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Iowa State University Extension

September 2008 -- From Jack Payne

ISU Extension telephone hotlines

We don’t need the Weather Channel or CNN to tell us that it’s sweater weather time again. The Mother Nature Network was right on cue this year. By the end of Labor Day weekend, the leaves and the overnight temperatures already were dropping. The wildlife were watching the same channel and responding to the seasonal early warning systems. The squirrels on my Ames street began their annual Olympiad event of high wire nut hoarding. Birds dutifully showed up at my feeders for an all-you-can-eat session before heading out to warmer climes. Only the rabbits seemed oblivious to the big changes ahead and continued doing pretty much what they always do -- eating my landscaping and propagating!

As we begin our preparations to hunker-down for the coming winter, let’s be sure to remember those Iowans who are still re-living the spring floods on a daily basis. These folks skipped the summer fun that most of us had and will be enduring more challenges as the cold weather approaches. Although the media have moved on to hurricanes and political conventions, many of our Extension staff continue to be involved in the recovery efforts, doing what they do best -- serving well the needs of Iowa citizens.


Longping comes to Iowa for English, management and ISU Extension

Longping delegation

For a Chinese company to succeed on a global scale, its employees need intensive English language and management training — and an extension system. So Longping High Tech Agriculture is partnering with ISU Extension to create a company-based learning program to meet these needs.

Eight Longping employees traveled to Iowa State University this summer for two months of American English, manufacturing process analysis and farm and agribusiness site visits. But, “what struck them was the ISU Extension system,” said Sok-Leng Tan, with ISU Extension’s global programs.

Longping High Tech Agriculture is a leading seed company in China, specializing in hybrid rice. The eight employees represented different areas within the company, including human resources, sales, finance and international business.

“They can use extension concepts in providing service and expertise to their clients,” said Darwin Miller, ISU Extension education director in Hardin County.

Miller, who spent some time with the Longping group, said, “I explained how county extension offices operate and the relationship between county directors and field specialists. They were intrigued by the election of nine extension council members in each county, how they govern extension and the fact that they serve as unpaid volunteers.  I also explained the organizational chart for ISU Extension and how they could apply the concepts to their company structure.” 

Miller took the delegation to a Prairieland Cooperative grain terminal and distribution center, where they learned about the business relationship between the cooperative and independent farmers.

At a grain and pork farm, “they were impressed by the large number of consistent animals in the facility and the mechanization,” Miller said.

“They want to come back,” Tan added. Longping will send a new cohort to participate in the training program, and this first group is looking forward to additional training.

The Longping group also was introduced to ISU Extension’s 4-H program, Tan said. “They were intrigued with the idea of building youth leadership.”

She expects to head to China in December with Mary Holz-Clause, ISU Extension interim associate vice president, and Brenda Allen, an ISU Extension 4-H youth development specialist. They hope to expand collaboration with Longping in several areas, including 4-H youth leadership.

For more information, contact Tan at

Don’t ‘fix’ families; partner with parents

Partnering with Parents

You don’t just “fix” a family. That’s what Kim Greder and other ISU Extension specialists teach in Partnering with Parents, an educational outreach academy for professionals who work with parents. As these professionals learn to be family-centered in their work, “they walk away with a much bigger concept of what parenting education is about,” Greder said. Those who are new to the field as well as seasoned veterans report that Partnering with Parents makes a difference in how they work with families.

“First you have to take time to get to know the family and build a relationship,” Greder said. “You need to listen before you jump in and start giving out parenting information.” How you work with families is as important as what you teach them.

Partnering with Parents helps professionals understand their own values, beliefs and goals of parenting and how their own perspectives affect the way they interact with parents. A wide range of parenting education professionals has taken the course over the past seven years, from early childhood and family service professionals to teachers, school counselors, ministers and social workers.

“This summer we had our 500th registered participant,” Greder noted. About two-thirds of the participants have taken the course face-to-face; the other third has taken it online. Some take the course as professional development, while others seek undergraduate or graduate credit, teacher renewal credit or social work hours.

They gain practical information and tools — from cultural perspectives on parenting to financial stability and family well-being — that they immediately can use in their daily work with parents.

“Learners tell us Partnering with Parents works,” Greder continued. Self-assessment data show a significant increase in participants’ knowledge and skills after the program compared with before participation. The positive results are the same, whether the course was taken face-to-face or online.

Now Greder is documenting the evidence, comparing those who have completed the program with others who have not participated to test the effectiveness of the program. The research should be complete later this fall.

The next Partnering with Parents course offering begins in January 2009, with face-to-face courses in Fort Dodge and Council Bluffs, as well as an online option. Scholarships are available through the Iowa Department of Human Rights. For more information, check the Partnering with Parents Web site.

CIRAS plays leading role in Stellar becoming ‘CSI’ star

Stellar Industries

Employees at Stellar Industries in Garner are so smitten with what they learned from Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) about continuous improvement that they’ve coined a new name for themselves: CSI Garner, for Continuous Stellar Improvement.

Unlike the hit television show, it’s no mystery why Stellar is sold on this business philosophy. Since a CIRAS productivity improvement team met regularly with Stellar management starting in 2005, the firm has experienced a $4.5 million increase in annual sales, without adding more staff, equipment or facilities.

Before CIRAS entered the picture, this manufacturer of hydraulic truck-mounted equipment appeared to have outgrown its space, with parts stored at off-site locations. Retrieving them slowed the production schedule. “We had a pressing issue regarding plant layout and space,” explained Steven Schnieders, Stellar operations manager. “We knew other companies were achieving better, faster and more cost-effective methods of production.”

CIRAS came to the rescue. First, project manager Mike Willet visited the north central Iowa plant to observe how it operated. “I took a look at their manufacturing process, and there were a lot of red flags, things I knew could be resolved by improving their manufacturing process instead of expanding the facilities,” he recalled.

Subsequently, Willet introduced the Stellar team to Theory of Constraints (TOC), a management and improvement philosophy based on the premise that a constraint within a company must be identified and remedied to increase production flow and sales.

For 18 months, CIRAS managers guided the 10-member Stellar team through a step-by-step process to improve business operations. As a result, all 250 Stellar employees were exposed to continuous improvement while offering their own insights and helping implement the changes.

The company is now driven by TOC principles and, like the fictional CSI team, knows how to work together. “CIRAS guided us and gave us the tools so we could implement the system ourselves,” Schnieders said. “We know we need to keep everyone involved looking at things from different perspectives so that we can continue to improve.”

Middle schoolers say ‘I can do it’ at Iowa State

Students in ISU textiles lab

If young kids can come to Iowa State for a day, spend some time doing hands-on activities and talk to current students and faculty, they just might decide to pursue a college education after they graduate from high school. To test that theory, ISU graduate student Axton Betz brought some middle-schoolers to the ISU campus in August. Although the results won’t be known for these particular eighth graders for five more years, Betz is betting they’ll be more likely to believe they can succeed in college.

That was the goal of  “I Can Do It! Experience Iowa State Family and Consumer Sciences.” Betz received a grant for the project from the Iowa Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and additional support from ISU Extension, the College of Human Sciences Student Services Office and the Department of Apparel, Educational Studies and Hospitality Management.

Betz got the idea based on an earlier experience in Illinois. “I started a 4-H group when I lived in Illinois and the group of kids I attracted were young girls who mostly came from families that were perceived as having less than ideal circumstances by the community.  The goal the kids had for the year was to earn enough money to go see the University of Illinois,” Betz explained. 

With “I Can Do It!” she wanted to reach youth who never may have seen a college before, whose parents may not have attended college — youth who may not have considered that they could get a college education.

Activities included a campus tour; a family and consumer sciences facilities tour; financial aid and family and consumer sciences careers sessions; interaction with college students, recent graduates, faculty and staff; and a hands-on activity in the Iowa State textiles lab. The students in this pilot project enjoyed all aspects of the event, Betz said. She’d like to bring more youth to campus.

“This event was held right after summer graduation and campus felt deserted. In planning any event like this, school schedules have to be taken into account, so it can be tricky to hold an event where participants can get a true sense of ISU and not have to miss their own school activities,” Betz said.

For more information, contact Betz at

Clerks and more: Institute reaches many municipal professionals

Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute and Academy

What’s in a name? Plenty, when you’re dealing with laws, communications, finances and technology affecting Iowa municipal government. That’s why after 33 years the Iowa Municipal Clerks Institute is now the Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute (MPI).

“This institute continues to provide educational courses needed to qualify for certification by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks,” said Paul Coates, director of ISU Extension’s Office of State and Local Government Programs. “However, now our classes also provide credit hours toward the new Iowa Certification for Municipal Professionals program sponsored by the Iowa Municipal Finance Officers Association.” 

The term “municipal professionals” includes clerks, finance officers and administrative officers. As municipal government becomes more complex, these frontline workers may be dealing with everything from financial management and budgeting to ethics, personnel and administrative law.

These programs ensure a continuous educational commitment to establish and maintain competent administration for city government in Iowa, Coates said.

This summer approximately 132 municipal officials attended courses at the Municipal Professionals Institute over a two-week period. In addition, 143 attended the three-day Municipal Professionals Academy, which offered advanced topics.

“Academy participants increase their knowledge and skills to better serve the citizens of their communities, and they get credit toward maintaining their professional certifications,” Coates said.

ISU Extension State and Local Government Programs reach public officials in all 99 Iowa counties and in a majority of the state’s 950 incorporated cities every year. For more information, contact Coates,

Dynamic leaders make things happen in Iowa communities

Developing Dynamic Leaders class

Communities need elected leaders like city councils, county supervisors and school boards. But they also need selected leaders -- those individuals, whether chosen by themselves or their peers, who find themselves heading up nonprofit organizations, volunteer groups and other community activities. However they arrived at their positions, ISU Extension has a program to help them become better leaders.

Developing Dynamic Leaders is focused on developing the personal skills people need to take on leadership roles, whether in their office, community, church or family,” says Abbie Gaffey, an ISU Extension community and economic development specialist.

Sioux County starts the program Sept. 11; Hardin County starts in October. Each county is putting its own spin on this adaptable leadership development program.

Sioux County is focusing on worksites. “The program will be very helpful for new supervisors and frontline managers,” said Cheryl Heronemus, ISU Extension education director for Sioux County.

In addition, the Sioux County Extension Council is encouraging the county’s new slate of fair superintendents to participate, Heronemus said. “Since this is a first leadership position for many of these folks, the council is paying a major portion of the program’s cost for any new superintendents who are interested in expanding their leadership skills.” 

Chad Negus, from Primebank in Sioux Center, is a Developing Dynamic Leaders graduate and a member of the steering committee for the upcoming session. He recommends the program.

“The sessions are well thought out, giving you a better understanding of yourself and others.  The speakers are top-notch, focusing on specific points that will give you the tools you need to be an effective leader in your workplace and community,” Negus said.

Hardin County hopes to expand its leadership base, said Darwin Miller, ISU Extension education director in Hardin County.

Fifteen years ago Hardin County participated in ISU Extension’s Tomorrow’s Leaders Today program, Miller said. “Many of those graduates hold community leadership positions.  They felt there was a need to train the next generation of leaders in Hardin County.” 

And that is the point of Developing Dynamic Leaders, Gaffey said. “We’re trying to build that capacity within communities, to build the networks and the social capital necessary to make things happen, whatever they choose to do.”

Iowa teens tell 4-H story with 4-H TV

4-H TV

What do you get when you combine a group of technology-savvy 4-H teens, some digital video cameras, a Web site and the Iowa State Fair? You get 4-H TV at the Fair.  4-H TV features the Iowa 4-H Technology Team’s vlog (video log) as well as audio interviews and photos of people and activities from the 4-H Exhibits Building.

“So if 10 days of actual fair weren’t enough for you, you can relive the fair virtually online with 4-H TV,” said Mitchell Hoyer, ISU Extension 4-H youth development program coordinator. “But more than that, you can see how these teens learned to communicate the essence of 4-H using technology.”

Hoyer added, “A lot of these kids are into science and computers, but they really had to think about the 4-H stories they wanted to report and how they would communicate all that the youth were learning.”

Initially 4-H TV was going to be a one-time thing at State Fair, Hoyer said. “However, the Tech Team had such a good time and learned so much through their reporting, that they’d like to use 4-H TV to showcase other 4-H activities.”

The 4-H Technology Team is a statewide organization of high school age 4-H members who meet online and face-to-face throughout the year to pursue science and technology projects. During State Fair the team assisted with many of the technology programs at the 4-H Exhibits Building.

Science, engineering and technology is one of the fastest growing areas of learning in 4-H, said Jay Staker, program director for ISU Extension Science, Engineering and Technology (E-SET). Nationwide 4-H hopes to create the next generation of scientists and attract 1 million new youth into these areas.

Track Your Energy Costs with a Home Energy Audit

Check for air leaks around doors.

An energy audit will show you which areas of your home use the most energy and help you decide the most effective way to reduce energy costs. You can conduct a simple audit yourself, contact your local utility, or call an independent energy auditor for a more comprehensive examination. Check your home’s insulation levels, and look for holes or cracks around doors, light and plumbing fixtures, and other places where air may leak into or out of your home. Make sure your appliances and heating and cooling systems are properly maintained, and study your family’s lighting needs and use patterns, paying special attention to high-use areas. Check out Your Home's Energy Use for more tips. This tip is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Energy and ISU Extension.