we issued a call for more fully uniting campus and county. The report also provides three action steps based on the data gathered from our discussions and post-conference evaluations: addressing Iowa’s changing demographics, adapting to our new reality, and continuing to invest in professional development. Embedded in these action steps is a recognition that we need to get moving and make some changes.  Like now.  Even when it’s uncomfortable.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable! Roosevelt Thomas said it best, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  We’re not alone.  I just came from a strategic planning session for National 4-H Council and we found ourselves asking, “Does Extension want to grow?”  If the answer is yes, it means we are going to have to do some things differently. Extension across the nation is grappling with these issues and we can join the dialogue (see Extension is Broken or go to Twitter and search #FixExt).

Each of us has a role in carrying out these action steps. How will you use technology more effectively?  Who will you interact with to develop new relationships?  How will you adapt to new audiences?  What can each person in Extension and Outreach do to build a better culture for our organization?  Own it. Solve it. Do it. See you there.

— Cathann

Full Brains on Continuous Beta

One of my favorite Gary Larson Far Side cartoons features a classroom full of adult students. A student with a rather small head raises his hand and asks the teacher, “May I be excused? My brain is full.”  (Just Google “gary larson brain is full images” to see the cartoon.)

Perhaps you felt like that student after reviewing the learning objects, meeting with your team, and participating in the synchronous part of our annual conference. I’m guessing Extension IT had a headache from the technical difficulties we encountered with Ann Adrian’s keynote. (Her recorded presentation, script, and slides can now be found on the conference website.)

In her keynote, Ann asks us if we are ready to perform, produce, learn, connect, communicate, and make a difference in a “continuous beta environment.” The term comes from software development. Beta software is usable, but not completely tested and finalized. All the bugs or kinks haven’t been figured out yet. The advantage of operating in continuous beta is that you can change quickly, allowing for continued development.

Ann acknowledges that continuous beta isn’t appropriate for mission critical systems. However, it may make sense for some of our work in Extension and Outreach. We’re trying to make a difference while working in a complex environment — with information coming at us quickly and profusely from almost limitless sources. A system that operates in continuous beta is agile and better able to listen and assess needs in new ways, delve into multifaceted problems, and try solutions to discover what works.

As our very full brains absorb all the information presented during annual conference, how will we use what we’ve learned? When we think in terms of continuous beta, improving our ability to anticipate and adapt to change isn’t as overwhelming. We can try new applications of technology to improve communication and programming, and to enhance how we address our signature issues. We can learn together to improve ourselves, our teams, and our organization. See you there.

— Cathann

When a Mouse Was Just a Rodent: Technology and What It Means

Last week I gave the keynote address at the North Central Extension Regional Science Academy in St. Louis. I believe in 4-H and the land-grant mission, and that we are uniquely positioned to ensure our young people have the science, technology, engineering, and math skills they need to be successful in their futures. But more importantly, I believe there is increasing need for all youth to understand these areas to be well prepared as citizens and leaders who can make good decisions about the future of our communities and our world.

As I prepared my comments, I thought about all the things my children know to get along in 2012 that I barely dreamed of when I was their age. My sons laugh when I tell them about bag phones the size of a shoebox, or carrying my punch cards across campus to run one statistical equation on the mainframe that took up the entire basement of a university building. That computing power has now been surpassed by something I carry around in my pocket.

Twenty years ago, most of us thought a mouse was just a rodent. The idea of a wireless phone that could transmit pictures was something found only in science fiction. Twenty years from now, by the year 2032, we will need to know stuff we can hardly guess today.

Our youth also will have to face the fact that technology favors some and ignores others. Bill Robinson, who spent 30 years as an electrical engineer in Canada, says it well: “We spend our time and effort creating exciting new communications technologies, yet half the world does not have access to a telephone. We use the Internet to order the latest novel, yet many people in the world don’t have access to books. We are now discussing embedded processors to connect our refrigerators to other appliances and the grocery store, yet many children in the world go to bed hungry at night.”

As our planet swells, today’s 4-H members may have to live their adult life knowing that a billion people are starving in their world. In 2032, today’s 4-H youth no longer will be the youth at the beginning of 4-H’s second century. They will be our community leaders, our scientists, and parents of the next generation.

This year, we are partnering with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as it hosts the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute with focus on Global Food Security. We also will increase partnerships with ISU’s other colleges to foster enhanced pre-collegiate outreach opportunities. 4-H started with the simple idea that youth would get excited about the newest discoveries and technologies and become early adopters who could then lead change in their communities. That simple idea seems even more relevant now, as Iowa works to create jobs, increase family incomes, improve our schools, and reduce the cost of government.

Leaders in both the public and private sectors recognize that America’s ability to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy largely depends upon two things: a population that is well trained and technically competent, and the scientific and technological innovations they produce. I would add a third: We also need to cultivate an informed citizenry and leaders who can make wise decisions about how to use these innovations and knowledge in ways that build our economy, enhance our world, and enrich our lives.

See you there.

— Cathann

Subscribe to “See You There”

Enter your email address: