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Real Impact.

2023 Impact Report

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is a catalyst for impact.

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Jason Henderson.

We deliver education, facilitate collaboration, and spark action. Our extension faculty, specialists, and staff are innovators, conducting research and turning discoveries into practical applications. We engage Iowans on farms and on Main Street, at home and in school, from urban neighborhoods to rural communities in every Iowa county.

This brief report shares a few examples of ISU Extension and Outreach making a difference and creating real impact in Iowa. In the coming months we'll expand on these examples, sharing more in-depth stories of what Iowans are telling us about their experience of extension education – what they've learned, changes they’ve made, and actions they’ve taken as a result.

In 2024 we will continue to focus on complex issues facing Iowans and the world. We welcome opportunities to be present, to listen, and to build relationships. We look forward to working with you!

Jason Henderson
Vice President for Extension and Outreach


Challenging youth to lead innovation

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4-H youth working on robotics.

Could installing solar panels help their school use less coal-generated electricity and save money? Wapello Elementary School 4-H club youth competed in FIRST LEGO League and used science and math to solve this challenge. This youth-led innovation resulted in collaborations with industry leaders and high school tech mentors, conducting an energy audit, a pitch to the school board, and a solar panel installation that is projected to save the school district nearly $1.5 million over its lifetime. The students’ next challenge? Powering critical community needs during a disaster.

In the Louisa County community of Wapello and throughout the state, youth have the autonomy to determine their 4-H club experience to best meet their personal goals and developmental needs for belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

What does this mean for Iowans?

Youth throughout Iowa participate in 4-H hands-on learning experiences, gaining knowledge and skills as they work toward common goals and build a sense of community with guidance from caring adults. They’re learning how to become innovators, entrepreneurs, communicators, leaders, and more – to build the future in Iowa!

Watch the video and read the full story


Assessing rural housing to kickstart development

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housing development.

Since 2020, local decision makers from 54 communities have taken action to address Iowa's rural housing crisis, characterized by scarce availability, lack of housing choice, and aging homes. They completed extension’s Rural Housing Readiness Assessment program, learning how to identify, assess, and meet their unique housing needs. For example, Creston constructed eight apartments, developed six lots for single-family homes, and improved 10 existing housing units. Keokuk secured $1.2 million in additional grants for upper-story housing, neighborhood revitalization, and home rehabilitation. Emmetsburg is purchasing 12 acres of land with plans to build single-family detached homes and townhomes – a project that is expected to create more than $13 million in economic impact for the community.

Communities that participate in the program are eligible for $10,000 Empower Rural Iowa grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority to kickstart their housing initiatives; so far, 36 have received the grants. This initial investment of $360,000 throughout the state is being leveraged locally.

What does this mean for Iowans?

When rural communities can address their housing concerns, more Iowans have access to safe, affordable places to live. This is a crucial step toward improving the quality of life and revitalizing local economies in Iowa’s rural areas.

Watch the video and read the full story


Optimizing planter technology for farm profitability

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person explaining farm machinery for planting.

With increasing weather variability, farmers are planting their crops in a shorter window than ever and are looking for ways to optimize the technology they rely on. In the first two years of Planter University, 425 farmers and ag industry professionals have learned how to evaluate planting performance and improve planter efficiency for greater success during the growing season and increased profits for their farming operations. Extension field agronomists collaborate with specialists in the ISU Digital Ag Innovation Lab to deliver the one-day workshop at five locations across the state. Initial participant surveys indicated a value of greater than $5 per acre gained from the workshop. When spread over time and acres across the state, small improvements have the potential for high-dollar impacts.

What does this mean for Iowans?

A smooth planting season is critical to maintaining high yields for corn and soybean, commodity crops that Iowa’s overall agricultural economy depends upon. Profitable farms lead to vibrant local economies and thriving rural communities across the state.

Watch the video and read the full story


Upskilling Iowa’s municipal workforce

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municipal professionals in classroom.

Every day Iowa’s city clerks and municipal staff handle a range of tasks, from interacting with citizens and assisting city councils to managing finances and complying with regulations. They participate in the Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute and Academy for in-depth, up-to-date training that directly improves their job performance: They’re better able to navigate the complexities of managing and running an entire city and its budget. In 2022, nearly one-third of the 386 institute participants achieved certification as a clerk or finance officer. Certified participants often receive salary raises, contract extensions, job title changes, or improved benefits.

What does this mean for Iowans?

Well-trained municipal professionals are more likely to stay in their positions, ensuring continuity and consistency in delivering services. They also are less likely to make errors that could cause federal or state financial and legal repercussions for a city or undermine the integrity of local elections.


Connecting families with fruits, vegetables, nutrition education

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Adult volunteer at farmers market giving fresh produce to a child.

According to Feeding America, 1 in 13 Iowans are facing hunger every day. Through Growing Together Iowa, families with low income can access fresh produce and nutrition education. The effort is part of extension’s nutrition education program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Master Gardener volunteers grow and harvest community gardens for donation to food pantries throughout the state.

In 2023, the gardens distributed over 103,000 pounds of fresh produce and related nutrition education materials to 100 Iowa food pantries serving more than 82,000 people. That’s more than 309,000 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables for Iowans, combined with increased skills and knowledge related to nutrition, food safety, food resource management, and physical activity.

What does this mean for Iowans?

Food pantry clients are getting nutrient-rich foods for their tables and making informed choices for their families’ health as they stretch their limited funds. The garden projects are catalysts for local coalitions to strengthen Iowa’s emergency food system and combat nutrition insecurity statewide. Iowa’s effort has been recognized nationally and eight states have adopted the program.


Empowering local conservation leaders

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Group of people in a nature area.

A growing community of passionate conservationists are taking action to help sustain and protect Iowa’s natural resources. They are participating in the Master Conservationist Program and increasing their knowledge of Iowa’s ecosystems and conservation practices. They also are building skills to become local leaders and educators. They are sharing what they’ve learned with their communities to increase the amount of sustainable conservation practices carried out locally – in home yards, farmsteads, city parks, public natural areas, cropland, pastures, and prairies. ISU Extension and Outreach delivers the program in collaboration with County Conservation Boards and local conservation professionals.

What does this mean for Iowans?

In a 2022 follow-up survey, 117 program graduates reported they planned to apply what they learned to land they owned or influenced – more than 14,000 acres, which is equivalent to more than 10,000 football fields! Master Conservationists are helping maintain healthy ecosystems across the state – supporting fertile farmland, clean water and air, and places of natural beauty that everyone may enjoy.


Engaging young people for career and community success

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Young person raising hand in classroom.

When young people are out of school, they miss out on learning and developing life skills, making it harder for them to find a successful career path. With a 42% absenteeism rate at Ottumwa High School, Ottumwa has been selected to join the U.S. Department of Labor's Youth Systems Building Academy. ISU Extension and Outreach is collaborating with community partners in this pilot effort to bring 400 young people into Ottumwa’s workforce for a resilient and robust local economy. The initiative provides targeted training and technical assistance, equipping young people with the necessary skills for sustainable careers. With secure employment, young people are more likely to experience better quality of life and a stronger connection with their community.

What does this mean for Iowans?

Preparing Ottumwa’s young people with the necessary skills to join the workforce supports local industry growth, economic sustainability, and ongoing community development. A strong Ottumwa benefits the residents, the region, and the state. The ultimate goal is to create a model that other Iowa communities and workforce regions can replicate.


Addressing mental health for workers, farmers, and families

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Extension specialist and farmer talking on a farm.

More than a million Iowans live in communities without enough mental health professionals to meet local needs. To address this care gap, people throughout the state are participating in Mental Health First Aid, learning to be aware of mental health risk factors and warning signs. With a statewide network, ISU Extension and Outreach trains adult employees at workplaces, as well as individuals who support farmers and their families, such as school and human services personnel, agribusiness staff, and commodity groups. Participants learn strategies for how to help someone in crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help. In 2022-2023, 485 individuals who were certified in Mental Health First Aid indicated they now can have a supportive conversation with anyone about mental health or substance use challenges.

What does this mean for Iowans?

In Iowa, 33% of adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and suicide rates are higher among agricultural producers than most other occupations. With more people trained in Mental Health First Aid, more Iowans will receive the care they need, while helping to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Watch the video and read the full story


Budget notes

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Coins in hands.
  • For every dollar in federal and state funding, ISU Extension and Outreach brings in another dollar in grants and revenue generating activities.
  • ISU Extension and Outreach is not immune to rising wages and surging health care costs as salary and benefits account for two-thirds of extension expenditures.

Extension budget information for 2023 and 2024 (PDF) is included in our Real Impact 2023 Report, available online and for download.


Extension facts

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  • More than 10K educational events statewide
  • More than 850K educational exchanges with Iowans
  • More than 130K youth reached in 2022-2023 through 4-H youth development programs
  • More than 7K volunteers support extension learning opportunities
  • More than 245K volunteer hours = $6.8 million benefit to Iowans

Notes: 4-H youth data are based on the 4-H program year, September 1, 2022 – August 31, 2023. Other data are from July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023. Educational exchanges with Iowans occurred through educational programming or by connecting them to ISU expertise and resources. Value of volunteer hours derived using 2022 State of Iowa value of $28.09 per hour estimate from IndependentSector.org.