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Reflecting on movies – and our accomplishments

2 of a 2-part series

By Trish Olson, director of programs

I don’t know about you, but I am still seeing the “Best of 2017” Lists. I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame. They represent reflections of what has gone well – what should be repeated? Perhaps it is movies with another number behind their title, like “Pitch Perfect 3.” One and two worked, why not three? I have heard mixed reviews on the new “Star Wars” movie, which raises the question: When does something popular get “sunsetted?” When does something new replace the old and we are all better off for it? Olive oil replaces other fats. Taylor Swift leaves country behind for pop, etc. Perhaps the comparisons need to end.

We in Family Development need to ask these and other questions as we reflect on the year just ended and look ahead to 2018. What should stay with relatively few changes? What should be sunsetted and replaced with something entirely new? Or what should stay but needs bigger changes, such as a new delivery method to better reach audiences?

In part 1 of this series, I looked at three of the six ways we accomplished our mission at the Extension Center for Family Development in 2017. Now, in part 2, I will focus on new and updated programs as I look at three more ways we accomplished our mission last year.

Delivering trustworthy, relevant and research-based education

As I reflect on this element of our mission, I ask myself if we are offering trustworthy, relevant and research-based information in innovative and nimble ways. We know people want information they can trust, but we also know people are busy and cannot always attend in-person classes. In 2016 (2017 numbers are not yet in), we expanded our online learning opportunities and reached 5,721participants. (This number does not include classes offered through social media.)

One strong contributor to the 5,721 number is the Parents Forever Online Course, which drew 1,424 participants in 2016. The Minnesota Supreme Court had asked us to offer Parents Forever classes online in 2012, and we listened. One parent who took the course offered a typical comment, “I originally balked at the concept of completing a parenting class to fulfill the requirements ordered by the judge in order to get divorced. But I have found this course to be enlightening and helpful in a few aspects and encouraging in the topics with which I am already familiar.”

In 2017, we also developed new online learning opportunities. One is Systems Approaches for Healthy Communities, which was launched last fall. Since the launch, 10 organizations have registered for the program: seven SNAP-Ed implementing agencies and three local and state health departments. In addition, organizations from 45 states and the District of Columbia have expressed interest in the program, as well as two programs from Italy and Guam. Online learning knows no geographic boundaries. Two other online learning offerings added in 2017 are Parenting in the Age of Overindulgence and Parenting with a Good Heart.

Working closely with communities and organizations to build the strengths of individuals and families of all types and backgrounds

As I consider this element of our mission, I looked closely at the policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) work in our SNAP-Ed program. Our PSE work provides a good illustration of how we work closely with communities and organizations to build the strengths of individuals and families of all types and backgrounds.

Hyunjun Kim, a graduate student on our FD Applied Research and Evaluation Team, recently conducted an analysis of PSE work in our SNAP-Ed program. His analysis shows continued growth and evolution of projects over the past three years, as well as an increase in the number of partners engaged in PSE projects. The number of PSE project partners stood at 693 and the links between partners numbered 575 in 2017. Another indicator of network growth and evolution is the larger increase in multi-partner projects relative to single-partner projects.

There are many ways to document and inform communities about our work. Most often we tell rich, sensory stories that provide context to our work within communities. Yet, there are other visual ways to show the growth of our community-based work. Take the following graphics for example. They depict the dramatic growth of multi-partner PSE networks between 2015 and 2017. Each dot represents each partner and each link represents the two partners (dots) at the each side of the link working together for the same PSE project. Isn’t it amazing to see this visual?

Fiscal year 15 PSE partner network made of dots and lines

Fiscal year 17 PSE partner network made of dots and lines

Capitalizing on University research and faculty

The strength of Extension to Minnesota, is that it provides the opportunity for researchers and educators to engage with individuals and organizations in asking the challenging questions to jointly discover science-based answers that make a difference. One challenging issue is higher rates of overweight or obesity for Hispanic children compared to non-Hispanic white children ages 12-19 years, as reported in NHANES 2011-2012. An excellent example of how we fulfill this final element of our mission is the programa de Padres Preparados, Jóvenes Saludables (Latino Fathers Promoting Healthy Youth Behaviors program).

Two faculty are working with the Padres program to explore possible responses to the challenging issues involved. The faculty members are Marla Reicks, Ph.D., professor with the University of Minnesota Department of Food Science and Extension nutritionist, and Ghaffar Ali Hurtado, Ph.D., assistant professor with the University of Maryland School of Public Health (and formerly with University of Minnesota Extension). This program aims to prevent obesity among Latino adolescents by engaging families, especially fathers or other male caregivers, with their children, ages 10 to 14.

Reicks and Hurtado are working on the Padres program with three organizations: Holy Rosary Catholic Church and Centro Tyrone Guzman in Minneapolis, and Neighborhood House in St. Paul. Extension staff, including faculty, Extension educators, SNAP-Ed educators, and graduate students, are assisting in this project. They are partnering with community organizations serving Latino populations to develop a community-based obesity prevention curriculum for Latino families.

Take some time for reflection

As we enter 2018, do look back to determine what went well and what can be improved. Are you looking at the data you already have to understand if your educational efforts are making a difference? You also may need to ask yourself whether any information is missing from your data and whether you need to ask more sources if what you're offering is working. Take some time for reflection before you barrel into 2018 like the “cyclone bomb.” Perhaps enter a bit more gently with questioning, wonder, and reflection about your Extension work.

Happy New Year!
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