This year, the 4th of July holiday seemed surreal. From the record-setting days of COVID-19 cases to the alarming speeches, I would be fine if we don't repeat one like this anytime soon. Great to see that some were able to get away and maintain physical distancing.
Last week was a short week. This week is anything but a short week. Each day is full of meetings from morning to late afternoon. No time for work on any project this week. Today, we held the County Director monthly meeting. The customary 2.5-hr meeting seemed long, likely due to the afternoon timing. Having had no break since my first meeting of the morning didn't help. The Strategic Initiative Leaders meet Tuesday afternoon before Program Council begins. Program Council runs through midday Wednesday, followed by a meeting of the Vice Chancellors for Research. Thursday includes, among other sessions, several hours set aside to makes some needed budget decisions, despite the fluid budget situation. On Friday, the week winds down with a full day of strategic planning for the REC system. Zoom fatigue is a real thing!
To prepare for a Thursday meeting, I watched a few videos over the weekend that focused on farming with data to address how we will build on precision agriculture to increase food production by 40% while reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. The meeting addresses USDA's Agriculture Innovation Agenda. If you are interested in participating in this Western listening session, please register here. Note this is a working session where participants will select a breakout topic for contributing their ideas.
The UC Regents meet this week. Rumor has it we will learn who will serve as the next UC President. We are eager to help the new President learn about UC ANR and the great work that goes on all around the state. Our recent retirees are acknowledged far and wide.
Some good news is that the UC ANR 4-H planned giving site is now live! Planned giving is a new topic for UC ANR. Hopefully, a more general site that promotes planned giving for all programs will follow.
Enjoy your week. I know many were able to take a 4-day weekend, making this a short week.
Where did June go? It is hard to believe that July 1st is already upon us.
Congratulations to JoLynn Miller, Kendra Lewis (now at the University of New Hampshire), and team members of the Youth Retention Study, a Multistate Project. The National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Program (NAE4-HYDP) selected YRS as the national winner for the Susan Barkman Award for Research and Evaluation. This recognition represents a tremendous recognition for a multistate project that is still early in its lifespan. Please congratulate JoLynn for her accomplishment!
Amanda Crump is the recipient of the Western Region New Teacher Award. Many of you remember Amanda from her time in the 2nd Street building as Director of the Western IPM Center. Amanda received her award during a virtual ceremony that Glenda and I both attended. She continues to impress and amaze us, giving a wonderful ‘thank you' speech where she talked about her plans to have no less than 75% of her course readings written by Black authors or members of other marginalized populations to empower her students. Please take the time to drop Amanda a congratulatory note!
This week is a week of firsts for me. Yesterday I gave my first haircut. After four months without one, my husband thought it was a good idea. I assured him I was pretty good at shearing sheep. How different could this be? After all, the equipment is reasonably similar. The key to shearing sheep is positioning them so they can't wriggle around. I failed to consider that. Furthermore, sheep don't tell you how the 'professionals do it.' My husband owns many hats; he will get through this.
On Saturday, I will attend my first Zoom wedding. The ceremony starts at 5 AM Pacific Time. The early start time might be payback for the years of days that the bride had to be at work at 5 AM (or earlier) to run my lab. I've attended a video wedding before, but not one by Zoom. The bride is fortunate to have talented friends who can make all of the necessary arrangements.
I read an interesting blog post the other day that talked about the value of the concept of dreaming bigger than your present situation. The author wrote, “I have learned over the past few years that it is important to dream bigger than your current circumstances. Doing this allows me to remain driven and focused. I have been able to appreciate my biggest moments of success to date by keeping the mindset of always dreaming bigger than the now.” I have this mindset for UC ANR, always. In light of the current circumstances (budget, pandemic, social unrest), visualizing the dream provides the motivation and direction for moving forward. As challenging and perhaps unattainable as things might seem, we can keep in mind the inspiration of James Baldwin, who said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Enjoy the long weekend. Stay safe.
I hope everyone had a good weekend, enjoying Juneteenth, Father's Day, and the summer solstice.
Summer solstice – the end to increasing day length. It also marks the anniversary of my start date at UC ANR. I have now completed four years with UC ANR. No need to send lavish gifts; I'm sure Tu and Glenda have that covered. Likewise, keep any hate mail to yourselves. The anniversary represents a need to renew my required training and my annual review with myself.
In addition to training renewals, this year, I added the UC six-part implicit bias training to my learning management system (LMS) dashboard. I would recommend the training. Not only is it useful, but there is no penalty for reading quickly. During the first session, I found the Stroop test to be particularly insightful, irrespective of the fact that I did poorly on the Color-Word test. I knew that cows drank water, but I responded that the white part of the egg was the yolk. At least I didn't spell it 'yoke.' I consider the surface area question a trick because it was not specified that we only consider the tabletop. I'll get over that by the end of the week. In a later session, session 4, perhaps, I learned that I have a slight affinity for SoCal. The SoCal photos were more likely to include water, and water is my preference. Overall, I would recommend the training to everyone. It is three hours of learning that can help pave a different future if you choose to look at it from that perspective.
Last week ended with good news on the DACA decision and the Supreme Court LGBTQ ruling earlier in the week. We didn't gain much clarity on the UC ANR budget. What I do know is that when UC ANR's budget is not increased in step with campus increases, we can't treat UC ANR academics, including those CE Specialists that are campus-based, like campus academics. I continue to be amazed at how prestigious the UC system is, despite the class structure permeating throughout the system. I can't help but wonder how much stronger we could be if that class structure were absent.
Here are some other things I reflected on during my annual review with myself:
- We will have greater success by not relying on state and federal funding sources to pave our future. If we wait to have final budget numbers to plan this year and our future, we are behind. The past decades are evident that current support for higher education, including Cooperative Extension, is not what it was 40+ years ago.
- We have the power to control our future, and it takes work to put that power to use. Collectively and collaboratively, we can make this work.
- We have to be bold in our actions. We've laid the foundation in our efforts to augment our state funds. While earlier this year it appeared the work would pay off, life interfered. However, the foundation remains to act on a different game plan, one that jumps, not crawls, towards our future.
- Everyone has a role in bold change. Like implicit bias, leadership can't just say 'we won't tolerate,' and it suddenly disappears. It takes everyone, headed in the same direction, to make change happen and stick.
Imagine what we can accomplish together!
I participated in a Friday morning webinar about the future of our food system. I'll share more on the conversation in my next post. It, too, spoke to the need for change to redirect the charted course.
Before heading into the long weekend, I participated in a national discussion about reimagining higher education. One presenter described our current point in time a period as the convergence of three factors: troubled universities, advancements in digital technology, and recognition of what's possible. He described the third factor (recognition of what's possible) using the example of courses all across the world converting to remote delivery in a period of just 7 days, proving that while not ideal we can actually deliver college curriculum using remote techniques. Participants shared their strategies to move forward with undergraduate education using fully online programs, augmented residential programs that have some students on campus who take some credits in person and some online, or a hybrid model where lectures are online and labs/recitations/studios are in person. Presenters shared predictions that online degrees will expand rapidly, citing the rapid expansion of degree offerings by SNHU and a newly released MBA program by Boston University that is completely online.
The conversation focused on undergraduate education, but the topic applies to Cooperative Extension. Common to both is that factoring long term strategy (how you allocate resources) into solutions for current challenges leads to better short term decisions. One speaker proposed that institutions start small experiments as a marathon race, and be ready to scale quickly those pilots that return a positive result. We have initiated pilot projects in UC ANR, too, hoping to identify strategies that demonstrate promise. Our last meeting with the ANR Governing Council led to discussion about conducting a variety of pilot projects with different UC campuses as a mechanism to identify ways to strengthen partnerships with campuses and improve campus understanding of UC ANR's work.
Today 45 of us participated in a REC planning meeting, focused on developing a strategic framework for the REC system to compliment the individual REC strategic plans. Over 40% of the participants were external to UC ANR, sharing their thoughts about topics including ways to expand the virtual presence of the REC system. Time passed quickly and before we knew it, our brainstorming time was over. I will be interested to see how the insights from our UC campus, CSU, ARS, and other partners contribute to the final product.
As we work through our current budget reality, we are preparing for the future and not simply responding to the present. We don't have it figured out yet, but are taking the long view. Be sure to tune into Thursday's Town Hall webinar to hear more about our budget situation.
If you've taken a Southwest flight in February, perhaps you read the article about Sierra, a dog that helped, repeatedly, detect cancer in her person. If you've seen the movie, “A Dog's Journey”, you are familiar with the incredible sense of smell that dogs possess and how it can be tuned for specific purposes. The article went on to discuss the use of electronic nose technology, or e-noses, for this same purpose. I had the chance to work with a 32-sensor e-nose as a graduate student at the University of Florida. The Food Science and Human Nutrition Department had the equipment and was testing it for off-flavors in orange juice and other foods. At the time, 20+ years ago, the technology was under development though some food and beverage companies were using the technology for quality control of ingredients. I recall reading an article in the Wall Street Journal touting that the e-nose technology would someday be used in telemedicine and even as part of home security systems because each human has a characteristic odor. Although I did purchase a portable e-nose for my research program while in Iowa, I was never able to develop the algorithm to accurately predict nuisance odors from farms. I attributed this to site-specificity of odors, poor ability by the e-nose sensors to detect sulfur-containing compounds, humidity interference, and other unidentified shortcomings of the technology. I am unconvinced that we are near an application where an instrument is a suitable surrogate for an animal or insect with highly developed olfactory senses. With that said, my own pooches seem to use their gift only for evil, digging up bulbs I planted while they weren't looking and such.
Fun fact: Manure odor is made up of well over 200 compounds, many of which are below a threshold detectable by humans. However, some of the prominent odor components that are offensive to most humans, are the very compounds that attract flies to fresh manure. Who knows when that information will come in handy?
I had a chance to read the most recent e-newsletter from the Citrus Research Board. The recap of the 2020 UCR Citrus Day talked about not only the honoring of Beth Grafton-Cardwell for all the great work that she has done over her impressive career, but also mentioned the afternoon sessions at the event that highlighted some of the work underway to use dogs to sniff out HLB and other diseases. One of the things we've heard from the UC/UC ANR team working with the dogs is that the dogs need to be in constant ‘training' so that they are exposed to the scent of the disease but also challenged in clean orchards.
I read a summary of the President's budget proposal. While USDA NIFA funding has a proposed increase, overall funding for research is down. This is troubling, to say the least, particularly given the societal challenges that need strong science to develop solutions. The bright spot is that AI and machine learning research have proposed increases across multiple agencies. Surely the work with dogs and e-noses represents competitive funding opportunities. I hope researchers are crafting their rationale statements to be ready when the requests for proposals come out. I wonder if there is a Multistate Research Project somewhere in the system for this topic.
Off to the first day of the World Ag Expo. Who knows what interesting things will be on display this year!