I am in DC for a few days this week to meet with Extension Directors and partners, including the new NIFA National Science Liaisons. These are the NIFA employees who stayed behind in DC while the rest of NIFA headquarters relocated to Kansas City a few months ago. My understanding is that the Liaisons will work to build stronger connections with other federal agencies, as part of an effort to increase funding opportunities for agriculture, nutrition, natural resources, and youth development programming and research. While I know half of the team, I want to hear directly from the Liaisons what they see as the vision for their newly created roles and how they plan to interact with Extension and the land grant universities as well as other federal agencies.
Because I had to fly in the day before the meeting started, I made good use of my time this morning by meeting early with a group regarding how we make the work of Cooperative Extension known in university circles. All of us, in all academic circles, need to do more to help the public better understand the public impact of research, i.e., how the results of the research will improve the lives of citizens everywhere. Within the academic family, we can work more collaboratively to engage local communities in the identification of research needs and implementation of research findings in ways that enhance adoption at the local level. The conversation was much like the one had at the ANR Governing Council meeting last week, where we discussed the public impact of our work and that of the broader UC system and the missed opportunities to partner more closely and achieve more in a streamlined manner. No surprise in this funding environment that this topic is on the minds of many.
Traveling to the east coast has its upside. The time zone difference is such that if I skip group dinners, I can still participate in Pacific Time business (email, webinars, and phone calls) such that I don't get too far behind. Except for Thursday's email traffic, I expect to be pretty much up to date on things when I land in Sacramento Thursday evening. The weather is similar on both ends of the country this week - rainy and anywhere between 40 and 60 F. While not ideal, regardless of the coast, this, too, shall pass.
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”.
It turns out I had two consecutive hours of unscheduled time on Tuesday. I was at a loss what to do – first I wondered if I was in some sort of time warp and actually late for a meeting. Then I thought I had misread my calendar. This progressed to wondering if I had been fired or perhaps it was Saturday and there were just a lot of people working the weekend in the Davis building. After about 4 minutes of this I embraced the time and got some work done! Before I knew it, it was time to go to Program Council for the rest of the day. Overall, last week was a series of ups and downs; of time that was rather fun and then times of not-so-fun. Good meetings, not-so-fun travel, now holding out hope that the APLU meeting breaks the cycle.
While the drive up to Tulelake was not ideal, the daylight drive back lead to spotting a few ring-necked pheasant, a species I have missed and was really excited to see alongside the road. Growing up in New York State, there was a field across the street from our house that was owned by the Naval Reserve and there were always pheasant there. Then I moved to Florida and didn't see any. From there I move to Iowa where they were quite abundant, followed by Michigan where I never saw a single one. So it seems I have cycled back to a state where the ring-necked pheasant calls home. Thinking about this cycle had me wondering about the CA population of pheasants because in Iowa there is a lot of talk about the bird and projected populations. So I did some digging and learned a few things, including the fact that I grew up in New York when populations were at their peak and they are actually difficult to find now. And apparently I was fortunate to see a few in CA last week. So it seems the Midwest (sans Michigan) is where most are now found, due to habitat and grain fields.
At the APLU meeting, one of the speakers talked about Project DrawDown which emphasizes 12 steps to carbon neutrality. I may need to look up the site but I'm not sure there is much life cycle assessment data available for some of the strategies. The speaker also referenced a Nature article by Jonathan Foley, who I mentioned in a recent post, that is focused on food footprints.
In the meantime, I need to get VP Humiston the grant recommendations that came from Program Council and tackle a few other items that have deadlines on them. Fortunately I have some flight time to use towards 2 manuscripts I need to edit and send back to a graduate student who is trying to wind down his program.
Still not bored.