It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

If you’ve been in earshot of any radio or public audio system in the past four weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard the famous song first recorded by Andy Williams in 1963. I heard a symphonic pops version of it while setting up camp in the Kellogg Center last week for four days of administrative retreats.  I chuckled at the thought that university administrators consider this the most wonderful time of the year for strategic thinking and planning. And I’ll confess that the only reason I didn’t plan a retreat during the week is because other administrators beat me to it.

Actually, it really is a special time of year, and although we celebrated our Thanksgiving Day a month ago, for me this time of year is a time to reflect and remember the many experiences and people I’ve worked with over the year that have enriched my life. I dare not try a top 10 list of people and experiences I’m most thankful for because the list is much longer than 10 items.  I’m also smart enough to not publish my entire list because it’s too long.  I will start the list here, and then encourage you to share your thoughts on my blog.

I’m thankful for the people I get to work with every day – the people who make MSUE special and the people we serve. Our work is so important to people in Michigan that the people they serve take time to tell me what they think of us, what they value about MSUE and what they’d like to see changed (or NOT changed) about MSUE.  If in the process of changing this organization we encountered no resistance, no responses, no suggestions, then I’m afraid we’d have to conclude that we’re not important. Based on the energy people bring to discussions about MSUE, I’d say we are very important to Michigan.

I’m thankful for the back-up roles that some of our colleagues play in supporting those who are on the front line of our mission: the Organizational Development team, those who have helped us to strengthen our professional development programs; who work hard to make sure our human resource policies and practices are fair and timely; who ensure that our financial house is sound and operational (in a time when the house has been rocked with foundational changes in software and workloads); who continue to push the envelope in creating communications about our programs; who routinely innovate new software systems for planning, reporting, managing events, and online program delivery; who help us to create an environment that is built on the assets of a diverse work force and diverse communities to serve; and those who help us make sure that we can measure the impacts our programs produce.

I’m thankful for university leadership that values the land grant mission enough to recognize that we need to be challenged to understand and adapt it to needs in this new century not only here in Michigan, but throughout the world.

I’m thankful for Extension educators, specialists and program leaders who challenge themselves to understand the most critical needs of the stakeholders they serve, and then work hard to create innovative and transformative educational programs.

I’m thankful for faculty who work hard to not only gain new insights through research, but are dedicated to helping others use that information to improve their business, their farm, their family, their community.

I’m thankful for the paraprofessionals in our organization who bring a tremendous professional commitment to serving needs at the most local level and create a sense of trust with those we serve, which sets a model for each of us to emulate in our work.

I’m thankful for district coordinators who have faced the most difficult challenge of anyone in our organization this year and have produced an amazing outcome. We asked them to work with counties to adopt a new, simplified Memorandum of Agreement between each county and MSUE in one year. That sounds simple. It’s not.  We have unique relationships with each county that are decades old (many are nearing the century mark). It’s easy to understand how some counties interpreted this as an effort to undo the unique relationship we have and took offense at the changes.  The fact that what we had was unsustainable often got lost in the heated discussions. And the fact that we have an opportunity to grow our relationships in counties is harder to see for some. But our colleagues who were brave enough to take on this challenge have kept their cool, have returned again and again to meetings with decision makers to answer questions, and have spoken clearly and convincingly with the rest of the administrative team about the challenges we need to address.  The results they have produced are phenomenal. At this date, we have agreements or know that we will have agreements with 79 of Michigan’s 83 counties. And with the remaining four, we are continuing the dialogue, attempting to address their concerns and at the same time knit together the entire network that makes MSUE unique.

I’m thankful for institute directors who have engaged their institute colleagues in creating innovative and targeted programs that serve Michigan’s most critical needs and at the same time have embraced the task of providing supervision for an unthinkable number of staff members, each one of whom is creative and has the tools to make a great contribution on behalf of MSU.

I’m thankful for associate directors and a director’s office support team and support staff throughout the organization who make each day enjoyable and who take on incredible challenges in helping us all to become a new and effective organization, grounded in the ideals of the land grant mission articulated by Senator Justin Morrill 149 years ago, and responsive to the challenges of today.

I’m thankful for a family who not only supports me, but adds joy to my life and enriches me in ways that teach me something new about people, our world and all the blessings they have to offer every day.

And I’m thankful for a new year and all of the opportunities it will present for us to practice our mission.

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