The first month of 2019 is just about behind us. I find that hard to believe! However, this weekend the increasing day length was both apparent and welcomed. Admittedly, I miss the long summer days of Michigan. Even a seemingly small 4° difference in latitude makes a big difference.
Last week I had a chance to listen to a reader-recommended TED talk that focused on improving work efficiencies. The speaker, Martin Danoesastro, makes the case that alignment around purpose enables autonomy and that autonomy allows for a faster, and more flexible work environment. Companies that organize themselves around multidisciplinary teams, as opposed to disciplinary silos, can be successful provided each employee is willing to be a leader. The hurdle is that each has to change their behavior and in so doing be willing to give something up. Thanks for the recommendation – I found the talk useful and timely.
Tomorrow is a UC ANR Town Hall to talk about UC Path, a new business system designed to change the way our operations data flows and integrates. The network of personnel working on UC Path are testing systems day and night right now to ensure that everyone receives a paycheck on April 1, 2019, and minimize disruptions. Long term, UC Path will improve efficiencies but it will take a change for that to happen and, no doubt, some things will be lost including mailed paychecks. As someone who still hasn't established a bank account with a financial institution that has a presence in California, I can't imagine getting a paper paycheck; it would parallel installing a landline telephone (something I stopped around 2001). Cybersecurity concerns contribute to changes, too. As a result, DUO multifactor authentication goes into effect soon. I can say that while this may change the way we work in that we have an added layer of sign-in to complete online approvals, I much prefer this system to the one we used at Michigan State. The Michigan State MFA required that you had to receive a 6-digit code by phone or text and enter that code to complete the sign-in.
I heard much discussion over the weekend about the need to change how we harvest crops. First, I read a post shared with my by Jose Aguiar: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/could-california-produce-soon-cost-you-more-farms-face-labor-shortages-immigration-woes/ar-BBSNijI?ocid=ob-fb-enus-280&fbclid=IwAR3IuTVX_W3yONXcXsAq-Azk6jE-NoDrL9ukPnz4Gn5D7_5vz0zy2iml23Y. I am not sure if Jose was aware that the same topic would make its way to a news report over the weekend, but the reporter talked about this very topic of the increased cost of food because of labor shortages.
Imagine if we could find a way to harvest, mechanically, more of the fruits and vegetables grown? Harvest automation was one of the ‘gaps' identified by growers we met with in Blythe a couple of weeks back. The farmers thought UC and UC ANR should direct more effort to automation as a key step in maintaining California's stature in food production. The topic did not make its way into the 46 positions considered during the recent process, but I do wonder if we have enough FTE directed towards this problem at present. Sure, we would give up something in the process, but overall, the opportunity to change how the work is done would be worthwhile. Perhaps the alignment around purpose is not quite there yet.
Last week I mentioned that I am spending my long weekend attending a conference in New Orleans. The theme of the meeting is Resilience: Turning Challenges into Opportunities. Rebecca Blank, Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, gave the keynote address. She talked about the importance of the public university in today's world, citing the data about the increase in the difference in lifetime income based on the level of education and how that difference has drastically increased since the 1970's and continues to do so. Despite the data, the public university is under heavy scrutiny and the relevance is questioned. Chancellor Blank stressed the importance in perseverance and the need to meet students where they are, making it easy to attend such that the composition of, particularly the land-grant institution, reflects the demographics of the population. She talked about UW-M's new commitment to make it easy for those less fortunate to attend UW-M: if a student's family annual income is less than $56,000 and the student meets the criteria for enrollment, the campus guarantees that student sufficient scholarships, loans, and grants to attend. No complex formula, no strings.
A panel discussion followed Chancellor Blank's address. On the topic of the public research university, the President of the University of Houston stated that research is what defines us but we need to remain true to our core mission (training students). If we focus on the core we will quickly determine that there are many ways to achieve the mission; we don't have to stick to what we have always done and how we have always done it. She gave as an example of an innovative solution, that when hurricane Harvey hit at the start of the semester, the leadership team quickly realized that the university was vulnerable to losing many of its students so they made a decision that they would accommodate students however necessary to avoid dropouts. This included personal phone calls to work with the students to address the student's needs. The result was that the University of Houston did not see a single student drop out, despite the destruction caused in the region. Quite an impressive statistic!
One of the comments made was that “Excellence and diversity are not mutually exclusive”. I don't recall who made that statement but I believe it was the President of Montana State University. I agree completely and I think our Extension programs demonstrate so.
In general, while the conversations on Sunday seemed very focused on students, the essence of the conversations were very much applicable to Extension – the whole idea that the system is underfunded and perhaps even threatened, the idea that Extension needs to change how it achieves its core mission in order to remain relevant to the clientele who change each generation, and the sense that Extension is needed more than ever before.
None of this is new to anyone reading this. When I went back to my room this evening I started to listen to a TED talk and the add that ran before the talk included a statement that may be a new concept to many, and one that we really need to think about: “Be willing to disrupt your traditional model because if you don't, someone else will”.
A friend sent me this article by the founder of Squarespace from the current issue of Southwest's magazine. I'm not sure if it was sent to me because I often read the magazine or because it is so fitting. I am guilty of always wanting to define the performance criteria and then establish design criteria. But, what other way is there? Just do what one has always done? Design something without any consideration of the performance needs? Clearly I need to think about this a bit more.
The big lesson in the article is that “what made you successful in the past isn't necessarily going to make you successful in the future”. Often that can be difficult to accept, particularly when one enjoys the way things have been. But it's difficult to ignore the wisdom in that statement. Thus, like any organization or business, we need to continue to evolve to meet current needs and wants. That means different programming, in different ways, and to different audiences. While this isn't a bad thing, it is uncomfortable at times. I often think about the TED talk that proposes “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. I have a long list of TED talks to watch but that's one I like to go back to every now and then.
Because I happened to be on a Southwest flight last week, I flipped through the magazine. In addition to that article by the CEO of Squarespace, a few other things stood out. First, was a piece about Southwest's commitment to and support of STEM education for youth. Once again, I found myself wondering if the company has a grant or scholarship program available and how the 4-H program might partner with Southwest. The other thing that stood out was a quote that I don't remember exactly but it was to the effect of the following.
An early or big win builds complacency. Repeatedly hearing ‘no' leads one to just stop trying. As a result, failure is the only clear path to success.
That was true in grad school; I learned a whole lot more through failure than I ever did from getting it right the first time. But I hope the statement doesn't always apply.
We are still wrestling with the budget. As a result funds for Program Teams, CE Specialist and AES funds to work with CE Advisors, and program support dollars have not yet been released. It's a challenge to find the funds to cover the shortfall and minimize the impact it has on people while leaving the division in a position to better weather the future. We can't do it without causing pain and discomfort but in this case, failure is not the path to success.
I'm sitting on what I think is the loudest plane I have ever been on. I'm not sure if a motor is missing a bearing or what. While it is a bit uncomfortable, I am not complaining because, by predicting the impacts of rain in the Midwest and changing my flight plan long before I knew for certain that I would benefit from the change, I averted a long ground delay in Chicago that would likely cause a missed connection. That's the benefit of looking back on past experiences in order to better see forward.
I was at a meeting with a number of other Extension leaders from across the U.S. We met with NIFA to talk about their grants programs. Did you see that NIFA's AFRI Foundation Program was just released? If not, take a look at that and the other programs currently open. The NIFA leaders shared with us some tips to help our academics succeed in their funding pursuits. The most important tip – apply! And, be prepared to need to apply more than once before you are successful. Given that most programs have funding rates of 10 to 15 percent, odds are you won't be successful the first time. But call the Program Leader for the grant program you are interested in and see if they think your proposal concept fits with the program. If you've submitted in the past, unsuccessfully, look back and the reviewer feedback and take to heart the comments (after you've first criticized the anonymous reviewers for not knowing anything about your topic and not really reading your proposal). The NIFA leadership is counting on Extension academics taking the lead on integrated proposals, indicating that these are the people that can best understand what it takes for NIFA to achieve their 25-year goals (see page 8 of link) that are the foundation for the Sustainable Agricultural Systems grant program that is out right now.
The NIFA leaders stressed how much they rely on our impact stories to tell their story and justify federal funds (capacity, like Smith-Lever and Hatch, as well as competitive funds. Sound familiar? We do the same thing with stories put into UC Delivers and Project Board. They really do get used when written well and focused on impact – by leadership, for government relations work, and for fund development efforts.
We met with the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA; who happens to have been one of my mentors long ago) and we talked about the different types of partnerships that the various states have with their Departments of Agriculture. One state is talking about shared ‘Advisor' positions. Imagine that! It happens to be a state where the director shared that leadership didn't change quickly enough so changed happened to them – like closing research stations and layoffs when they weren't proactive in finding new sources of funding. It sounds like some lessons were learned there, albeit the hard way. But they can still help others better see a path forward.
It's pretty easy to change flights to avoid getting stuck in Chicago but not so easy to see and make other changes. Fortunately, we pride ourselves on being change agents. As a result of efforts to boost funds development, the 2017 Giving Tuesday was up 49% over the previous year! And online giving in FY17-18 is on track to surpass FY16-17 by 13%. That's in addition to the increased contract and grant funding that I mentioned before and includes support to have shared-funded Advisor positions with NRCS. Not all necessary change is as pleasant to share, but here's to staying ahead and making change rather than having change happen to us.
Update: my flight original flight, to O'Hare, was canceled.
I took a new route to work today because I started from a different place. I wasn't looking forward to it because I thought the traffic would be worse and I would miss an exit somewhere along the way. It turns out that traffic was lighter than my usual path. I suspect, in part, that was due to my advanced preparation – I left 15 minutes earlier. And then I completely missed my BART stop because I was texting with someone. I used a portion of the 15 minutes to backtrack only to find the ‘back' gates to the building weren't even open yet. Imagine all I would have missed if I hadn't tried something new!
There's good news this morning on the Thomas Fire; finally more than 50% contained! I've heard from a couple of people that ‘traditional' media outlets aren't panning out to be the most up-to-date source of information and that social media has become the ‘go to' resource. How's that for the benefits of taking a different route! Rose Hayden-Smith shared with me a report that the person who has improved the use of social media for emergency reporting is a 21-year old! She also shared some information that people in Bangkok who used social media suffered less loss as a result of the 2011 floods. Clearly there's benefit to using the wisdom of the crowd. I'm guilty of not taking that path but who knows, with a new year upon us that may change!
In the face of California's worst fire season, it is no surprise that UC ANR is providing leadership to pre- and post-fire efforts. We learned yesterday that Lenya Quinn-Davidson will be the recipient of the 2017 CAL FIRE Partnership Award. She will receive the award January 8th in Sacramento. Congratulations Lenya – well deserved!
Speaking of partners, yesterday I attended a meeting with several from the Plant Sciences Department at UCD. Gail Taylor, the new department chair, was kind enough to invite Glenda, Mark and myself for the afternoon to talk about enhancing the partnership and working towards shared goals. It was nice to hear about the outcomes that are the result of funding support through UC ANR endowments where the payouts have been directed to the department. Of particular interest to me was conversation about long range planning that reflects departmental and division goals. The new chair is quite impressive, a real catch for UC Davis. I look forward to many more productive conversations with her.
Today and tomorrow seem to be interview days. So many Zoom meetings ahead before the winter break begins. Time to get ready for those meetings.