ISU Extension and Outreach targeting resources to serve citizens of state
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 06/25/2012 1:57 PM
AMES, Iowa —Cathann Kress, Iowa State University's vice president for Extension and Outreach, understands that many Iowans were concerned when Extension faced deep budget cuts and a major reorganization three years ago.
"I know that's still very much on the minds of many of our constituents and staff," said Kress. "I wasn't here, but I had worked for ISU Extension earlier in my career and was in Washington, D.C., when the reorganization happened so I knew a lot of people here. I was deeply concerned because I consider ISU Extension to be one of the best in the nation."
Extension has continued to serve Iowans while reorganizing and reorienting, Kress said.
"Clearly, given the budget realities, there were changes that needed to happen," Kress said.
Kress said she can't say if she would have done things the same way and added that it's hard to second guess what happened at the time.
"I don't think that they had the time to sit down and think through all the options," she said. "That's part of what we're trying to do now."
Iowa in the past had the luxury of "a Noah's Ark" model of Extension with all 99 counties having the same programs.
"Now what we're doing is much more targeted," Kress said. "We know where there's dairy production so that's where we deploy our dairy specialists. You can still access the information from other parts of the state online, but we've minimized resources that aren't as well utilized."
Administration has worked with Extension council members to analyze program focuses in counties and how resources can be deployed to target what each county is interested in, Kress said.
Kress said that Extension and 4-H had migrated to become their own organizations and not strongly tied to ISU.
"There was this big divide between Extension and what was happening on campus," Kress said. "Over the last year, we've tried to rebuild the partnerships and more fully integrate Extension and Outreach as a capacity builder for this institution to make connections to communities."
Extension has strengthened its relationships in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and has direction for the future with regard to staffing.
"We're looking at a hub and spoke model in staffing of specialists," Kress said. "We're doing more with our demonstration farms and also working with producers so that their farms can become demonstration farms to extend our reach."
Extension is looking at ways to use smart phones and apps to deliver programming.
"We're really trying to think about what today's citizens want rather than what they wanted 20 or 30 years ago," Kress said. "Clearly cable television and the Internet changed how people feel about county Extension offices. When I was growing up in Johnson County whenever you had a question, you made a trip to the county Extension office when you went into town. Now when people have a question, they get online and Google it. That role as the place to go to get your questions answered is diminished. We need to think about how we're providing vital unbiased education that people want."
People felt strongly with regards to changes made via reorganization.
"I saw that as positive because it meant people saw us as valuable and were willing to fight for us," Kress said.
Extension has worked closely with the Iowa Association of County Extension Councils to find ways to support county programs. Campus administration last fall reorganized into program leadership, county services, operations and organizational advancement units to more closely align campus and the counties.