The last session at the Ag Experiment Station Directors meeting in Philly this week was intended to focus on integrating the teaching and research missions within individual faculty appointments. It was a panel discussion and two of the panelists, in particular, did not stick to talking just about teaching and research. One of those two spoke repeatedly about the need to enhance work ‘across the functions'. The panelists, all with extensive experience in administration and long careers behind them, spoke of this as a relatively new approach and the two panelists, referenced above, cited examples of Extension and research administrators working in silos. Despite the hour of the day and two days spent sitting in a chair I found the conversation fascinating – not because I find it a novel approach but because, at least to the event planning committee, there appeared to be a need for the topic and, sadly, I agree that it doesn't happen to the extent that it should.
About 2 months into my first faculty position (split research and Extension appointment) a mentor told me that a strong Extension program had at its foundation a strong research program. But as I went through my career I found the reverse to be true as well; my Extension program informed my research program as much as my research program informed my Extension program. Yet I have read promotion document after promotion document from candidates all across the US where the portfolio was divided into ‘Research' and ‘Extension' sections in a deliberate effort to isolate the two. And as I moved into administrative roles, I've had a firsthand look at how often the administrators of the Extension and research programs fail to work together and sometimes even compete for resources. Citizens see a single university and have no need to recognize that there are departments and units and that any given person within the system is not responsible for all things that go on at the university – that alone is sufficient reason to work collaboratively. And for the individual academic, there is great benefit to an integrated program.
The integration of research and Extension that is inherent in UC ANR was one of the things that drew me to my current position. I had looked at Extension Director positions and I had looked at Ag Experiment Station Director positions. But each time I had to wonder if I could really walk away, entirely, from the other. It would be difficult enough to leave behind my personal program much less a mission altogether. If you haven't spent time in other programs you may not realize how lucky we are in UC ANR to have research and Extension integrated into field-based academic positions. While nothing is perfect the UC approach is ahead of the curve.
A goal across UC ANR is to have an integrated research and Extension program that is as strong as possible. This goal became part of the conversation when considering how to proceed with developing leadership positions to fill the two vacancies that will exist at the end of this week. We could refill the positions as described previously or we could look at where we want to be, what goals we have in front of us and structure positions in a way to support the goals. That's not to say that it is a perfect situation but it is unnecessary to assume that the positions can't be changed down the road. Change is, after all, part of growth and improvement. As a result of the discussions about goals and needs, a position will be posted, soon, for a Vice Provost with oversight for county-based Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and the Research and Extension Centers (RECs), highlighting that UC ANR values the seamless integration of research and Extension. While a heavy workload and, perhaps daunting, responsibility, the position to me is one of great opportunity without having to choose between the two missions. I am optimistic that we will attract a strong pool of applicants who have a solid track record of working ‘across the functions'. Surely I am not alone in my sense that we should be well beyond thinking that such integration is a novel idea.
This week flew by and I wasn't even traveling (much). I flew back to CA on the holiday and headed to the Davis office Tuesday morning. That day ended with participation at the Annual UC Davis Specialist meeting. I was asked to talk about efforts to cultivate the strategic initiatives. Because this ties into Goal 5, I shared the graphic that I have used to illustrate the process (below).
At the UCD Specialist meeting, I provided an update on the Public Value Statement workshop held a couple of weeks ago and some thoughts about workgroups, program teams, statewide programs and institutes, and the strategic initiatives similar to those I shared in a previous blog. My thoughts continue to evolve (see graphic below) over time and with continued discussion that is welcomed. I recognize there are very different perspectives across UC ANR of the value of the different groups. Personally, they are all mission-critical. I wonder if there isn't a need to better define the role and responsibilities of each group just for clarification purposes so that we are all using the same language and understand how each group contributes to the overarching mission. As I made my way over to the UCD Specialist meeting I had Ruth Wallace, a professor from Charles Darwin University as my passenger and it was obvious that while the impact of UC ANR is well recognized, it is a bit of a challenge to describe how we are organized. At the end of the day, it is the work that is paramount; but it doesn't hurt to have a common means of describing the organization and its structure as well as its function.
Ruth is a Fullbright Fellow studying the US Extension system. I found it interesting to learn that the tagline for Charles Darwin University is ‘Change Your World'. As many know, Cooperative Extension is recognized around the world for the impact it has had in connecting science to citizens. Many countries seek to emulate what we have here in the US; Glenda spent time in China back in March as part of a team that is working with the Chinese government to share how Cooperative Extension works. Similarly, there is new effort in Mexico to strengthen the role of universities in extension and economic development programs and those states that are border states have an opportunity to showcase, strengthen, and build upon our current efforts across the border. Initial planning is underway for a conference (fall 2017) between several universities in Mexico and border state Cooperative Extension programs to talk about common issues and how we might work together. Having seen, during my visit to Imperial UCCE and DREC, how important the cross border relationships are I think people within UC ANR could make strong contributions to the event. As the event develops I will keep everyone informed.
Next week is Program Council. I am certain I will leave the meeting with many things to think about.
If anyone were to look at what has been checked off of this week's ‘to do' list they would be unimpressed to say the least. But it has been time well spent. Yesterday I spent a few hours with a strategic planning group for the Strategic Communications team. I learned that we have a Brand Promise. I will share the elements of that in an upcoming post. I showed up for the last few hours of a 2-day retreat and it was apparent the group had worked quite hard to develop the ideas they reported out. I definitely have a number of ideas to pursue.
Today I attended a field day at the Sierra Foothills REC. The day was full of information and great speakers. Attendees (60+) included Chico State students, consultants, agency representatives, land stewards, landowners and ranchers. The field stop speakers talked about how diversity of the oak woodland contributes to its resiliency towards climate change, the economic and ecosystem implications of medusahead, and the use of grass compost in building soil health highlighting partnerships with UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Nikolai was a great van driver and tour guide as we made our way through the periodic rain.
The reason I say that taking the time to attend these meetings and events was time well spent is because I'm always trying to learn new things, not just in my discipline area but on the fringe of it. Doing so has helped me stay primed to change direction or retool my skills as needs and opportunities change. So while I may not use the information right away, I will keep it in my head for the future.
Last week I welcomed Natalie Price. Unfortunately, UC ANR said goodbye to Luca Frerichs who worked out of the Davis office in government affairs. Those who witnessed Lucas in action are not at all surprised that he was recruited for his dream job with The Nature Conservancy. While it's a loss for UC ANR, it's a great opportunity for Lucas. Congratulations Lucas!
Tomorrow the state wide program leaders and strategic initiative leaders have a phone call to prepare for a 2-day meeting in May regarding Goal 5. One of the dates for the regional information sessions that are associated with Goal 5 just changed due to another event that same day but I believe we should have the dates and locations finalized very soon (did I say that before?).
Now back to the ‘to do' list.
I've been living out of a suitcase for what seems like a month, but I don't dare actually confirm that. For some unexplainable reason March, July and October have always been months filled with travel throughout my career, regardless of where I was or what position I have had. Anyone else see the same thing? At least this year it has been more interesting than on average.
I had a chance to visit Kearney REC and Lindcove REC back at the end of February. I can't thank Jeff Dahlberg and Beth Grafton-Cardwell enough for the time they spent with me. I had no idea Kearney was like its own campus. In spite of knowing it was the ‘largest' REC that campus look and feel caught me off guard. Andre Westphal drove around to see some of his plots. I've already said all I know about nematology but clearly he is working with colleagues from around UC and beyond that have expertise in a whole host of disciplines. It was fascinating to see his work where trees have been cloned from one another. In the photo, below, the row of trees on the far left are all from the same parent stock (clones) and those in the row immediately to the right are also clones but from different parents. See how all of the trees in the left row are bent and consistently to the same extent, while those in the right are consistently more upright? Who would have thought? It certainly makes a case for nature over nurture; not a concept I had thought much about as far as its applicability to the ‘uprightness' of trees.
Andre and I discussed at length the topic of cost to doing research (indirect costs, user fees) and the value of partnerships with the commodity groups across California. He was in the middle of trying to get a proposal submitted so I didn't want to take too much of his time but appreciated the conversation. I have the same concerns and certainly had them over my career as I have watched the cost of research (tuition and assistantship rates, as well as IDC and user fees) skyrocket to the extent I sometimes hoped I didn't get the grant because managing the resources, while still producing defensible science, would be such a struggle. The stress was certainly much greater when I was more junior in my career, even though costs were much lower. So clearly a constant worry I suspect throughout all of our careers. No doubt Andre and I will have more conversations about this; perhaps when I meet with UCR at the end of the month.
Lindcove REC also caught me off guard. After spending 8 years in Florida I certainly wasn't expecting any ‘new' when it came to seeing a citrus orchard but then, there it was – a citrus grove with snow-covered mountains in the backdrop. Absolutely beautiful and just one more example in the list of surprises California has to offer. The facility is a tremendous resource from the meeting space to the lab to the amazing pack house. I could definitely spend some time playing with that software and instrumentation. And to see the regular investment by the industry into the facilities underscores the strength of the partnership UC has with the industry.
Much has happened since those visits but too much to write about here. Back in airports (another unexpected overnight) but hope to get back to sharing more ANR adventures soon.
Recently I had the chance to visit West Side REC, sort of in the middle of nowhere. It was fantastic – a beautiful drive over that morning from Selma, CA with fabulous views on mountains to both the east and the west. I'm not sure what ranges they are, but at some point I will look at a map and figure it out. What a great group at the REC. It was quite an education for me to learn so much from Bob Hutmacher and Merf Solorio. Bob described the area to me as “where all the issues of the west come together”. While I had previously heard about Delta smelt, the Delta aqueduct, dependency on snow pack, and challenges with salinity build up, being at West Side and seeing the water allocation graphs over the past 40 years really put the cumulative challenge in perspective for me. I better understand why growers are putting in higher value crops despite their sensitivity to salinity levels that are almost inevitable given the circumstances. It was equally interesting to learn that the area water district represented the largest pressurized water district in the U.S. I do still have some side reading to do to better understand terms like asbestos veins and marine soils; terminology that is not used often in the Midwest or eastern part of the U.S. In particular, I need to figure out just how close to marine environments Five Point, CA is in present day. But a little homework never hurt. Somehow this all must tie into how West Side has such heavy soil compared to an hour east. I suspect this might have been covered in my agronomy class many years ago but if it was it clearly wasn't my highest priority at the time.
Later in the morning I had the chance to meet the entire crew at West Side; it was really nice of everyone to stop in and say ‘hi' despite having many other things to get done that day. Clearly this is a loyal bunch after hearing the number of years each has been with the REC, not to mention the distance some travel to get there and home each day – I won't complain about my commute, that's for certain.
Thanks for a great visit everyone! I hope to return soon.