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Piecing Together the Puzzle

By Teri L. Burgess-Champoux, Program Director, Health and Nutrition Special Projects

February has arrived and I am now six weeks into my new position as program director for Health and Nutrition Special Projects in the Extension Center for Family Development. During this time, family and friends often asked me the same question: So what will you be doing in your new job? I usually began by saying that my new colleagues were very welcoming and supportive, but that the specifics of my role were fuzzy. I finally came to realize that beginning a new job is like starting a new puzzle: it’s all about figuring out how the pieces fit together.

Over winter break this year; my husband and I along with our three daughters started a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that depicted an eclectic kitchen cupboard. From the beginning, we knew that in order to finish this puzzle, we would need to collaborate, be intentional in our work, and use our problem-solving skills as we put the pieces together. Slowly, sometimes painfully so, we saw connections between the pieces and the big picture began to emerge.

This process is familiar to me in my previous work teaching undergraduate nutrition students: I would often use a puzzle analogy to help them understand complex concepts — to see the bigger picture and not just individual abstract ideas.

In six weeks, I have come to realize that my previous knowledge of Extension was quite limited. Numerous pieces comprise the Center for Family Development: staff, programs, and academic partners, but most important — the diverse clients and communities that we serve. My background in nutrition as a registered dietitian and my passion for the development and evaluation of theory-driven behavioral interventions and nutrition education programs for children, adolescents, and their parents has uniquely prepared me for working in Extension. Collaboration, adaptability, and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse audiences are skills I have acquired through my previous experiences, which I believe will enable me to be effective in my new role and put together the pieces of the puzzle that is Extension.

I hope to take the next year to meet people, engage in collaborative work, and learn as much as I can about Extension and Health and Nutrition. Collaborative work helps me see important issues through several different lenses and gain a broader understanding of how these issues impact Minnesotans. Developing a greater understanding of my role and the interconnectedness of our work will evolve as the pieces come together and the puzzle becomes more complete. The big picture will emerge with time, just as the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle did this winter.

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