How is everyone doing? Cabin fever is likely getting to many of us, even the introverts. I am fortunate to be able to get outside into a 5-acre yard and walk the 2-mile, roundtrip, stretch of road without any risk of passing another person. For those in apartments or condos, maintaining physical distancing while getting outside is far more challenging. On the upside, those in apartments or condos don't have landscape maintenance. Surprisingly, even to me, I welcomed a chance to pull a view weeds this weekend! Like many across California, we are getting our garden site ready. While I usually recommend against this year is not typical, so I am supporting the idea of a modest-sized garden. Garden size is key to the level of support I offer for this activity.
Last week, I was unsuccessful in keeping with my ‘2 per day' plan for reviewing academic advancement packages. With the help of the weekend, I was close, a mere one of the ten planned reviews. I still need to complete two reviews today. I now have 29 cases reviewed, of 64, in addition to completing reviews for my annual reviews as the first-level reviewer. My staff reviews remain to be completed, pending successful resolution of technical challenges with the new People Soft program.
I could have accomplished more work over the weekend, but as some of you know, my current office, while the rest of the family is home, is in my garage space that doubles as a sewing/crafting room. Despite spending the week there on Zoom calls, I found myself back there during periods of rain. I joined the Million Mask Challenge and found a place in LA to donate the 29 completed products. I would not survive a job where I was paid by the piece. Furthermore, following instructions has always been a challenge, assuming I even read them. I maintain, however, that product quality was not compromised, and I was better able to use up what I had on hand and avoid going out for supplies. That's my argument anyway.
Lynn Wunderlich is trying something new this year. Because of the stay at home order, she needed to change her plans for the 2020 Foothill Grape Day. Rather than hold a full day meeting, Lynn and her team of speakers are offering a series of Zoom sessions throughout the week. The scientist in Lynn calls this an experiment and will assess, post event, how this approach worked for both the speakers and the participants. I am eager to hear what she learns!
No doubt, most, if not all, of us are juggling unexpected changes to plans and schedules due to COVID-19 with the already full calendars of planned work. At times, it seems the adjustments needed as a result of COVID-19 are all-consuming, making it difficult to get anything done, much less what had been long planned. Many universities are discussing the impact of the situation on academic advancement schedules and considering blanket extensions to the advancement 'clock.' That's not to say that candidates don't need to meet the same criteria; instead, they have more time to do so. Extending the clock makes sense when you consider that the expectations won't change; what changes is the ability to accomplish goals during this unusual time. The same discussions have taken place in various meetings I attend within UC. If I were to guess, I would expect that any announcement would follow the current review cycle and reflect what we know at that time. I think it is safe to say that everyone recognizes the challenge of managing the disruption. After all, we are all in this together.
Somehow, despite no commute time, I have fallen far behind in my plan for reviewing merit and promotion packages. Additional meetings are on the calendar and other topics are prime time and the priority. I've adjusted my expectations and my plans to meet deadlines. If I start work an hour earlier each day, I should be able to read one package. In addition, I will add an hour at the end of the day to read a second package. If I do this on weekdays, only, I should complete my first read in 5 weeks, just in time to go back and read supervisor, external evaluator and PRC comments. While it is a bit inconvenient to put in a new plan, it is not impossible to achieve and it leaves weekends free (until I get behind again). I realized last Thursday that the extension for academic reviews for supervisors was self-serving. While I had met with the academics for which I serve as first level reviewer, I hadn't written anything up. Now I am caught up with that, having adjusted weekend time to do so. The increased ‘at home' time has come in handy!
I have a virtual conference this week. While the networking part is lost, I suspect we may be more efficient in getting business done. Unfortunately, the networking is what leads to novel ideas and new partnerships. We'll see how it goes. I can't help but wonder if the upcoming eXtension webinar discusses how working in a virtual environment can achieve what I typically think of as the benefits of in-person meetings. If anyone gets a chance to tune in, please let me know if this topic is addressed. I may miss the webinar due to other scheduled meetings. The webinar is from 3 to 4 pm on March 24th; Virtual Culture: The way we work doesn't work anymore, how to embrace the virtual culture in your team.
My new (temporary!) work space looks across the street to our neighboring dairy farm. As I've watched the comings and goings from the farm over the last week, it has struck me how little I expect has changed for the day-to-day on a dairy, despite the news reports and empty highways. The work of the dairy farmer, like our work, remains of great importance. Feed trucks, employees, and supplies still pull in every day and there is at least one heifer or one cow out roaming around where she wasn't intended to be. In some small way it is comforting to know that fixing the gate, the fence, or whatever happens to be the preferred escape path, still hasn't risen as a priority on the farm maintenance list.
I hope everything you have had to shuffle in order to accommodate this extraordinary time feels now to be little more than an adjustment of plans. I suspect some sense of a new, but temporary, normal is near.
Is Zoom fatigue a thing? I suspect it will be soon. While I joke that this social distancing is an introvert's dream, I don't like working from home, particularly when others are home, too. Enough complaining, the reality is I have exchanged commute time with more productive activity and, in the long run, I believe I may accomplish things ahead of schedule. With that said, I recognize that my work is far more desk-oriented than the work of most in UC ANR. I've wondered how I would feel about this if I had dairy cows in the lab I ran at Michigan State and had no students to do chores every day. I'd feel differently, for certain.
The original plan for the week was to fly to Atlanta yesterday for a 1.5-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Zoom fatigue must exist because the organizers just reduced the meeting to 90 minutes on Wednesday. I feel like I've hit the jackpot, though truth be told, it likely means several additional short Zoom meetings in the future. For now, I will take the win.
I am fascinated by some of the things that have popped up, perhaps available previously, unknown to me. Did you know that some museums offer free virtual visits? And Broadway performers are taping virtual concerts. Even Coachella has a virtual version – ‘Couchella'. It turns out there are alternatives to the constant COVID-19 conversation on network television. During the daily calls that were initiated this week with County Directors, Statewide Program/Institute Directors, and REC Directors, I have learned of several creative approaches to sharing and conducting our important work. I suspect there are dozens of additional strategies I haven't heard about, yet.
How are you doing? Have you found a silver lining in all of this? I spoke with a colleague today who remarked that as a result of travel curtailment and school closings, he has three weeks with his young kids for which he never would have planned. He is making the most of his time with them, in between remote work, in hopes that they remember these three weeks decades into the future. He and his kids went out and planted a tree for each of the kids, as a way of always having something to remind them. I like his approach. Let's all try to do something during this time to remember fondly.
Visits to our California Senators and Congressmen are over but I have follow up items with several of the staffers that I need to tackle yet this week. Thanks to Jhalendra, Marcel, Dan and Kamal for their participation last week. I look forward to working with the team that will make visits to our state representatives in 3 weeks.
It has been approximately 10 months since I was last on the UC Merced campus. I am astonished at how fast the campus has grown, and the building continues. Student numbers must be exploding, too, because for the first time I saw students everywhere on skateboards and scooters. The energy level seems high on that campus. The purpose for my visit was to meet with two of our CE Specialists and their department chairs.
Following those visits, I drove to Visalia to meet with the new CEO for the Citrus Research Board and Beth Grafton-Cardwell. It is always nice to see Beth and Marcie, the new executive director for the Citrus Research Board was a delightful. On top of that, it was a beautiful day for a drive.
Today the strategic plan goal owners met to talk about updates to the plan. It is hard to believe we are coming up on four years since we started the current version and that it is time to renew/refresh the plan already! Fortunately, many of the tasks are completed. Many of the tasks are on-going and will forward to the next version. I have some homework to do before next month. It's a good thing my spring break has already passed.
I still have a fair bit of travel scheduled for the rest of the month, though one meeting has already been moved to Zoom and others may follow. I am not sad about this, but I do wonder how effective the meetings will be using Zoom when the planning was based on an assumption that participants would all be present, in person. At least I am not trying to determine how best to teach the remaining portion of a semester to a class of 300 students using Zoom.
The near future may present an opportunity to reveal the usefulness, or otherwise, of some of these meetings. In the meantime, I need to check in for a flight. The long legs are my chance to focus on merit and promotion documents. Despite starting off strong, I am woefully behind schedule on packages.
My clues must have been good; several of you guessed my vacation destination right away. After having returned from a week in Belize, I am now headed to D.C. to make legislative visits. Time to fully engage the ‘work' part of my brain, though it is never completely left behind.
While on vacation, I learned what happens when five Extension specialists/advisors travel together, with significant others, through a rural part of Belize. Despite the time designation as ‘vacation', stopping at the University of Belize's experimental farms for a tour becomes the priority. Fortunately, the director of the farms was very accommodating. The farm superintendent turned out to be a former Extension agent in the panhandle of Florida. No need to explain the Cooperative Extension system to him. While a native of Belize, his graduate education was completed at Earth University, in Costa Rica, where Michigan State University has many partnerships. A current administrator at Earth University started his career as a County Director in Michigan, working with some of my travel companions. It is a small world.
We learned that one of Belize's biggest agricultural threats is water. They are entering the dry season following two sequential years of low rainfall during the wet season. This was evident as we drove past corn, bean and palm fields. A large Mennonite community settled one of the most innovative agricultural regions of the country. The Mennonite community works closely with the University of Belize and the Ministry of Agriculture to conduct research and deliver programming to clientele. I was particularly surprised to learn that Belize has what can be compared to the Master Food Preserver Program. Belize is not an export nation, other than perhaps coconut oil. I'm unclear what their import portfolio contains. Although citrus is an important crop, HLB is not on the radar in Belize. Coronavirus is on the radar in Belize, as evidenced by the additional screening that occurred at the airport. Given how small the world really is, precaution is the best practice.
The D.C. weather predicts unseasonably warm and wet conditions. While the rain may make catching a cab a bit more challenging, I don't expect any travel disruptions due to snow. I have a few more merit and promotion packages to review so delays are unwelcome this week.