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Program Conference preview

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Program Conference is an exciting and challenging time for me. Exciting because of all the enjoyable conversations with educators, specialists and coordinators. Challenging because this is the only time of year all of our programming personnel meets. I want to assemble a program for Wednesday that benefits each of you. My goal is you attend based on the program quality rather than expectations.

Last year our Wednesday program focused on program business plans, especially their design and value. This year I want to focus on a different aspect of our Center business plan as well as your various program business plans--communication. How we communicate with our funders, authorizers, stakeholders and audiences needs to be strategic. This is the theme of our Wednesday program.

The keynote will be Dr. Dominique Brossard, professor and chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had the privilege of hearing her speak at a conference earlier this summer--she was outstanding. She speaks about communicating risk in the science of food and agriculture. She has an industry background and a European perspective about science and risk that will be thought-provoking. It will be a good day; we will start at 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday, October 8 and wrap up by 2:00 p.m.

I look forward to seeing you in Bloomington October 6-8.

- Mike Schmitt

That is goal #3 from the Extension strategic plan. Collaboration is key to reaching this goal. Collaboration itself is not the goal of our programming but instead a vehicle to reach program success. In other words, address as a program the issues outlined in your program business plan--then form collaborations necessary to accomplish your program goals.

I work diligently to position our Center as a good collaborator. This summer, I have directly worked on collaborations with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative, the Minnesota Corn Growers, and Association of Minnesota Counties. There are scores of other collaborations that we all cultivate. Collaborations with external groups are essential and are most successful when all are clear of each other's roles.

Collaborations within CFANS Extension and with other Extension centers can also be a powerful way to reach programming outcomes.

-Mike Schmitt

PS: Program Conference offers valuable networking opportunities. I hope you will find the agenda worthwhile and you participate.

What's your program's story?

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I am a daily reader of your programs' blogs, social media, newsletters and beyond. Recently, CFANS Extension has been involved with invasive species issues--aquatic and terrestrial--such as emerald ash borer and spotted wing drosophila. I witnessed the field work in backyard poultry production and agroforestry efforts. We have also been part of community emergency response programming due to the significant flooding, especially with our cropping systems.

Now, let's address the follow-up question our stakeholders sometimes wonder: so what? Great, Extension is conducting some trials and educational events--so what?

Let's add context to the work so stakeholders know how we make a difference for farms, forests, communities and ultimately Minnesota. What condition does programming change: economic, environmental or agronomic? Then consider, how can I communicate that condition change? In other words, what is your program's story?

When someone asks what you are doing lately, tell them about the events, products and/or trials. But keep going. Tell the story about why you do your work. Give examples.

Years ago as an Extension specialist, I made a regular habit of describing my manure management programs by how they could increase producers' yields and profitability while at the same time reducing the nitrate loading in streams and rivers that flow into the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The context and story illustrate why our work matters.

-Mike Schmitt

Build your career in Extension

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I recently had the privilege of attending the award ceremony for the Siehl Prize, which recognizes those who make significant contributions in feeding the world. The grand event was made even more special because one of this year's recipients was Dr. Mark Seeley--an Extension specialist who is truly one of us.

In accepting this award, Mark talked about his career in Extension and how proud he is to be part of Extension. It reminded me of watching delighted (and sometimes surprised) individuals accept the Dean's Award at Program Conference. Do you ever envision yourself as the recipient of a special honor? I have.

Consider the vision for your career. I hope you see yourself building your career in Extension to achieve your goals. Take advantage of the professional development funding you are all allocated to be a citizen of your professional societies. Be the scholar and/or leader you desire to be in your Extension position.

-Mike Schmitt

Planning for next fiscal year

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April was a key planning month for Extension and CFANS administration. Results from performance reviews now get translated to our next fiscal year budget. Budget meetings for Extension and CFANS have occurred with Central administration, CFANS-Extension, and our deans. The promotion process is in its final stages. These all lead to decisions for moving forward in the next fiscal year.

During this time, salary increases, new positions, position support, etc. are proposed, discussed, planned, and (hopefully) implemented. Salary increases of 2.5 percent were announced and are instituted on a merit basis. I admit the vast majority of Extension folks had 2013 performances "above average," thus for some folks the 2.5 percent increase does not necessarily correlate to a set performance standard.

In CFANS Extension, there will be some positions we will move forward to fill. Note some of these will be refilling past positions, but we have also encouraged and will fill some new positions. Extension will adapt to meet the evolving needs of Minnesotans.
-Mike Schmitt

The common denominator of program success

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Over the past few months, I have met with numerous "official" program teams and with groups of local, regional, and departmental faculty. I have also read performance reviews. As I reflect on these formal and informal meetings and documents, I see each person's unique part in accomplishing programming.

Some are leaders (yet no one uses that word), some are do-ers who take care of the teaching and planning, and some are logistics folks who concentrate on implementation. It's no surprise that most folks can articulate their own roles better than another's!

I have witnessed many forms of programming success. When I ask county educators, regional educators, or specialists what led to success, many refer to a comprehensive and usually strategic thought process. This is especially true for the more successful or popular programs. You are all articulating your work and your success--and what you describe is at the core of the program business planning process, though it may take time to think of it that way.

Your programmatic strategies have a common denominator: program business planning.

Thanks for all you do!

-Mike Schmitt

Program success and credit or debit cards

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We've all experienced the frustration of seeing a "cash or check only" sign at a business. We all expect to be able to pay with a credit card. To that end, Extension is examining options to help programs accept credit/debit cards more widely.

One reason is our brand: our image is lowered when we do not offer basic conveniences to our audiences. The goal is to obtain payment so audiences focus on the value of the program. Thus, please do not charge a higher fee for credit/debit card use—or a lower fee for check or cash. As you may recall from Stephen Castleberry's presentation to our Center at Program Conference last fall, price is closely tied to brand.

Another reason is we, as an organization, need to spend less time handling money. It's true that credit cards charge us a fee; we accept this as the cost of doing business. Cash and check are not our preferred methods of payment!

Online registration facilitates accepting credit cards, and now Extension Technology has one portable swipe terminal that can be used for in-person transactions. This equipment will be available for loan beginning mid-March by contacting Erik Bremer. Each of the five Extension regions has one as well. More details will be forthcoming.

-Mike Schmitt

Learn something new

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What keeps you motivated? We work in a culture where learning is paramount. Extension and the University afford us countless opportunities to learn and try new things that keep us excited about our work while also enhancing programming.


This represents a fraction of opportunities available. Efforts such as these are led by folks in CFANS Extension, Extension and beyond, and they are specifically in place to help program teams be successful. Take advantage of the opportunities and resources from Ying Iverson, Amy Baker, Katie Gallagher, Alison Link, Dianne Sivald, Kristen Mastel, Maggie Frazier, Sarah Bjorkman, Kerry Marsolek, Catherine Dehdashti, Tom Alvarez, Whitney Meredith, Karen Matthes, and many others.

If you do not know who these people are, you need to find out what resources you are missing. These people work for everyone receiving this newsletter!

-Mike Schmitt

Welcome the New Year

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I hope you enjoyed some time off over the past couple of weeks and are now ready for our winter programming season!

I have started meeting with program teams to discuss their program business plans and have been very pleased with the discussions. My goals for these meetings are to learn what our staff can do for you and how to enhance the value of your programs for Extension as a whole. The conversations are beneficial to me and your staff in Coffey Hall.

I am committed to the upcoming work Whitney Meredith will lead for our Federal Report. She has all the details; I ask each team to make the effort to supply the necessary data that Whitney requests. Thank you for treating our federal partners (that provide funds for your salaries!) with the same accountability you provide to a sponsor of one of your grants.

And while you are busy, it is performance review time as well. These reviews eventually make it to me; it's a great way for me to keep up with you. This year brings a new online version that I hope you will find the patience to navigate.

Thanks for being part of Extension.

-Mike Schmitt

Supporting our colleagues

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Last month, we all learned about the restructuring of federally funded SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Education). This is very difficult news for our nutrition colleagues in Extension.

During this time I'm reminded of the recurring theme from Program Conference: "one Extension." When people we care about are directly impacted in a difficult situation, we know our first priority is to provide support. We also know there is an indirect impact felt by each of us as colleagues--and the whole community including partners and program participants. It is important to stay grounded in our mission and work as one Extension.

Remember that Extension works to have a diversified portfolio of state, federal, county, and income funding. This organization stands on a stable foundation.

Thanks for your continued support of our nutrition education colleagues.

-Mike Schmitt

Next steps for program business plans

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Thank you for submitting your program business plans. For the rest of 2013, our staff will be reviewing your plans and providing feedback. Then, I will set up face-to-face meetings with teams with the goals of 1) learning more firsthand about your programming efforts; 2) seek alignment in plan content and products/events; 3) understand your team's desired outcomes; and 4) determine how our Center staff can better support your efforts. I truly look forward to these meetings with you!

During my state of the Center talk last month at Extension Program Conference, we reviewed the survey that most of you participated in. It indicates the Center needs to address the issues of our welcoming culture and career advancement. Please note that we will address these issues (see "Let's improve our welcoming culture"). If you are interested in more detail, the aggregated results of the survey will soon be available on our Center's intranet.

-Mike Schmitt

Nice seeing you at Program Conference!

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Several items resonate as I reflect on our day together last Wednesday at Program Conference. I learned many of you are really good team members--and rather competitive--as we did the team building exercise with Nate Meyer. I appreciate all the great feedback I received regarding our Center's vision. Based on your input, I realized how I should alter my view and restate some value chain ideas--thank you. I think everyone had some solid "aha" moments as Stephen Castleberry spoke about pricing, branding, and digital marketing. Finally, the discussion about sharing program business plans among program teams was productive. Look for an upcoming message about how you can access program business plans in the near future.

There is no doubt that Extension Program Conference is the week of the year I look forward to most. I appreciate hearing Dean Durgan describe our goals for the next year while highlighting that we're all ONE Extension. And, most of all, I look forward to seeing each of you. While I get the privilege to give the State of the Center talk, please note that I value the opportunity to listen to you individually--at Conference and all year. Thanks to everyone that made this Conference a priority on their calendars--it was great seeing you.
-Mike Schmitt

PS: View the slides from my State of the Center talk here.

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