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ISU Extension takes a new shape

Diverse services will remain focused on local needs

August 30, 2009
Messenger News

Beginning Aug. 1, Iowa State University Extension began a new way of conducting business. The major change to the Extension system was caused by the need to cut $4 million dollars in the Extension operations budget. Counties are organized as part of a region, each containing from three up-to nine counties. Each region has a director who administers staff, coordinates programs and serves as a liaison between ISU and county Extension offices.

ISU Extension is more than 100 years old. As one of the longest established educational services provided in the state of Iowa, it has touched the lives of generations of Iowans. The new organization will continue to have county offices and staff to welcome clients' calls, provide educational programs, serve as a resource and referral to the staff and research-based information available through ISU.

One of the best known Extension programs is 4-H, a premier youth organization that teaches life skills, leadership and citizenship. The 4-H program reaches more than 100,000 youths across the state of Iowa with a staff person at each county office to coordinate their activities. One of the features at the Iowa State Fair is the exhibits of excellence that 4-H members showcase to more than 1 million people attending the fair each year.

In its earliest programs, agriculture was a paramount emphasis to bring research and ways to increase production to the farm. Hybrid seed corn and improved fertility practices were introduced through "corn trains" - classrooms on the rail. Today many farms will have corn yield of more than 200 bushels per acre.

Another continual educational effort has been work with families. Food preparation and safety, healthy living, safer homes and playgrounds and assisting parents and families adjust to the changing lifestyles are highlights in the programs and resources.

The majority of educational programs and research offered by a major university, Iowa State University, are available through Extension. Elected officials receive training about ways to improve management of their offices. Leadership programs have produced adult volunteers that are more effective on boards and committees. Industry uses an arm of Extension called CIRAS to assist in creating safer work spaces, more efficient processes and improving products. Businesses are included through Extension partnerships with Small Business Development Centers to improve profitability and assist new entrepreneurs.

Extension in Region 7 (Hamilton, Humboldt, Webster and Wright counties) has more than 20 programs and projects in-place through sharing resources and staff. New emphasis is being placed on staff training and procedures for client services without a county director. Staff at the county offices will not be reduced and may be expanded to meet the public's needs. Increased use of technology will be one of the new delivery systems, but with continued reflection on the skills and needs of individual clients.

Each county in Region 7, and across the state, will continue to be governed by a local elected board of nine members. The Extension Council is responsible for their budget, staff and determining program emphasis for the communities and neighbors they represent. Extension Councils in Region 7 have met together and are beginning to determine new programs and ways to deliver them with greater efficiency and at least cost.

The involvement of volunteers, parents, and community leaders has always been a cornerstone for Extension success. Volunteers on the Extension Council with Master Gardeners and Strengthening Families are shining examples. Parents working with youths, volunteering to chaperone on trips organizing fundraisers and events happen because they care. Community leaders partnering with Extension programs, contributing financially to promote education and encouraging staff to promote innovative ideas create a progress community.

The new shape of Extension will enable ISU Extension to continue exemplary service across the state. The traditions of innovation, accessibility to all citizens and responding as needs are determined will be the focus of Extension.

The Extension Councils and staff of Region 7 are excited about the future and how we can serve. New shapes bring new challenges and opportunities.

Jim Patton is the Region 7 Extension education director.



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