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Iowa State University Extension

September 2009 -- From Jack Payne

Cartoon from


“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Some of us will remember this line from the classic film, "Cool Hand Luke." It became somewhat of an anthem for what was dubbed as the “generation gap.” The theory was that folks over 30 were not to be trusted or couldn’t communicate with folks under 30. After I reached the ripe old age of 30, I realized that this was clearly a faulty premise, as I was undoubtedly still trustworthy and moderately hip. 

That self-image had continued un-assailed until the other day when I received my weekly copy of the New Yorker magazine. The New Yorker’s covers have long been famous for taking humorous pokes at its audiences, but this one really hit home. The Sept. 7 issue depicts a classroom full of Baby Boomer students who are being instructed by a child standing on a pile of books in order to reach the blackboard. On the blackboard is a list of acronyms – OMG, G2G, BFF, THX, NSFW, IMHO, ROFLMAO -- to name a few.

After I realized that I didn’t know what any of them meant, my hip and cool illusions flew out the window. I spent the next 20 minutes Googling them and soon discovered the Urban Dictionary,, which is a temporary panacea for the current generation gap.

In my research I also learned the meaning of “go primitive.” Instead of keyboarding or texting a long and detailed story, someone suggests a phone call as a more direct way to have the conversation. Like in, “Dude, I’m good with texting but this is giving me carpel tunnel; let's ‘go primitive.’ I'll call you tomorrow at 8.”

I am definitely down with that form of communication.


*In my humble opinion


Meet ISU Extension’s New Regional Directors

ISU Extension Regions

Iowa State University Extension’s 20 new regional directors have been on the job for a month, meeting with their county extension councils and setting the direction for ISU Extension educational programs in their regions. Follow this link to feature stories about each regional extension education director.

Softronics moves from ‘too small’ to ISO certified with help from CIRAS

Softronics has products centered on radio technology

“We looked like too small an organization.” That’s how Softronics Director of Operations Tony Nurre described the Marion-based contract-engineering firm before it made the commitment to work with ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and pursue ISO certification. Now with certification in hand, the company is charted toward expansive growth this year.

With fewer than 20 full- and part-time employees, Softronics had developed three healthy product lines centered around radio technology: antenna systems for cell-phone towers, miniature receivers used by the intelligence community, and what Norre calls Softronics’ legacy business — designing updated transmitters and receivers for customers at Rockwell Collins and ATT.

Despite that favorable track record, “we were losing business because we weren’t ISO certified,” Nurre said.

Just like a fast-paced Silicon Valley startup, Softronics operates largely as a virtual company. Softronics’ engineers dabble in amateur radio the way West Coast computer programmers make video games in their spare time. Many Softronics employees also work at home and keep their own schedules.

Softronics took an unconventional approach to ISO certification, crunching through the entire process without holding a single all-staff meeting, Nurre noted, adding, “We did it all through e-mail. All we had to do is tell everyone at the company what quality procedures were set up and where to find them.”

With CIRAS’ help, the company documented existing procedures and mapped out additional ones needed for certification. “A lot of things we came up with were helpful. We implemented a part-numbering system and a more extensive system for backing up data,” Nurre said.

Realization of the true benefit of ISO certification occurred some months later when the company received an order from Rockwell to produce 250 radios destined for airport control towers throughout the world.

Eventually, Nurre expects Softronics will produce upward of 10,000 radios. That may make the entire Rockwell deal worth $200 million over the coming decade and inevitably bring further changes to the company. “Softronics has to move from small batch orders to large-scale manufacturing,” noted CIRAS account manager Sean Galleger. CIRAS is already advising Softronics on how to set up the necessary workflow procedures.

New initiative helps Iowans make decisions about long-term care

couple considering future needs

As Iowa Baby Boomers become retirement boomers over the next 20 years, one issue they’ll need to address is their own long-term care. Needing long-term care is a normal part of aging for many people — yet they often don’t properly plan for the possibility that as they age they may need assistance with daily activities. That’s why ISU Extension is a partner in Own Your Future, a new initiative to help Iowans plan for their future needs.

It’s an effort between the State of Iowa and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Own Your Future provides information and resources on planning for long-term care, financial and legal issues in retirement and related topics.

In August more than 400,000 Iowans age 45 to 65 received a letter from Gov. Chet Culver encouraging them to start planning for their future long-term care needs now, rather than waiting. Culver’s message included instructions for ordering a long-term care planning tool kit.

ISU Extension county offices throughout the state have brochures available that describe the Own Your Future initiative and include a postage-paid card to request the tool kit, said Cynthia Needles Fletcher, an ISU Extension family resource management specialist. Iowans also can order the kit by calling (866) 752-6582 or download it online.

“We will grow old,” Fletcher said, “and the data show we need to do a better job of preparing for it.”

Besides, the earlier people start planning for their long-term care needs, the more options they have available, Fletcher added. Long-term care includes a variety of services and supports to meet health or personal needs over time. For example, someone who gets assistance at home with everyday activities like bathing, dressing or eating is receiving long-term care. People can receive long-term care while maintaining independence and control over daily living.

The Own Your Future tool kit includes information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and deciding whether to modify a home to improve safety for daily activities or move to another home that can better meet future needs.  Legal and estate planning are discussed, as are financial planning for long-term care. Medicare, Medicaid and long-term care insurance also are explained.

Web-based tool helps Iowa schools map safe walking, biking routes

walk to school

One way Iowa children can add more physical activity to their daily routine is by walking and biking to school. To help kids get there safely, Christopher J. Seeger, ISU Extension landscape architect and associate professor of landscape architecture, has developed a Web-based mapping tool school administrators can use to map out safe walking and biking routes.

Seeger’s creation combines Google Maps with information school districts gather as part of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) planning. This federally funded initiative promotes physical activity while integrating traffic relief, safety and environmental awareness. Through SRTS, school districts identify where children live, the routes they take to school and any barriers that may impede walking and biking. Seeger’s mapping tool makes it easier to gather and use that information.

Seeger developed the tool with funding from the Iowa Department of Transportation. Rather than gathering data with paper surveys, school administrators can take advantage of Seeger’s Web-based geospatial survey, which uses Google Maps to interact with their local database of geographic information. Students and their parents can self report the routes they use to get to school as well as the barriers preventing them from using existing routes. Administrators can verify and update maps of children’s walking and biking routes to school each year and efficiently evaluate the use and awareness of existing routes to school.

“The information collected can be used by the SRTS committees to help establish or expand SRTS programs to include walking, school buses or bike trails. Schools and cities can use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the current plan and determine where additional walking guards, crosswalks or other infrastructure may be needed,” Seeger said.

The mapping tool will be available beginning Oct. 1. School administrators who are interested in using it may register online, Seeger said. They’ll receive information about the mapping tool as well as resources they can use to promote International Walk to School Month in October.

There is no cost to use the mapping tool this first year, Seeger said, though it is likely he will need to charge a small management fee in subsequent years.

Middle schoolers ‘Ricochet’ into leadership with ISU Extension 4-H

Ricochet leadership for middle schoolers

Ricochet means to move around with a lot of energy and be unpredictable — sort of like middle school kids. Middle schoolers are going through rapid changes, awkward growth and numerous attempts to figure out where they fit in. But they’re ready for whatever comes their way. That’s why “Ricochet: An Extreme Leadership Adventure” from ISU Extension pledges skill development and fun.

Launched four and a half years ago by a group of ISU Extension specialists in northwest Iowa, the program is designed to meet the leadership development needs of middle school youth in creative and engaging ways. The program uses a variety of games and activities to address five dimensions of leadership — information, attitude, communication skills, decision making and stress management.

“Similar to a 4-H challenge or adventure education, we use games as metaphors for the things we teach,” said ISU Extension specialist Lisa Berkland, Ricochet’s program coordinator and author.

Brenda Welch, an ISU Extension youth development specialist, described a game with West Delaware middle schoolers to address communication issues: “Interferers” yelled and screamed to try and prevent a message from passing between “senders” and “receivers.”

“The kids loved the game, and after it we sat down and talked about communication interferences in real life. We use experiential learning — do, reflect and apply — to make meaning out of the games,” Welch explained.

Community service also is a large component of Ricochet. With the help of a community-leaders panel and some brainstorming, the kids come up with a way to serve their communities and then put their plan into action. Dickinson County youth took on a variety of projects including putting together food packets for Kids Against Hunger, making fleece blankets for a teen pregnancy center and helping with shore clean up at Okoboji.

Ricochet is another way ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development teaches skills that kids can use and apply now as well as when they become adults. To learn more, visit the Ricochet Web site. Middle school staff, community partners and volunteers interested in becoming Ricochet facilitators can register for training Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 in Ames.