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Five Things I Learned at the Family Development/NEAFCS Conferences

On July 16 at the MN Landscape Arboretum, most Family Development staff and faculty participated in a full day of activities designed to promote greater understanding of our work and collaboration with each other. The next day, July 17, another group convened for the professional development day for the National Association of Extension Family and Consumer Sciences. Both days offered a variety of informative presentations and discussions. As I reflect back, there are five very important lessons that I learned:

  1. FD has talented and enthusiastic staff and faculty, and they matter when it comes to high quality, effective programming for MN families. For the first time, we invited all staff and faculty working in or with Family Development to the conference and the turnout was impressive (75–80 people). I met new staff and faculty who have recently joined the center plus became re-acquainted with more seasoned staff and faculty. We are a formidable force!
  2. Lots of creative and innovative ideas were generated on how we can improve employee engagement in the center. The past 18 months has brought difficult changes as well as positive transitions in FD. The changes were reflected in the employee engagement survey. Thank you for the many great ideas that were generated during the discussions at your table and the thoughts you wrote on the flip charts. In future blog posts, I will highlight the findings from the discussion/flip charts and will post a report on the Intranet.
  3. FD programs are innovative, creative and impactful, and we all want to learn more about them. The program showcase was a hit and we need to find more venues and ways to share our work with each other. The program sharing that received the most votes was EFNEP: The Language of Healthy Eating, led by Fay McLain. Fay will be receiving a $50 gift card from Amazon to purchase supplies for EFNEP. In addition, a ballot was drawn from those turned in and Dianne Davis Kenning will receive a coupon for an Extension shirt. Julia will be sending the winners their prizes in the next week. Trish Olson also walked us through an exercise where we identified whether an Extension event was a program or an activity. Our business in Family Development is educational programming and both these activities highlighted programming's importance.
  4. Although the economy in MN is improving and is better than most parts of the country, the war on poverty has not been won and our work needs to continue. Laura Kalambokidis, the MN State Demographer and Extension Economist, gave an update at NEAFCS about MN's economy. Job growth has picked up and unemployment is returning to pre-recession lows. Ryan Johnson also reminded us that many people remain in poverty and recovery from the recession is elusive. The gap between the highest and lowest income households continues to widen. See the sections below regarding the MN Food Access Summit in Duluth and The Women's Economic Report that gives a status report of women's economic health in MN. In addition, I received a report from the Food Research & Action Center and Children's HealthWatch's that you may find of interest: Food Security in the U.S.: New Research (264 K PDF).
  5. Extension needs to raise its digital self-esteem. Amy Baker, Extension Chief Technology Officer, reminded us that Google cannot do what Extension does, which is to contextualize and customize information, and create communities for learning. People want "social learning" in a digital world, and the digital divide with the availability of mobile devices has been erased. We need to assume that all audiences are online. Extension is well-situated to deliver social learning in an online environment. At the end of her talk, Amy had us take a pledge to not list the reasons why I can't provide social learning in an online environment and instead say "what if" I offer this program in an online forum using these platforms. What a great way to raise our digital self-esteem!
Okay, I need to add one more thing I learned! The beach towels appeared to be enthusiastically received by all. I even received two photos from one of you showing her sons enjoying the sun on the towel. The towel is a great reminder that summer is a time for fun and family, and to take vacations that recharge our batteries. Enjoy!

Karen Shirer
Associate Dean

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