I am in Pennsylvania the first part of this week for a conference. I under-dressed for the rain and cold that will be in the Mid-Atlantic states all week. I don't miss the humidity of the Eastern U.S.
The conference is interesting but I was most looking forward to the tours. Unfortunately, Zoom calls for UC ANR work got in the way of my participation in the Happy Valley LaunchBox tour which I was really looking forward to attending. A signature program of Invent Penn State, Happy Valley LaunchBox is one of 21 LaunchBoxes and innovation hubs across Pennsylvania. Aside from the slogan “Don't Quit Your Daydream”, LaunchBoxes are designed to be the community “hub” that connects entrepreneurs to the resources and facilities they need to build a scalable business. The LaunchBoxes offer no-cost co-working, accelerator programs, legal and IP advice, and access to industry expertise. The LaunchBox idea resembles one that occurred to me a couple of years ago when, through state funding, President Napolitano provided $2M to each campus and the National Labs to broaden innovation and infrastructure. UC ANR did not receive any of the funds but had it, I could envision UCCE offices around California using funds to capacity and partner with local resources to provide support for innovators and entrepreneurs. What's different between what I imagined and what is popping up around the country driven by local universities, including these LaunchBoxes, is that Cooperative Extension would be central to the effort as an entity that is already engaged in local communities.
During a break, I had a chance to visit briefly with Marshall Stewart from the University of Missouri and hear how Lupita is settling in. ‘Settling' does not adequately describe Lupita or her efforts. She is doing great things and hardly standing still, let alone ‘settling'. While it was a great loss to UC ANR, I can't tell you how much I love hearing that people are doing well in new positions. Sometimes a change in scenery offers the chance for one to grow and unleash their talents.
During the conference we talked about change; the need for academia to change not by throwing out everything we've done but by adapting how we do it, much like basketball has become a 3-point game (so I'm told). The 3-point skills identified were 1) developing ‘intrapreneurs' by building team skills in innovation, 2) instilling an appreciation for lifelong learning, and 3) engaging the university in solving challenges faced by the local community. Sounds like Cooperative Extension, doesn't it? We heard the pitches from 6 universities competing for a national award. One of my favorites was Wayne State University's Harris Literacy Program, primarily because of the difference it makes, not for its students, but for the local community that, without the program, wouldn't even dream of a college education. Another pitch from Michigan (University of Michigan) talked about a return of $133 for every $1 invested by the state and total revenue to Michigan of $573 million to the state. Looks like I may have sold that house too soon.
I've seen rain every day since arriving on Sunday and I haven't had a Diet Coke since United served it on the plane. Sunday seems like it was a long time ago. In the morning I head to Riverside, via Sacramento, so all will be back to normal soon enough.
I think most of us, if not all, have realized that we need to do things differently in order to really achieve the intent of the Morrill Act; improving the lives of all state residents by providing access to formal and informal education. We're not alone. In talking with the Extension directors from a number of states last week, it seems to be a common theme. One of our Western neighbors has an upcoming annual conference where the theme is ‘fail fast'. This refers to the concept of ideation where you develop ideas and quickly test them on a small scale so that you can determine what may and may not work before making a large investment of time and/or money only to find that the idea doesn't work. UC ANR will be trying this out at an ideation workshop in late November. I look forward to seeing what ideas emerge to help us think about how we continue to provide the impactful programming and research we always have in a changing environment. To get a glimpse of some of the innovative approaches to Extension that are going on around the U.S. take a look at the current issue of the Journal of Extension.
I talked with the director in Iowa as well. I knew that Iowa had a standardized formula for county support of Extension, unlike many states, including CA. The formula is that each of the 99 counties directs 2.7% of collected property tax to Extension. That equates to $830k in support from Polk County (Des Moines) for FY18/19. The Polk County budget is $276M for FY18/19. Compare that to the numbers I heard when we were in LA a week+ ago ($475k for Extension out of a $28B county budget). I don't think LA is unusual for counties in CA. But Iowa is considering change. Following a 2009 budget reduction, all of the county contributions remained with the counties and all employees paid from those funds became county employees. As a result, the sense is that there is a weakened connection between the county and campus. That then weakens the ability to connect the general public to science; a pillar of what led to the creation of Extension.
I thought of LA County, among other counties, during conversations last week about urban extension. The general sense was that Extension is well positioned to do this around the country because we are grounded in our mission to serve the people of the state, aligned in vision and values with urban populations, and positioned to lead locally. Sound familiar? It should as these are the elements of the UC ANR promise. A key topic identified as relevant to an urban audience was green infrastructure was a focus. I envisioned Darren's demonstrations at the Orange County UCCE/SCREC that illustrate the principles of green infrastructure well. And, having just been back to the LA UCCE office I thought about Siavash and his program that works closely with the LA Housing Authority. My take away - we've got this as it's been a part of UC ANR for quite some time now. That doesn't mean we couldn't do it better. Given that continuous improvement is one of our core values, we must constantly seek better ways to do more, more efficiently and more effectively.
Now I really need to get to the position proposals.
We spent yesterday in Riverside meeting with the teams from both UCCE Riverside and UCCE San Bernardino. It was very informative, particularly seeing the fresh ideas that are coming from some of the new staff. We were able to hear about the tremendous success that both counties are having truly working as a team across program areas and layering their efforts for increased program success and support. Yes, I said ‘support'. San Bernardino County UCCE, in particular, has been increasing partners and support in terms of positions programming dollars. If you happen to have met either Maggie or Dee you can certainly understand why – their energy and passion are infectious. Chutima and her team are conducting impressive work with nutrition education for both adults and youth with great synergy across the EFNEP and CalFresh programs. We were fortunate that some of her new team members were able to join us. We were also joined by a Riverside participant of the 4-H Juntos program and her mother. Truly moving to hear the emotion in this 4-Her's voice as she spoke about what the program has meant to her. Sonja, Jose, Janet, Chris, Eta, Carmen, and Michael all shared their programs with us and I was struck by how obvious it was that this group works very closely with other CE Advisors but also across the continuum of clients, CE Advisors, CE Specialists, and AES faculty. A really rewarding day and we are so appreciative of those that traveled from both far and near to meet with us.
We use the word ‘innovation' often in UC ANR. Sometimes I feel like that term is a bit out of reach for perhaps the work I've done over my career and certainly the work I do now. But Jose reminded me just how innovative we all are. He shared with us the story of Ernesto Lopez, Jr., a vegetable crops farmer in Coachella Valley who took a risk and started growing spinach in a new way. Despite the critics that said it would never work and powdery mildew would be a bigger problem and one among many problems if this new way were pursued, Mr. Lopez persevered with his non-traditional production methods and proved his critics wrong. Now, spinach in the area is grown in wide rows, just the way Mr. Lopez said it could grow. It's not always easy to try something new, and no doubt critics are quick to line up, but eventually even the ‘new' ways often become the norm. Remember, decades ago some laughed at the idea that every home would have a computer.
I've received a number of responses, comments and inquiries about my recent post on research integrity. It seems that liability may be a topic where we could all use a bit more information. Thanks to one of you who sent a link to a fascinating and eye-opening story about a widely-acclaimed Cornell researcher. It was another reminder for me that ‘intent' not always be a component of research misconduct and that ‘reckless' behavior may be characterized by acts that don't seem very extreme. A good reminder for us all about due diligence and the need to keep the bar very high if we want the public to trust science. I have to think through how innovation fits into the equation.
On to LA County UCCE in the morning.
Mark, Glenda and I attended the Western Extension and Experiment Station administrator meetings this week. The meetings were in San Diego. Mark attends the Western Region Program Leaders Committee (WRPLC) meetings, I attend the Western Extension Directors Association (WEDA) meetings, and Glenda attends the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (WAAESD) meetings. During part of the WEDA meeting, we meet with WAAESD and during a different portion, WEDA meets with WRPLC. It's not that we don't have enough to keep us busy in UC ANR, but getting together with our counterparts across the region (and once a year, across the country) gives us an opportunity to see where we face the same challenges and present a unified front for supporting Extension and the Ag Experiment Station. The Western Agenda serves as that platform of common issues. So many of our conversations focus on how to make sure rural and agricultural needs west of the Rockies are recognized. These needs include support to address invasive species, endangered species, youth development, rural infrastructure, rural-urban interdependence, water/drought, climate change impacts, hunger and poverty, onboarding new academics and staff, communicating the value of Extension, and measuring our impacts. No doubt we could have all of these conversations just within UC ANR, but finding solutions means looking outside as well as inside.
Part of that ‘looking outside' has meant me considering what do we do and have at UC ANR that other states don't do or don't have? In other words, how are we expending funding? This came up a bit more indirectly during Program Council last week. Since arriving at UC ANR it has shocked me that we have approximately the same number of academics as my past states (Michigan and Iowa) yet California is so much larger than both in both size and population. In penciling out this anomaly, it has become clear that while we have fewer academics (and likely staff, as well) per capita and per square mile, we have more resources for personnel to use in accomplishing their work. In my previous positions, if I was holding a meeting, I lined up the venue, called the caterer or made the coffee, arranged the room chairs, sent out the agenda, collected registrations and any fees, etc. When Statewide Conference came around (annually, in those states) my travel costs came out of my grant or various donors accounts. And if I brought in part of my salary through a project, I saw none of it. Not to mention the fact that there was no help to coach me in fund development. I can imagine that if you haven't been outside in a while, or at all, it's easy to not recognize what we have at UC ANR.
I suspect it's also easily to forget how nice it is to just hop on a quick flight to San Diego and see some amazing things that UC ANR is a part of! We had an afternoon tour with Cheryl Wilen and Carmen Gispert as our bus hosts. You can imagine how fun and informative that was! I'd been wanting to see the Flower Fields and I was not disappointed. Holland has nothing on Carlsbad. Mike Mellano gave us a great tour; nothing like having an owner as a guide. Then off to Go Green Agriculture to see hyroponic lettuce production before stopping in a lemon grove with Gary Bender. Though many Emeriti in UC ANR are likely to help out, that's not the case everywhere. We finished up at a vineyard. Kellie McFarland had her work cut out for her keeping us all in line and on time. Sherry and her PSU team did a fabulous job with stops and accommodations.
No doubt what impressed everyone most was that every stop the host talked about their operation as a partnership with UCCE. No place was that more evident than at the Flower Fields, whether it be Mike talking about Mark Gaskell's work with the coffee production or hearing Laurent Ahiablame and Jennifer Pelham show us the results of their efforts and that of the UCCE San Diego Master Gardener's. A tremendous way to start a long weekend. Congratulations everyone for work well done!
I spent the afternoon with some of our new academics at the Programmatic Orientation. Some of them have been on board as much as 2 years but many (most?) for less than 6 months. It's always exciting to see new blood! Julia Van Soelen Kim, Lisa Blecker, David Doll, Mark Hoddle and Yana Valachovic shared their insights into developing a new program. This type of sharing experiences reminds me of the concept of ‘learning circles' that seems to be trending now in Extension. I've heard about them during the National Extension Directors Association (NEDA) meeting (via eXtension), from one of our academics who is thinking about a thought leaders group, and from a colleague who has been reading “Working Out Loud”. At the NEDA meeting, we talked about learning circles from the perspective of encouraging innovation in Extension. I've shared some of those updates previously.
At the Programmatic Orientation, I was thinking about the learning circles as the basis for developing peer cohorts for Advisors and Specialists. In addition to a traditional mentoring approach, peer cohorts offer an equally valuable method of mentoring in that peers better recognize current challenges and what is needed because our peers are faced with those same situations. Essentially it becomes a learning circle for trading ideas, successes, cautions, and information. This group of academics are an impressive group. I look forward to helping them get started with the cohort and supporting them along the way.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of a learning circle, as I see it, is the opportunity to get ideas from others, particularly when the circle is comprised of those who are otherwise strangers – I don't normally work with them and have different areas of expertise. Albert Einstein said “We can't solve problems using the same thinking that was used to create them”. That learning circle of strangers is a mechanism to engage in different thinking. Perhaps this is the path towards addressing emerging issues that arise as the result of current conditions, that we helped to create. Looking at problems from 30,000 ft and spending some time working at that level offers the same opportunity – the logic behind Strategic Initiatives, I presume.
Two Vice Provost positions are posted. We took a different approach to constructing the positions from how they had been constructed when Chris Greer and Lisa Fischer were in the positions. They are big shoes to fill but hopefully we will be successful with this new configuration. In addition, we are looking for 2 Assistant Vice Provosts. These are partial appointments for existing academics and offer an opportunity to not only support one of the Vice Provost positions but also provide an advanced leadership opportunity to 2 of our academics without having to jump in with a full time effort. These positions, in particular, are not fully described. Rather, we are going to build the airplane as we fly it and tailor the positions to the strengths of the individuals in the positions, including the Vice Provost when they are on board. Please help share these positions with your colleagues in California and across the US!