Strategic connections can start with a smile and handshake

The Financial and Homeownership Education Team are posing for a photo with Senator Darwin Booher.

The Financial and Homeownership Education Team meet with Senator Darwin Booher. Photo courtesy of Bill Hendrian.

Bill Hendrian, Financial and Homeownership Education (FHE) team educator in District 5, shared with me some great advice about building strategic connections with people – from local employers to state legislators. Something as simple as a smile and a handshake can open a door that leads to another.

Some thoughts Bill had and experiences he shared:

  • Attend local events, even if they’re not in your program area. Also, seek out events where local and state leaders will attend. Bill attended a local agricultural breakfast. There, he met Darwin Booher with a handshake, a smile and his elevator speech.
  • Remember to say, “Thank you.” Sen. Booher helped appropriate funds during the foreclosure crisis of 2008 that funded Michigan State University (MSU) Extension FHE positions and programs. The FHE work team visited the senator in 2015 to personally thank him for all of his efforts. Team members also shared the success that they were having helping Michigan’s struggling homeowners. That success was made possible because of the funding to train and assemble a staff ready and able to meet the needs brought about by the crisis. Sen. Booher has recently touted our efforts with local community leaders as well as the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
  • Share your impact stories with county commissioners. They can also connect you with others. MSU Extension provided education and guidance in regard to the Michigan Step Forward program, helping local citizens who were hardest hit by the recession. The commissioners realized that the program was responsible for recouping thousands of real property tax dollars into the county coffers. Now, their county offices refer struggling homeowners to our offices to help them stay in their homes.
  • Each time you hold a program or speak with an audience, remember that each person sitting there has connections of his or her own. It turns out that one of the folks who attended an FHE course was a human resource professional at a large manufacturer. When the company needed financial education for its employees, the manager suggested using MSU Extension programs. Because of that connection, we were able to provide on-site Money Management classes.

“I have learned that it is important to make ourselves available to our local communities as often as possible,” Bill said. “I have learned that even a smile and a handshake can go a long way, that one door leads to another and that it is important to be patient, and stick to our goals as educators – to provide relevant, timely programming and to treat everyone with respect. You never know when you will have the opportunity to give your elevator speech.”

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Participants learn latest turfgrass research and management recommendations

A crowd of participants listen to a demonstration in a field.

Over 400 participants attended MSU Turfgrass Field Day. Photo courtesy of Kevin Frank.

Michigan State University (MSU) Turgrass Field Day took place Aug. 10 at the Robert W. Hancock Turfgrass Research Center on the MSU campus in East Lansing. Turfgrass Field Day presented the latest research and management recommendations from the MSU Turf Team. Over 400 participants attended 12 different research tours and presentations covering turf research for golf, lawn and athletic fields. In the afternoon, attendees chose between three in-depth, hands-on workshops on weed walk, disease ID and insect diagnostics.

“Wonderful example of the interest from industry representatives in attending the various sessions ranging from weeds to insects,” Patrick Cudney, MSU Extension associate director, said. “Hundreds of turf managers from golf courses, municipalities and other universities were in attendance.”

Carl Schwartzkopf, MSU turfgrass management alumnus, announced that he will donate $20,000 to the Paul Rieke Endowment for turfgrass graduate students. The Michigan Turfgrass Foundation website describes the endowment dedicated to retired MSU faculty member Paul Rieke who made major contributions to turfgrass science through research, education and outreach.

Thank you Amy Fouty, Jennifer Maszatics, Kevin Frank, Mark Collins and Jesse Sholl and to all the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation and MSU staff members that put on such a successful field day.

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Research and outreach come Together at the Farm

Thank you to our Michigan State University (MSU) Extension and AgBioResearch faculty and staff and our partners for a successful event at the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC) in Chatham. Over 200 people from across the state and the Midwest attended the U.P. Food Conference: Together at the Farm program.

Together at the Farm showcased our research and outreach efforts through interaction with attendees at both of the farm sites. During the morning and the afternoon sessions, a diverse pool of presenters offered over 20 workshop opportunities such as ruminant grazing systems, composting for soil quality, sustaining a school garden program, year-round herb production in greenhouses, small farm tools and implements and understanding policy to support local food systems. Presenters included MSU faculty, but the event also capitalized on local expertise and guest speakers. The evening included a keynote speaker and dinner, followed by a barn dance.

For attending, participants could receive credit in Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) Phase I, Master Citizen Planner and State Continuing Education Clock Hours.

We would like to thank all of our partners that made Together at the Farm possible: the U.P. Food Exchange, the Marquette Food Co-Op, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and MAEAP. Thank you to all of our event sponsors for making the program possible. Interested in finding out more about the event and our sponsors? Visit We hope that you’ll be able to join us next year.

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Extension educators connect with federal decision-makers in DC

Julie Crick, Jodi Schulz and Holly Tiret traveled to Washington, D.C., the second week of July, to visit with legislators and staff of national agencies and to attend the National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) North Central Region session.

Julie, Jodi and Holly shared their Michigan State University (MSU) Extension stories with Reps. Dan Kildee and John Moolenaar, as well as with staff members of Rep. Justin Amash, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Gary Peters.

Holly Tiret, Jodi Schulz and Julie Crick pose for a picture with Representative Dan Kildee.

Holly Tiret, Jodi Schulz and Julie Crick met with Rep. Dan Kildee. Photo courtesy of Rep. Kildee’s office.

Julie is an MSU Extension educator who specializes in leadership and educational programming expertise in natural resources with a focus on forest stewardship. Jodi serves statewide in areas of youth development and is a 4-H educator. Holly is an Extension educator who focuses on social-emotional health and well-being across the life span.

“We were able to speak about how our own personal passions transfer into the work we do in our areas of specialization and ultimately make an impact on those we program with in communities,” Jodi said.

“We were really focusing on programs we do locally (and) offered statewide,” Holly said. “(We talked) about how we work together to cross program and combine efforts to best meet the communities’ educational needs.”

Julie, Jodi and Holly shared that they felt prepared and empowered by MSU Extension’s encouragement to make strategic connections and because of the Expect to Connect materials on the Organizational Development Team website.

“Many thanks to everyone who worked on those!” Julie said.

During their time in Washington, D.C., they also visited with agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union, the Embassy of Tribal Nations and the Immigration Policy Center.

NELD is a professional development opportunity to strengthen leadership and effectiveness of Extension staff members. Each year, Extension administrators across the country are asked to identify emerging leaders who are working on a critical issue or will be assigned one in the future. These individuals are nominated to participate in the NELD North Central professional development opportunity. NELD hosts four sessions a year. The session in Washington, D.C., focused on leading in a shared-power world.

Holly said that the team took away significant information on themes of leadership from this conference such as the importance of relationship building, believing in yourself and public service, and inspiring your team.

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Upload your photos for Fall Extension Conference

Celebrate your team, event and programming by uploading photos at for our annual Michigan State University Fall Extension Conference. You may submit as many photos as you like of your various teams, programs and activities. For each photo, you’ll be asked for some information (institute, county, event name, names of staff pictured in photo, program focus). If you are submitting photos of programming, please ensure that you have a signed photo release for any individuals in the image, especially if those individuals are youth.

Reach out to your team members and co-workers (everyone wants to know before a photo is posted), find a photo or take a team selfie, take a minute or two and answer the questions and submit, it’s just that easy! Please submit photos by September 1 so we can be sure to include them in the slideshow.

In an organization as large as ours, spread out throughout the state and with new faces every year, we have a great opportunity to get to know each other once a year when we all come together at Fall Extension Conference. In brainstorming ways that we can enhance this time for getting to know each other, we came up with an idea for a silent slide show to showcase our Extension teams and the work you’re doing. We want to feature work teams, districts, clusters, county offices, events, programs ‒ any group of Extension folks coming together. This will allow us to get to know the faces and programs of our educators, associates, instructors and coordinators as well as our county support staff we may not have a chance to meet at the conference.

We hope that this encourages everyone to mix, mingle and take this great opportunity to get to know each other better at this year’s Fall Extension Conference.

Any questions? Contact Betsy Braid at

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MSU Extension makes strategic connections in Iosco County

Kelli Rau, 4-H program coordinator, and Jessica St. George, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ‒ Education (SNAP-Ed) instructor, took over leadership of the Iosco County Family Fun Fair and built strategic connections for Michigan State University Extension as the county gears up for a millage renewal.

The Iosco County Family Enrichment Coalition started the Family Fun Fair 19 years ago to educate the community about local programs and services available to families with young children. In 2014, the Family Enrichment Coalition dissolved and put the event in jeopardy of cancelation. Jessica and Kelli volunteered to take over leadership.

“As new staff members, neither of us knew what organizations existed or who to contact to make these connections,” Jessica said. “The Family Fun Fair opened that door and fostered these new connections and partnerships in a way we could not have done on our own at that time. The event also gave the participating organizations an opportunity to see the wide variety of services Extension offers and opportunities for developing new partnerships.”

The Family Fun Fair involves over 40 organizations and businesses annually that provide family-friendly activities and share information about the resources they offer within the community. Through coordinating the event, Kelli and Jessica helped MSU Extension establish contacts with these organizations and open doors to new programming opportunities.

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In their first year coordinating the Family Fun Fair, MSU Extension reached 724 participants. Based on the event survey, the participants were primarily people living in low-income situations, and 96 percent of all participants were not currently using Extension’s services. Kelli and Jessica used this data to be more deliberate in planning programs in the Oscoda community for the remainder of 2015.

In 2016, participation increased to 895 community members and 45 organizations. Awareness of Extension’s services also increased 83 percent as a direct result of the Family Fun Fair involvement and the improved program methodology.

Through the Family Fun Fair, Jessica and Kelli also connected to the collaborative bodies within the county and increased awareness of Extension’s services to a larger network of organizations and businesses.

“Also, with the Iosco County Extension millage renewal on the August ballot, having a stronger network of informed supporters has been extremely beneficial in getting the word out to the community regarding the impact of the millage and what stands to be lost if the millage does not pass,” Kelli said. “Our relationship with our county commissioners and administrators has also flourished as a result of our expanded programming and community connectivity.”

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start in building community relationships. Getting involved in events will help you build relationships with key community members and groups and help to spread the word about Extension. Do you have any community events that come to mind that MSU Extension could get involved in?

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Honoring our Master Gardener volunteers

On Friday, June 17, Michigan State University Extension hosted a dinner in Grand Rapids to honor 344 Extension Master Gardener Program volunteers from 31 counties with over 1,000 volunteer hours of service. MSU Extension also created a gold Extension Master Gardener name badge for each volunteer to show our appreciation for his or her service.

“These volunteers are the heart of the Master Gardener Program in Michigan,” said Mary Wilson, state coordinator and MSU Extension educator. “Their contribution to improving the lives of others and Michigan communities through horticulture is simply astounding.”

When you combine all the service hours from these individuals, it totals 17,333 weeks or 333 years of service. What an outstanding contribution to the people in our state! Thank you to our Master Gardener volunteers for your work with MSU Extension to serve Michigan residents.

I encourage us all to take a moment to reach out to a volunteer that you know and send them a quick thank-you note.

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