- Author: Katherine Soule
The UCCE team in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties met with Congressman Salud Carbajal and his team twice in the past few weeks. On Aug. 20, Jeremy Tittle, the congressman's chief of staff, and Erin Sandler, the congressman's scheduler, visited. The congressional staff met with UCCE advisors, office manager, and director to learn more about UCCE research and programming.
UCCE advisor Ben Faber led a tour of research and education collaborations at Cal Poly, sharing research occurring on pomegranates, blueberries and other crops. In the afternoon, UCCE advisor Mark Battany led a tour at Wolff Vineyard, discussing research on how climate conditions relate to frost and water management.
The following week, Katherine Soule, UCCE director, met with Congressman Carbajal and project collaborators to discuss the outcomes and success of a USDA Community Food Project grant. On Sept. 5, the congressman visited with the project partners at the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.
Community partners described their contributions to the project, including UCCE's efforts to reduce food waste, increase awareness of local food systems, and maximize limited food resources through the UC Master Food Preserver Program. For this project, UC Master Food Preservers teach low-cost, safe, home food preservation methods to clientele receiving food at food bank distribution sites. During this meeting, the partners also discussed the San Luis Obispo County CalFresh Alliance's objective to increase CalFresh participation in the county.
San Luis Obispo County currently has one of the lowest CalFresh participation rates in the state so the partners have been working together to identify and address barriers to participation. Carbajal shared his concerns about the low rates of participation and his commitment to working to address food insecurity in the region.
These successful visits led Carbajal's team to schedule a meeting with 4-H youth, families and volunteers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in the next few months.
- Author: Anne Megaro, Government and Community Relations director
How do you achieve this? Communicate with all audiences throughout the year, not just during times of need. This helps form relationships as well as a deeper understanding of what it is that you do and how your work impacts the local community. This helps build a lasting relationship and a desire to support your research, programming, and services.
How should you educate elected officials?
As university employees, we may indicate our needs and ask for support with many audiences (e.g. funding organizations, boards of supervisors, donors, etc.) but we must take into consideration other factors when talking to elected state or federal officials or their staff members.
We can, and should, educate and inform elected state and federal officials and their staff of the work UC ANR does in their districts. However, we cannot take positions on bills or ask for budgetary support without the expressed consent from the UC Office of the President. Only the regents, who have delegated authority to President Napolitano, can determine UC's official position on legislative issues.
So, what can you do if you can't ask for money?
Share the impact of your work. Be specific! Tell a story and use UC ANR's public value statements to guide you. Sometimes a personal story about an individual who benefited from your work is easier to remember, and more moving, than total program impact to an entire community. For example, talk about your work solving a problem with a specific farmer and how it improved their bottom line, share a 4-H youth project, talk about working with a specific community partner and describe how you worked together to achieve a shared goal. Did you promote economic prosperity, develop a qualified workforce, or promote healthy people and communities? Did your partners save money? Did more 4-H youth go to college? Did participants lead healthier lives?
If we fine-tune the way we message our story and impacts, we can ensure that UC ANR will become widely known as the face of UC in communities throughout California.
For more information, see my one-pager at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Professional_Development/files/293044.pdf. Feel free to contact me at (530) 750-1218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources joined in the California Farm Bureau Federation's Centennial Celebration at the State Capitol on June 26.
State legislators visited booths where county farm bureaus displayed products from local growers and ranchers and discussed the benefits of agriculture in their county.
4-H volunteer Julie Farnham and Nicole Jansen and members of the Esparto/Capay Valley 4-H Club brought a small petting zoo consisting of three dairy calves and two exotic sheep and talked with legislators about the benefits of participating in 4-H.
“The California Farm Bureau Federation's Centennial at the Capitol was a great opportunity to talk with legislators about how UC is present in their districts and helping their constituents,” said Anne Megaro, director of government and community relations, who coordinated ANR's participation in the event.
UC Cooperative Extension has partnered with the Farm Bureau for more than a century. As UC Cooperative Extension was being organized in 1913, UC leaders required each county government that wanted to participate in the partnership to allocate funding to help support extension work in that community. It was also required that a group of farmers in participating counties organize into a “farm bureau” to help guide the UCCE farm advisor on the local agriculture issues. These grassroots groups later evolved into the California Farm Bureau Federation.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
University of California staff are an integral part of a system with a high purpose. Every staff member plays a role in supporting the University's mission: Educating the best and brightest from all backgrounds, ethnicities and incomes, conducting research that touches the lives of people across the globe, and providing critical public service across California in areas such public health, agricultural science, nutrition and youth development.
Our future depends on the support of the elected leaders in the state and our nation's capital. This is an area where you, with your first-hand knowledge of the University's value, can play an important role.
In addition to being a UC staff member, you are a constituent of your government representatives. They want to hear from you. You have a unique perspective of UC ANR and your community. You can share honest communications with these leaders to gain support that is crucial to the future of the University of California. If you would like to add your voice to the voices of many others in support of UC, join the UC Advocacy Network, UCAN. (https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/support-uc/ucan)
UCAN was launched last year to engage staff, faculty, students and alumni who want to advocate for the future of UC. More than 17,000 people have already chosen to get involved, and there is significant room for growth, said Meredith Turner, associate director of Advocacy and Institutional Relations.
“We have hundreds of thousands of employees, nearly 2 million alumni, and thousands of students,” Turner said. “There is a huge group of people who could join this community.”
When you “opt-in,” you will occasionally receive email alerts about issues vital to UC. The emails provide basic background on the topic. You choose whether to click “take action,” which brings you to a webpage with more information and a form where you can fill in your name, email and home address. The form contains a suggested message for your local government officials, but you can edit the message and personalize it, if you wish.
The UC Advocacy Network was recently engaged in the debate over the federal “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” which passed Congress and President Trump signed into law in December 2017. The proposal contained provisions that could have harmed the financial security of UC students and their families and threatened the university's ability to carry out its research, education, health care, and public service missions. The issues in question were a proposal to repeal the Student Loan Interest Deduction and the Qualified Tuition Reductions (Section 117(d)). The latter makes it possible to provide graduate students with a non-taxable tuition reduction while they pursue their degrees and work as research or teaching assistants.
UCAN issued a call to action, asking its network of advocates to tell their representatives in Congress how damaging such provisions would be to higher education in the U.S.
“The issues are so complex, it can be hard to see how it will translate in your life,” Turner said. “We break it down and explain how the law will impact the University's mission directly.”
The final bill preserved both the Student Loan Interest Deduction and the Qualified Tuition Reductions.
Each year, UCAN participants are called to amplify UC's governmental relations staff communication with state senators and assembly members about the state budget.
“We advocate greater state investment in the University,” Turner said. “This truly affects everyone connected to the University – it impacts staffing levels, the resources staff have to work with, the ability to hire faculty, repair classrooms. This is the perfect opportunity for people to participate in advocacy.”
The UC ANR Staff Assembly encourages all staff to visit the UCAN website and join the movement.
“Advocacy is most impactful when you're passionate about an issue,” Turner said. “We let people pick what they are most concerned about and have them advocate for it.”
- Author: Anne Megaro, Ph.D.
Anne Megaro is government and community relations director for the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She helps bench and field researchers spread the good news of their work by “sharing their story” with policymakers and community stakeholders. She earned a Ph.D. in Animal Science from Cornell University and was a 2010-2011 AAAS Science and Technology Fellow.
If you had to explain, in layman's terms, your current research area and the impact of your work on human lives, could to do it? Could you do it in five minutes?
This was one question asked of me during my interview for the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowship, which is a highly regarded and competitive year-long program geared toward Ph.D., M.D., and D.V.M. graduates who are looking to explore what it would be like to work in public policy on Capitol Hill. I like to think that I nailed this question in my interview (“I research milk fat and how it's healthy for people”), but then again, my research was easily translational…. and I had a lot of practice. In graduate school, I was constantly fielding questions from people outside my department who, when they found out I worked with cows, would instantly pepper me with a myriad of questions about milk – ranging from nutrition to hormone use to animal welfare. I loved the fact that every person I spoke to left our conversation knowing a little bit more about food and how it's produced.
What I didn't know then, however, was that these moments were perfect opportunities to reach people outside of the science arena and bring them into the fold, a step closer to understanding a world that seems too complex or foreign to comprehend. Science shouldn't be a black box and research shouldn't be siloed away from the view of – and use by – other professions. The world is increasingly dependent on science to deliver new technologies and research breakthroughs that will expand our knowledge and allow us to continue pursing healthy and prosperous lives.
To break down these silos, we need to learn how to translate science into forms that can be used by other professions, especially those professions that determine public policy. The good news is that there are science-minded legislators and staffers in the halls of Congress and in state capitols. Some have science backgrounds, some are – quite literally – rocket scientists, and some do not have science degrees but are exceptionally intelligent. They will be receptive to hearing about your research and what it will do to transform society. However, they likely won't have an hour to spend with you to discuss your work. At best, a half hour. Most likely, 15 minutes… and your meeting might take place in a loud, crowded, hallway.
Which brings us back to my initial point – the importance of being able to share your research in a five-minute “elevator” speech. If enough scientists stood willing and able to reach out and communicate their science, communicate their expertise, communicate the knowledge it has taken years of hard but exciting work to attain, where would we be? Would there be greater interest and support from Congress for agricultural research? Would a fundamental understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing farmers and the production gains needed to feed a world of nine billion people by 2050 stimulate greater conversation? How wonderful would it be if the information communicated came from unbiased, non-political, science-driven, credible, and professional sources?
Honing the skill of communicating to policymakers is not simple. It usually requires political prowess and sensitivity to current events. This should not take away from your message and it absolutely should not skew your research results. It should, however, keep you thinking about how to deliver your message to specific audiences. Be mindful that most elected officials and their staff will not have time to read a scientific article or annual report. Instead, develop a one-page “leave-behind” that is paragraph-free and full of graphics (not graphs). Make your message clear, and give real-world examples of your work's impact. Most importantly, follow up with an email or hand-written thank-you note. It's always nice to be nice, and you will be remembered for it.
I will step off my soapbox with this message: science is no longer limited to the reach of laboratories and universities. It leaks and stretches into all factions of life and is essential to the productivity, prosperity, and health of all people. With increasing scientific discoveries in nutrition, medicine, agricultural production, natural resource and environmental science, it is essential that science be effectively communicated and shared with non-scientists. So, the next time someone asks you about your research, don't tell them you work on anti-carcinogenic bioactive fatty acids. Tell them you're working to make milk fat healthier. Tell them how your work could transform society. Share your story.