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Think Regionally, Act Locally

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

Many have heard the phrase “Think globally, act locally.” In today’s column, we will “think regionally” as I share the results of the November meeting of the North Central Regional Family and Consumer Sciences program faculty, educators, and administrators.

First a bit of background.

How Are Cooperative Extension Programs Organized?

As part of land-grant universities, Extension programs are found in all 50 states and a number of territories. These state programs are divided into four regions: Northeast, Southern, North Central, and West. University of Minnesota is in the North Central Region (NCR). Other institutions in the NCR include:
  • North Dakota State University
  • South Dakota State University
  • University of Nebraska
  • Kansas State University
  • Iowa State University
  • Lincoln University, MO
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Wisconsin
  • University of Illinois
  • Purdue University
  • Michigan State University
  • Ohio State University
Each state’s cooperative extension services have four primary program areas with variations from state to state: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Youth Development and 4-H, Community Vitality, and Family and Consumer Sciences (we call it “Family Development” in Minnesota). Administrators for each of these programs meet on a regular basis to discuss programs and address common issues impacting us all. Directors of Extension (like University of Minnesota Extension Dean Bev Durgan) have formed an association called the North Central Cooperative Extension Association. You can learn more about our region by going to association’s website:

What Is the North Central Region Thinking About?

The NCR Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) programs have embarked on an effort in which we are thinking and planning at a regional level to create more effective programs at the local level. Hence, “thinking regionally, acting locally.”

On November 29 and 30, NCR FCS faculty, educators, and administrators met in Chicago to continue planning nine program efforts:

Rural and Farm Mental Health

Who: SD, MI; also interested: IA, MO, ND, and MN
What: Conducting baseline research and environmental scans of state resources in the region, and creating a toolkit of resources

Aging Network

Who: IA, OH, IN, MO, SD, MI, IL, WI, ND, MN (represented by Marlene Stum, U of M Extension specialist and professor), KS
What: Creating a toolkit of aging-related programs that all 12 states within the region can access

Together We Can

Who: MN (represented by Jenifer McGuire, U of M Extension specialist and associate professor, and myself), MI, KS, IA, NE
What: Designing 2 to 4 learning modules on topics that will augment the current Michigan State University coparenting curriculum, Together We Can: Creating a Healthy Future for our Family (see curriculum here: Together We Can Curriculum)

Financial Resource Management Proposal

Who: ND, KS, MO, IA, MN (represented by Mary Jo Katras, U of M Extension program leader in family resiliency, and Joyce Serido, Extension specialist and associate professor), WI, IN, OH, MI
What: Focusing on text messaging (SMS) for student loan decision-making

Master Food Volunteers

Who: NE, SD, KS, MI; also interested: ND, IN
What: Developing a volunteer program to deliver evidence-informed food and nutrition information in various community settings, such as churches, health fairs, free clinics, and after school settings

SNAP-Ed Master Gardeners

Who: IA, WI, SD, IN, MN (represented by Margaret Haggenmiller, U of Me Extension associate program director for SNAP-Ed; we will be partnering with Tim Kenny, director of education at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum)
What: Developing collaborations between SNAP-Ed and Master Gardener Programs to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables

Training Nutrition Educators in Systems Approaches

Who: MI, MN (represented by Trina Adler, program leader in health and nutrition); working with Cornell University and others to explore nationwide training opportunities in PSE (policy, systems, and environmental) work
What: Creating a training curriculum, delivery strategy, and model that will expand how Extension professionals and community leaders impact the culture of health in their communities. The team is using Minnesota’s spectrum of prevention modules as the base of the work.

Dining with Diabetes

Who: SD, IN, MI, KS, OH
What: Developing standard evaluation measures for the national diabetes education curriculum Dining with Diabetes

Food Safety

Who: MI, IA, WI, KS, IN, NE
What: Expanding knowledge and educational resources on diverse food safety related issues

So What?

What does this planning mean for you and Family Development? Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • For those efforts in which Minnesota is represented, FD Extension educators and others will likely participate in implementing this work. You will have new resources to use!
  • The states involved in any given program effort will be better positioned to apply for grants to support multi-state program efforts, which tend to be more competitive in today’s funding environment.
  • Family Development staff and educators will have access to a wider variety of high quality educational materials and specialist expertise to support our work in Minnesota. With tight budgets, we are not able to hire in-house expertise for every area in which we deliver programming, but we can tap other states’ experts. Likewise, they can tap us where we have expertise.
  • If you are interested in any of the projects for which Minnesota has a person assigned, please reach out to that person. If you are interested in a project that does not have a Minnesota representative, please let me know and we can discuss how Family Development might benefit from that work.
Collaboration and network building occurs at levels in addition to local or community levels. Early in my career, I learned how much richer and fulfilling work becomes when done in partnership with my colleagues in other states. Start thinking regionally today!
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