Today marks one year that I’ve served as Vice President for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, and I want to thank everyone who helped orient me, who supported my efforts, who challenged my ideas, or who commiserated with me when things sometimes didn’t go exactly as planned.
Together, we did some important work this year, not the least of which was articulating our fundamental principles and core values which position us well for the future. As I reflected on the past year, three words summed it up in my mind: focus, visibility, partnerships. I asked a few colleagues what they thought was different in ISU Extension and Outreach after this year, and I’d like to share their responses:
Iowa Beef Center Director Dan Loy says, “One year ago, many of us in Extension were still licking our wounds from budget cuts and reorganization. What we needed to get us on our feet and moving forward was a more common purpose and direction, and that is what we found. New leadership, a name change, an organizational summit that helped us focus on partnerships and research-based education, together have brought us focus as well as visibility to our efforts. On campus this improved visibility is helping solidify the importance of extension to the land-grant mission. With visibility comes accountability, but we are up to the task.”
Joyce Schoulte, president of the Clayton County Extension Council, says, “As an attendee at the summit last fall, I felt that we, out here in the county, are not only having a voice, but are being listened to. I was hesitant to attend the summit because of past experience. I am so glad that I went and that my voice was heard. It seems to me that IACEC has been given a more important role as well. There seems to be more interaction between all facets of ISU Extension and Outreach. Bottom line: I feel that we are being listened to when we have questions to ask and ideas to share.”
Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez of the College of Design says, “ISU Extension and Outreach has become, in a very short period of time, an indispensable partner for many of our activities in the College of Design. Through innovative affiliations like ours, Iowa State University has become a more effective partner with communities, organizations, and industries, involving people directly in identifying and implementing solutions that fit their aspirations, dreams, and needs. Our work together highlights a renewed commitment to ‘extend’ the reach of the nation’s knowledge infrastructure — our land-grant institutions — to improve the quality of life in our state, the nation, and the world.”
Andrea Nelson, office manager in Polk County, says, “I think the message we’ve been embracing in conferences, blogs, emails, and webcasts in the past year is, it doesn’t matter if you’re county or state paid, field or campus based — we’re all in this together on the same team…I think we’re working on improving ourselves and ultimately a better job at fulfilling our mission.”
Region 3 Director Gary Hall says, “ISU Extension and Outreach today compared with a year ago has been marked with an increase in leadership and vision. Yes, there are many differences to point out, but the overall change would be that a new driver has gotten behind the wheel of this vehicle we call Extension and Outreach, and she is skillfully navigating her way down the roads of partnerships, campus relations, county engagement, and staff development.”
Gary’s vehicular reference reminded me of the advertising campaign, “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” In the late 1980s, Oldsmobile began using this slogan to try to appeal to a younger demographic. The trouble was, the slogan had no substance. Oldsmobile didn’t change; it was still your father’s car. The slogan couldn’t save the company, and Oldsmobile went out of business.
Whether you’re selling cars or providing access to education, you have to offer what customers want. That means you have to be willing to change what you do — not just how you talk about yourself — so you’re better equipped to meet needs. President Leath has said that he wants Iowa State to become the university that best serves its state. Extension and Outreach plays a key role in the university achieving this goal.
Program specialist Karen Lathrop says, “It is much easier to define what we do well, and it is now clear why we must say no to opportunities that don’t fit into our vision and mission. This frees up the extension professionals to focus on the relationships and things that matter most, so that we can make an impact in our communities with our clients… I feel Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is on the right path and on the cusp of something really big.”
See you there.