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.
A high point this week is learning that John Bailey was appointed to the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers! The appointment was made by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. This is quite an honor so be sure to congratulate John on this recognition!
I am in Nashville most of the week, attending the annual meeting for Experiment Station and Extension Directors. There are a few other participants as well, but it is primarily the first two groups I mentioned. Monday I spent the day attending an ECOP meeting, as one of the three representatives from the Western region. After checking off the business meeting items, much of the conversation revolved around justifying getting together even annually when we all have much to do back home. Meeting value depends on whether or not we can leverage what we have and get back more than we put in.
Much of what ECOP has addressed over the past few years is a strategy to increase federal support of Cooperative Extension (formula or capacity funds and competitive grant funds). If you aren't familiar with the term 'formula' or 'capacity' funds, these are the funds that likely pay a portion of your salary. The funding source has been a cornerstone of support for Cooperative Extension over the last century. However, costs outpace increases in capacity funds. And, with a pending downturn in the economy, there is a risk. So, how do we position ourselves to mitigate the risk of further erosion of capacity funds? ECOP talked about the fact that Cooperative Extension has not sold our value well enough to justify an increase in funding from Congress. The conversation sounded familiar to me. While a bit reassuring that other states face the same challenges as California, it doesn't change the fact that we all need to act.
Areas that ECOP identified as topics that would resonate well with Congress when faced with an economic downturn included: family financial literacy, health, and well-being, food security. Much like our conversations throughout UC ANR, the idea isn't that we do more in these areas. Instead, we frame our work not as activities but as impacts that highlight how our work makes a difference (changes conditions). ECOP discussed the benefit to all of Cooperative Extension if we increased our capacity funds if only for work related to the above topics. The idea is that all of our programs will benefit as a result of increased resources, even if directed at targeted outcomes. 'A rising tide lifts all boats' was the phrase used by someone in the group. That phrase was familiar, too.
NIFA Director, Scott Angle, met with us Tuesday afternoon. The update was far from uplifting, and I don't envy him. NIFA is down to approximately 50 employees from D.C. who plan to relocate next week plus five already hired in Kansas City. What's odd is that even Director Angle doesn't know the physical work location yet because of a secret bidding process. Director Angle suggested that states focus on increasing state funding and not rely on increased capacity funds. He also spoke about plans to change the formula for capacity funds with winners and losers in the process. It will take a couple of years to get to that point, but I would prefer to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to have it go the other way. Director Angle did mention a proposal to increase capacity funds 5% per year for five years; we will have to watch where that goes. Director Angle declared a need for Cooperative Extension and the Ag Experiment Stations to put forth audacious goals, on the scale of NASA's commitment to put a man on the moon or NIH's intent to curing cancer. Perhaps funding would be more accessible if we clarified that more significant resources are necessary to eradicate hunger.
The conversations these past two days have all the makings of a country music song. There is one more dinner meeting to attend yet tonight followed by two more days of meetings. Who knows how the tune will end.
Please welcome Cindy Renee Kron who started today as an IPM Advisor, based in Santa Rosa, with programmatic responsibilities in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake Counties. Cindy fills a position that is one of the last from the 2016 Position Call.
The first part of this week I am at Emory University to attend the Research Integrity Officers (RIO) annual meeting. The meeting venue is a hotel located across the street from the CDC, a huge complex that is walled off for security. A sharp contrast to USDA facilities in Washington DC. The irony of being located across from CDC is that the hotel has no potable water due to a storm that passed through and disrupted the local water treatment plant. I feel like I'm in a third world country or Flint, MI.
I chatted with the RIO from the University of Pittsburgh who shared that an increasing portion of his responsibilities relates to Conflict of Interest. The reason for the increase is that faculty are now permitted to spend up to 20% of their time working outside of their academic position. Translation: a faculty member can serve as a CEO of a company, 1 day per week, and that company may sponsor research conducted in the faculty member's laboratory. This is a component of the institution's entrepreneurial efforts to offset repeated flat funding from the state. Note that state funding comprises only 13% of the institution's budget but has prohibited tuition increases in recent years. The scenario is not unique to this institution. As foreign policy changes and as data security concerns escalate, conflict of interest disclosure is likely to become far more complex than checking a box when one submit a grant application for review.
Later this week I will catch up with the Blue Ribbon Panel as they tour 5 of the RECs. They start their long week across CA tonight with a group meeting in the Woodland/Sacramento area then head to Sierra Foothill REC tomorrow morning. While I would have liked to avoid the schedule conflict that prevented me from joining the group for the full week, I will meet the Panel in time for the South Coast and Desert REC stops on Thursday and Friday.
Last month when I was focused on tidal flows, I was only thinking of it in terms of how it would benefit me. But Mark Bell reminded us the other day that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. I've been reminded often lately that there is a real benefit to keeping this in mind.
Lorna, from the fund development team, spoke with new County Directors on Wednesday and then County Directors on Thursday about strategies to identify and approach prospective donors. This area of gifts and donations is a great example of the benefit to all boats when waters rise. Any growth in the pot of funds to conduct our work benefits the whole in some way. The benefits could be direct, the result of donations targeted to one's own program, or indirect in that donations to a program area can stabilize a program while relieving pressure on central funds. I'm an optimist that what goes around, comes around and that while you're looking out for other programs, someone else is looking out for yours. It may not be immediate but it's important to think about the long game. So if you have ideas or relationships with those who are particularly fond of a program outside of your own, be sure to let Lorna or her team know.
When we were in Contra Costa earlier this week there was interest in the general topic of funds development and I suspect that is true all around the state. I know I can certainly learn much from the fund development team. Be sure to tune into the upcoming WebANR (September 20) to learn more from Scott and Rob how the fund development team can help you.
The programs we've seen in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties this week as well as Santa Clara County a couple weeks back are good reminders of the benefits to all of UC ANR when we have strong, relevant programs in urban areas. These programs not only help the clientele, directly, but help increase the visibility of UC ANR and all of its programs across both urban and ag areas. Investments in positions that target the urban audience create a win-win scenario for everyone.
Our trip to Alameda and Contra Costa UCCE reminded me that it really is a small world, especially when you are part of Cooperative Extension. Katherine, a fairly new Community Educator who works with seniors through the UC CalFresh program in Alameda County and Laura, County Director and CE Advisor in Modoc County, both grew up in Ames, IA where I spent 10 years at Iowa State University.
Another example that it's a small world is Annemiek who I saw at the County Director's meeting; she and I were at Michigan State at the same time. Next week I will see her at the Hansen REC when I meet with the advisory committee. We'll be talking about goals for the REC and the path to success. Success at one REC benefits the REC system and the division.
Time to return some calls. It seems I'm not the only one who does a lot of thinking while driving back and forth to Davis.
If you looked at the photo first, you might think I was back in Guam or Oahu. Not so. I was able to attend the Intermountain REC field day today. And that's Dan Putnam updating the participants on the alfalfa variety research he has been conducting there. The event was full of excitement and all kinds of good information, from hearing for the first time about onion smut to watching David Lile leap off the people mover so that he could make an unscheduled stop to check out some of Dan's plots. Then there was Rachel Long teaching us about the clover root curculio, an alfalfa pest, and demonstrating the proper way to sweep an alfalfa field for weevils. This was all new to me.
Some of the projects discussed had been the work of Larry Godfrey or Steve Orloff, two of our strong researchers that we lost in the last year. Not surprising, others, such as Rob Wilson, Rachel Long, Dan Putnam, stepped up to continue projects. There's clearly tremendous teamwork amongst all who work at the Intermountain REC, including the staff, campus and county-based researchers, and the many local partners.
Also new, was the multipurpose building with a conference room dedicated to John Staunton, an important community figure and partner to IREC (@UCANRpam). I remember my first trip with Lisa to Intermountain REC and looking at the building plans. Now it's real! But not without teamwork, which apparently extended to even the paint color selection. Well done! Again, 2 years can make a huge difference.
The Intermountain REC isn't the only one making headlines this week. John Bailey has agreed to serve as the Interim Director at the Hopland REC. He brings much experience already as the Superintendent at Hopland. Be sure to thank John for his support of Hopland and his efforts.
And Kearney REC made the NIFA Update when a UCAN piece was picked up by NIFA. Take a look. Congratulations on the callout! Be sure to read through the entire NIFA Update. There are several topics that might get the ideation wheels turning, particularly around the idea of funding to support undergraduate experiences in Extension.
The trip up to Intermountain REC was a bit long, particularly after a long, yet productive Program Council meeting (more on that later) but it was well worth it. While I'm here, Glenda, Tu and Jan are meeting with the ANR Advisory committee – so that's on my mind a bit. But tonight we are meeting with partners in Alturas and will see some of our friends and colleagues from the field day. It may be a bit smoky but it's a good time today and tomorrow in California's northeast corner./span>