June 2009 -- From Jack Payne
Creating a New Future for ISU Extension
It often is said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. Creating a new future for ISU Extension due to budget cuts has been what I would liken to surgery without anesthetic. Even with the shock and awe of the restructuring, I want to be clear that it is our intention to continue to serve the people of Iowa with ISU research expertise and programs that glean long-term benefits for the state’s citizens. Moreover, it is our goal that the re-purposed model for ISU Extension will carry on well into the 21st century the convergence of research and informal learning methodologies, which are, in my estimation, at the very heart and soul of the land-grant mission. That said, the new model will require the redeployment and judicious application of finite, if not diminishing, resources toward these powerful objectives.
The core of our strategy will involve evaluating the immediate and long-term needs of constituents, creating new methods for engagement with current and prospective stakeholders and discovering un-mined partnership resources. Central to the success of this undertaking will be finding common ground and a shared sense of purpose, and renewing the team spirit of both established and nontraditional groups that make up ISU Extension and its wide-ranging constituencies. Together we must leave behind worn-out paradigms to ensure that form is, in fact, following function.
On one hand, naysayers are predicting the end of the land-grant university as we know it. But on the other hand, as Extension moves forward, there have never been so many opportunities to serve.
As Iowans seek ways to make their communities more attractive, ISU Extension is helping local elected officials and volunteers better understand how to use planning to create great places, cities and neighborhoods where people want to live. According to ISU Extension specialists Gary Taylor and Alan Vandehaar, planning allows communities to make efficient decisions about where and when to build streets, parks and other public works and to invest tax dollars wisely.
“Planning gives a community a way to set up some strategies for how it’s going to grow,” said Taylor, who also is an assistant professor in community and regional planning at Iowa State. “It also allows communities an opportunity to minimize conflict between landowners. If you have a land use plan that designates where different types of land uses should be located in the future, then it gives the individual private landowner an opportunity to make investments that make sense.”
Extension offers training programs in planning for local elected officials and “citizen planners,” such as the volunteers on the planning and zoning commission or the board of adjustment, Vandehaar said.
A three-hour workshop provides an introduction to planning and zoning, while the 12-hour Planning Officials Academy covers the development review process from start to finish. The ISU Extension specialists also will provide specific training for a community.
“Since 2005 we’ve done roughly 35 to 40 workshops around the state and reached about 1,800 people,” Taylor said.
Today’s citizens are taking an active approach to planning, he said. “When you have citizens actively involved in planning, then you also have a strong group of advocates in your community that are making sure the provisions of the plan are being carried out.”
With active citizens, local vision, public leadership and a combination of private and public development, communities can become great places to live, Vandehaar added.
Listen to an interview with Taylor and Vandehaar.
Do you feed the family, or pay the rent or medical bill? That’s reality for many Latino immigrant families in Iowa. Data from the multi-state Rural Families Speak project show the tough choices these families face as they figure out how to stretch their limited incomes to cover food, housing and health care costs.
Why study immigrant families? The growth in Iowa’s Latino population is helping to prevent population loss in the state’s rural communities, said Kimberly Greder, an associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies and family life extension state specialist at Iowa State University. Immigrant families purchase goods in communities, earn income and add to the tax base.
This particular study examined in depth the lives of Latino immigrant families in Iowa and in Oregon, Greder said. The 48 participants were predominantly Mexican mothers who had immigrated to the United States within the last 15 years, had children 12 years of age or younger and had poverty-level incomes.
Mothers were asked about their ability to feed and provide shelter for their families. Most were married, and they and their spouses worked extra hours or held multiple low-wage jobs to support their families. Commonly they worked opposite shifts so one parent could care for their children.
Over the three-year study, a third of the families (almost all in Iowa) were continually “food secure,” Greder said. They were able to get enough food at all times in socially acceptable ways for an active, healthy life. Close to one half were in and out of food security, and one fifth (almost all in Oregon) were continually food insecure.
However, for those who were able to get enough food, “all it takes is getting an illness, being in an accident or losing a job for these families to not have enough food to eat,” Greder said. “If you don’t pay your rent or house payment, you don’t have a place to live. If you are injured, you can’t work and earn money.”
Understanding how to best help immigrant families learn to navigate the resources and systems in their new communities, as well as earn adequate incomes to support themselves, will result in long lasting benefits to communities, Greder said.
“As Iowa State University Extension reorganizes on campus and throughout the state, one thing that won’t change is 4-H Youth Development’s commitment to involving caring adults in the lives of Iowa kids and teens,” said Chuck Morris, director of the ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development program. That is a key factor in positive youth development, backed by research from Tufts University.
The recently released “Waves of the Future” report documents the results of the first five waves of research in the National 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development.
“Young people working and learning in partnership with caring adults -- from parents to 4-H volunteer leaders to extension staff -- is the foundation of the Iowa 4-H program’s mission,” said Keli Tallman, who leads program evaluation and research for ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. The Tufts study provides strong evidence that young people thrive when their strengths are nurtured by caring adults and aligned with the resources for healthy development that are found in programs like 4-H.
“Over my 10-year involvement with 4-H, I have to be the most grateful for excellent leadership,” said former Humboldt County 4-H’er Michelle Terwilliger, now a pre-pharmacy student at the University of Iowa. “My leaders made a plan at the beginning of each year and made sure that we had activities, events, projects and tours that were from all different areas of 4-H. … It is because of those choices that my horizons began to broaden.”
The Tufts study is the first-ever longitudinal research measuring the characteristics of positive youth development. Researchers polled more than 4,701 fifth through ninth grade youth from 34 states involved in a variety of after-school activities to measure the impact personal and social factors were having on young people’s development. After years of research, they concluded that exposing youth to high levels of positive youth development — like those found in 4-H — will help kids develop competence, confidence, character and compassion for others. In addition, youth will have better and more sustained connections with peers and adults and will be more likely to contribute to their communities, their families and themselves.
“The potential for change and growth is a core strength of all youth,” Tallman said. “Iowa 4-H capitalizes on this strength by providing extraordinary learning experiences for children and youth to reach their full potential.”
One of the best ways Iowa State University can help corn and soybean growers is to strengthen partnerships with private-sector agribusinesses. That’s the theory behind the Corn and Soybean Initiative. Since late 2004, the initiative has been connecting with agribusinesses, retailers, commodity organizations, farm media and others to reach growers with Iowa State research, extension and educational resources.
The Corn and Soybean Initiative provides science-based crop production information to Iowa corn and soybean growers to increase their productivity and global competitiveness while also conserving the environment, said Greg Tylka, ISU Extension's coordinator of the initiative.
Currently the initiative includes 60 agribusiness partners with 341 retail outlets serving growers in 313 Iowa communities, Tylka said. Ten organizational and media partners also are involved.
In 2007 and 2008, ISU Extension faculty led seven campus-coordinated, multi-regional, on-farm research projects. In addition, 11 ISU Extension field agronomists directed 83 research and demonstration projects.
ISU and the agribusiness partners contribute to the finances and logistics in the research and demonstrations, developing protocols, identifying fields for the work and organizing educational events at the sites of the projects, Tylka explained.
“All of the ISU Extension field agronomists serve as partnership managers for the various initiative partners and work closely with the agribusinesses to develop research and education programs on locally relevant issues in collaboration with their local agribusiness partners,” he said.
For example, Linn Cooperative and ISU conducted on-farm research and demonstration plots to highlight different sources, timings and rates of nitrogen fertilizer, said ISU Extension field agronomist Jim Fawcett.
The excess rains in spring 2008 led to large losses of nitrogen in farm fields and in the plots, Fawcett said. “This resulted in very large differences in corn yields based on the timing and rate of nitrogen application, resulting in a unique teaching moment on the benefits of waiting until spring to apply nitrogen.”
Local growers who attended the plot tour could see for themselves the benefits of waiting until spring or later to apply nitrogen or to use a nitrification inhibitor in the fall to reduce losses. Hundreds of other growers and agronomists learned about the results at ISU Extension educational sessions and could use the information to make decisions for the 2009 growing season.
When you’re stuck axle-deep in a mud hole, it’s too late to stay off the wet ground. That’s why ISU Extension’s Value Added Agriculture program conducts comprehensive business feasibility audits for new and existing rural businesses, says interim program director Ray Hansen. A feasibility audit lets business owners and their investors know up front whether a potential project has hidden constraints that could impact profitability.
Agricultural producers, rural businesses and entrepreneurs need good information to make decisions about expanding services, adding products or building or remodeling facilities, Hansen said. A feasibility audit by an independent third party can help businesses decide among alternative opportunities.
“We take all the emotion out of it and look at it from strictly a business point of view,” he said.
Extension’s Value Added Agriculture team has developed a comprehensive business feasibility audit that examines economic, market, technical, financial and management factors, Hansen explained. Within each area the team seeks answers to a series of questions; the answers help determine whether a project might work.
As the research accumulates, a project will seem more or less practical, Hansen said. However, changing the parameters can make a potential project more favorable. For example, providing more private capital can reduce the interest costs on borrowed money. To deal with a lack of market access, a business could increase its trade area.
A feasibility audit may seem like just another hoop a business has to jump through for funding, but it often proves beneficial for the long run, Hansen said. “As a result, they’ve put together a better business package.”
In addition, the relationship that is established during the audit often leads to further business development assistance from the ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture team, Hansen said.
Extension’s Value Added Agriculture team conducts 12 to 15 feasibility audits per year, Hansen said, and not only agricultural businesses have been reviewed. USDA Rural Development has asked the team to conduct feasibility audits for such diverse businesses as retirement homes, motels and a fuel/convenience store station. In addition, the team has conducted feasibility audits on renewable energy ethanol and biodiesel facilities, a glycerin refinery, a swine reproduction facility and a pork processing facility.
For more information contact Hansen, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any odyssey can be an extended adventure or an intellectual quest. But it takes on epic proportions when it’s the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. This quest brought more than 7,000 young problem solvers to Iowa State University in May for four days of creative competition. Odyssey of the Mind combines classroom skills with team building concepts, research and lots of imagination from kindergarten through college youth.
Each team had eight minutes or less to present a solution to a pre-assigned challenge. So across the Iowa State campus, kids were building vehicles that changed their appearance, teaching tasks to homemade mechanical creatures and demonstrating balsawood structures that could support weight and absorb shock waves. Others were examining Greek mythology, explaining superstitions and developing healthy candy.
This year marked the sixth time Iowa State and Ames have hosted the event, which celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“We could not have come to a better place, as the people of Ames and the ISU staff are so welcoming,” said Sammy Micklus, Odyssey of the Mind program director. “You come home to family – and that’s a guarantee.”
“Many students as well as coaches and leaders may be outside their native country for the first time,” said Mabry King, international liaison for the program. “It is quite an experience for them as they meet people from other countries, eat different foods, speak a lot of English and, of course, go shopping.”
But there’s more, King added. “World Finals allows the participants to take away new friendships and a greater understanding between the different cultures and peoples — which is the best thing of all.”
This odyssey had an economic impact as well, noted Julie Weeks, director of ISU Extension Conference Planning and Management. According to Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau figures, Odyssey of the Mind provided a $4 million boost to central Iowa’s economy by using nearly 4,000 hotel and motel rooms in Story, Boone and Polk counties.
“Hosting the World Finals at Iowa State allows the university to provide outreach learning opportunities by bringing thousands of students from around the world to central Iowa,” Weeks said. “This world-class event also allows us to showcase our state to more than 15,000 visitors from throughout the United States and more than 20 countries.”