AMES, Iowa – When Bob Dodds was serving as Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Lee County director, he had ideas.
“I think ‘Maybe we should try this or this,’” he recalled recently. “Then I would talk with my area director and we would see what we could work on together."
More than 30 years into his ISU Extension and Outreach career, Dodds is still sharing and carrying out ideas. Now, he’s in a new position to help ISU Extension and Outreach grow for the future.
Dodds began Monday as the new assistant vice president for County Services, working with 100 county offices and county extension councils across the state. He had previously held the role in an interim capacity since Jan. 1, 2015.
“Here, I have the opportunity to talk with Vice President (for Extension and Outreach) Cathann Kress, the leadership team, extension staff and a better awareness of all the resources on campus, which is great,” Dodds said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to introduce ideas and look toward the future for extension.”
Dodds, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture education from Iowa State University, has a long, distinguished track record with ISU Extension and Outreach. He began as a vocational agriculture instructor at Central Lee Schools for five years. He then became Lee County director in 1983, serving in that role for 26 years before becoming Region 20 director in 2009.
He helped guide Lee County through the Iowa farm crisis of the 1980s as well as the 1993 Mississippi River flooding, which hit the county hard with the Des Moines and Skunk Rivers flowing into the Mississippi.
Along with fellow regional director Cheryl Heronemus, Dodds created the Rising Star program, which allows Iowa State students to intern with ISU Extension and Outreach and work in programs like local foods.
He also worked closely with major corporations like Chevron, CH2M Hill and Alliant Energy to better Lee County and southeast Iowa as a whole, and brought the ISO program to agriculture, making Lee County farmers the first nationally to be certified professionals by international standards.
“All of those experiences have given me the opportunity to learn from the best,” he said. “I think I’ve really been fortunate to have some great people and great mentors and all those experiences helped prepare me for this position. I’m very grateful to the people of Iowa. They’ve invested a lot of resources in me through trainings and opportunities that come through ISU Extension and Outreach.”
Over the past year, Dodds led the writing of the County Services strategic plan, and helped revise the county insurance program and county database. With the Human Sciences Engaged Scholarship program, he helped develop a conduit for faculty members without formal extension appointments to submit funding requests to conduct research projects in Iowa counties. He cooperated with the Iowa Association of County Extension Councils to revise the personnel handbook, which then was adopted by all 100 county extension districts.
Dodds says some of the best ideas come from outside.
“I have always felt that the best ideas for programming come through the front door. What that means is, we’ve had some great programs in our area and region, but it’s the citizens of Iowa that would come through the front door or give me a call or send an email and say, ‘Hey, Bob, what do you think about…’ I’ve always tried to pick up on those ideas. If one person has had an idea, probably many others have had the same thought.”
He also believes in listening and collaboration, and loves hearing ideas and new thoughts.
“In the number of years that I’ve served ISU Extension and Outreach I’ve worked with a lot of people who have many different interests,” he said. “I think I have had good experiences from being a classroom teacher to working with a lot of groups and organizations.”
Dodds will hit the ground running. He already has a list of priorities that he would like to share with Vice President Kress soon, including programs for county councils. One idea includes introducing the idea of the ISU Extension and Outreach office being thought of as a learning center.
In addition, Dodds would like to encourage the sharing of best practices between extension councils through a type of accreditation program similar to what school districts have followed.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for councils and counties to learn from each other through best practices,” he said.