Remind me – does the saying go that you can or can't teach an old dog new tricks? I'm struggling to learn new things these days. Google Analytics isn't cooperating, and now Interfolio presents a challenge. For those wondering if I read the instructions for either – no, but that's not the point. Eventually, I will figure it out; surely before mid-June.
This week has been relatively slow and Zoom-based. A number of County Directors participated in a call on Monday to talk about the 4-H program. We will repeat that conversation next Tuesday. The REC User's Committee met on Tuesday morning, and the Commodity Liaisons met this morning. Other calls were planning calls for various meetings including the Western Extension Directors and Program Council. I'm still working on developing a couple of agreements, but I need a break from those.
I plan to spend much of tomorrow reading through annual evaluation documents. I recognize that everyone contributes considerable effort in putting their documents together each year. I want to be sure to leave myself plenty of time to review the dossiers of those who submitted documents for merit and promotion consideration. I have a new strategy to consider this year. I plan to separate the 80 portfolios by rank and program area then complete one pile at a time. I haven't determined what I will do with the acceleration packages – there seems to be more of those than I would have expected. Perhaps I will review that pile last.
Wednesday I had a chance to take a trip to Tulare. I didn't make it to the World Ag Expo, but as I drove down, I noted that the weather this year was by far the worst over the past three years of making the trip. I sympathize will everyone around the state wrestling with flooded roads, mudslides, and snow loads. Hopefully, we will have a break from miserable weather this weekend.
I have many things to catch up on over the weekend. Some will probably get done while others will still be there when the week starts. Not on the list – reading instructions.
My mind is racing. At this point, I do not think the thoughts are even coherent.
One question circling is ‘how does one provide information in a way that 1) makes the point to maintain attention, 2) avoids extraneous detail without being considered as ‘hiding' something, 3) can be understood by the many, many different people who absorb information differently, and 4) will be read or heard when time is so precious?
Yesterday I reminded myself that I took calculus twice in high school. The information was the same both times – at least I think so. I cannot be sure because apparently, I did not comprehend much the first time. Mr. Gilbert awarded me with the ‘lowest grade award.' At the time, I declared double digits as overrated. I attributed the change that took place from one year to the next to ‘brain maturation.' After all, I was only 16. Honestly, attendance may have played a role. However, there was also an element of comprehension.
Some say that you need to repeat things seven times before the average person fully comprehends. Who has time to say things seven times to each type of learner? Moreover, what learner will listen to it seven times? Not to mention that the message is far more complex than ‘Just do it!' or ‘Got milk?' I am open to suggestions.
The second question running through my head is ‘who are we, as a Division'? I look at our core values and the elements of the UC ANR Promise, and I have to think that the collective ‘we' are committed to the success of our communities and colleagues. We are a group that helps each other, supports each other, and recognizes that one's success is dependent upon the success of many, many others. We are creative; we are forward-thinking, we are capable of saying ‘no' when it needs to be said, and asking ‘how' even if we can't comprehend why. This is what makes us UC ANR.
I found a pre-Strategic Plan document that talked about guiding principles and core values and compared it to the more recent efforts. Each is quite similar, suggesting that no matter what organizational or structural change occurs, the values remain the same. The values must remain the same if that is who we are. So as we look at changes in UC ANR, what committees review our work, who reports to whom, how we do business, etc. I, personally, take great comfort in the fact that there exists an uninterruptable commitment to improving the lives of Californians and doing it together and not at the expense of each other. I'll take that as enough for now.
Time to prep for Program Council.
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.