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Our Tenacity of Purpose

Cathann Kress receives Spirit of Crazy Horse awardA week ago representatives from Reclaiming Youth International, the Lakota Nation, and ISU Extension and Outreach wrapped a Lakota star quilt around me in a traditional Lakota ceremony. I was receiving The Spirit of Crazy Horse Award, and by wrapping me in the quilt they were symbolically honoring me and protecting me on my journey through life. A week later I’m still deeply honored by the experience. I’ve received awards before, but nothing comes close to this.

Crazy Horse was a significant leader as he cared for his people and their way of life. This award which bears his name honors those who have a tenacity of purpose in advancing work with children and youth. The ceremony was part of Reclaiming Youth International’s Circle of Courage Youth Development Conference in Rapid City, S.D. The Circle of Courage integrates the cultural wisdom of tribal peoples, the practice wisdom of youth development professional pioneers, and findings of modern youth development research — which demonstrate that to be emotionally healthy, all youth need a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. (Sound familiar? These are the essential elements of 4-H.)

We live in a world that tends to focus not as much on wisdom, but on metrics. We concentrate on GPAs and impact statements. We count the number of refereed articles we write and participants we reach, and, of course, the amount of grant dollars we acquire. We keep score of our accumulations of these metrics and others, and we assume that what we amass speaks to the totality of the work being accomplished. We have grown to believe that this equals value. But value and accumulation are not the same.

Some things cannot be measured, but only felt. The value of kindness. The value of personal growth. The value of patience. The value of showing up year after year to do work that needs to be done – our tenacity of purpose. Just because our contributions cannot be easily measured in the short-term, does not mean they are not worth making. See you there.

— Cathann

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

More Than a Cup of Joe

This week, I had an interesting conversation with my children about a cup of coffee. We had agreed to meet for coffee and then had quite a discussion about where we wanted to go. Each of us suggested several places, and as we argued their merits, I realized something bigger was afoot and relevant to those of us in Extension and Outreach.

My middle son – ever the practical one – was all about who had the most reasonable price with minimum fuss. My older son cited his choice for its convenience, ample parking, and short lines. My daughter’s choice, however, at first was met with derision. She suggested her choice because she “felt comfortable” sitting there. “It’s about coffee,” son 2 retorted, and as she dug in, I realized that no, it wasn’t. As we all gathered at the coffee shop she had advocated, it was clear to me that some things become meaningful and create value in our lives beyond their utility or convenience. It’s worth the extra effort to seek them out, because of how we feel about them or what we believe about the experience.

Sometimes people just want a convenient cup of joe, but sometimes they want more. If we provide them with an exceptional experience, they’ll come back again and tell their friends. Our goal should be to create both meaning and value, as well as utility and convenience. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. 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

Pondering Signature Issues

To raise the visibility of our work in ISU Extension and Outreach, we started using four signature issues to help communicate the breadth of our programs: Food and the Environment, Health and Well-being, Economic Development, and K-12 Youth Outreach. Capturing the breadth of programming across the state in a short, succinct statement is difficult, but necessary.  I think of our signature issues as shorthand to communicate the benefits that our current and potential clients get by engaging with our programs, services, or ideas. It “boils down” all the complexity of our vast endeavors into something that Iowans can easily grasp and remember.

When Regional Director Bob Dodds leaves Ames and heads home to Region 20, he has a four-hour drive and time to think. So he’s had time to ponder our signature issues — what they are and what they mean. From Bob’s dashboard perspective, no matter how sophisticated the world becomes, or how advanced the technology at our disposal, the focus of Extension and Outreach work always boils down to these four points: We’re feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation in better shape than we found it.

I’ve been following Bob’s example when I talk about our signature issues with staff, council members, and partners across the state. I encourage you to do the same. (Bob won’t mind.) It’s an easy way to help Iowans understand Extension and Outreach. To help us increase our visibility, we need communications that focus closely on what our clients really want and value. Iowans want to solve problems, to improve on existing solutions, to have a better life, build a better business or do more, better, faster, and so on. Iowans want to build a better future for our children. We’re using “signature issues” to describe our collective work because it helps others see the specific value ISU Extension and Outreach brings to them. And by doing so, we may grab their attention in such a way that they know, “Yes, that’s right for me.” See you there.

— Cathann

Rushing Past the High Points

As part of finalizing my family’s transition to Iowa, I recently travelled back to Maryland for my younger son’s high school graduation. It was, as these occasions always are, a high point for our family.

Immediately afterwards, however, the moving truck arrived, we loaded up, and then my two sons, Payden and Nile, and I drove cross-country nineteen hours straight back to Iowa. The next few days flew by in a dizzying array: two days of orientation at Iowa State for Payden, two days of registration for services for Nile, who has a developmental disability, the arrival of the moving truck and unloading, getting my daughter Wren situated with her summer plans for camps. Before I knew it, several weeks had flown by.

I couldn’t help in the midst of the crush of details and “to do” lists, to think about how sometimes those high points, like Payden’s graduation, get lost as we rush to the next action and a significant moment becomes just another item checked on a “to do” list rather than a reflection and celebration of our deepest values.

This summer, we have many such high points. This week, I’m headed to the Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a productive partnership.  Next week, we host the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference — and — our exhibit with the College of Design is featured on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Later this summer, we begin celebrating centennials of county extension work.  Our “to do” lists are important, but so is recognizing the high points that define who we are.  See you there.

— Cathann

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.

–Cathann