It must be graduation time

Having spent much of my career teaching undergraduate and graduate students, I’ve been accustomed to getting to know students over the course of a semester or perhaps over the course of their academic career at Michigan State and then seeing them depart all at once following commencement. Nearly a month has passed since commencement ceremonies on campus, but I feel like I’ve just experienced a few of those partings within our ranks.  We say farewell to colleagues frequently within MSUE and I don’t always have an opportunity to thank them publicly. So we use the official retirement luncheon that MSU holds each April as one way to recognize some of our departing colleagues in the MSUE Spotlight.  But I wanted to take this opportunity to note a few of the departures we’ve experienced from our MSUE team this month.

Mike Erdman, Extension educator and District Coordinator for MSUE District 1 retired this month and did so with little fanfare.  I have enjoyed getting to know Mike. He’s been with MSU Extension since 1987 and he’s filled a variety of roles. I’ve worked most closely with him in his role as District Coordinator and appreciate his contributions to our change process. I recently described Extension professionals as people who are 1) naturally curious about everything and 2) can’t help but teach people about what they’ve learned.  Mike certainly demonstrates these characteristics of a true Extension professional. I’ve enjoyed getting to know his varied interests and experiences and have been the beneficiary of his intrinsic compulsion to teach on many occasions.  His retirement is a loss for our organization, but we’ve benefited tremendously from his dedication and commitment.  I’ll always be grateful for his willingness to step out of his previous role as County Extension Director for Menominee County and to help us adapt to our new organizational structure as one of our pioneering district coordinators.  Mike has always been direct with me even if he thought I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. I will miss his suggestions for MSUE and for the counties we serve in the western Upper Peninsula. Thanks, Mike!

Linda Huyck was included in our retiree biographies in the April 4 edition of MSUE Spotlight, but I wanted to thank her again for her contributions, again in many forms through her career in MSU Extension. Whether it was in her previous role as Extension educator in family and consumer sciences, her role as County Extension Director in Montcalm County, or her more recent role bridging food safety and financial literacy across two MSUE institutes, Linda has been adaptable and ready to lead from any of those positions.  I enjoyed getting to know Linda better through our time together at the Public Issues Leadership Development program, for which she served on the leadership group.  Again, she’s one of those people who can’t help but teach, and I definitely benefited from her willingness to educate a Director!  Linda’s retirement reception was held earlier this month and I regretted that I wasn’t able to attend it. So here’s my opportunity to say “Thanks, Linda.”

Last week, we all received an email message informing us that Laura Probyn, communications manager in ANR Communications, was moving across campus to take on a leadership role in public relations for the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. It is a great opportunity for Laura and one in which I know she will excel.

When I began my role as Director of MSU Extension, I was advised by my predecessor, Maggie Bethel that I simply needed to listen to Laura Probyn and do whatever she suggested to me.  I learned very quickly that on this, as well on all other matters, Maggie was right. I also suspect that as an editor, Laura would never let me get away with the structure of the previous sentence.

Laura is a consummate communications professional. Unlike my perspective on Extension professionals, I’m not sure what the two most essential aspects of a communications professional are, but I’m sure Laura possesses them.  The traits I value most are her insights into the strategic priorities that should guide any communications plans and her uncanny ability to guide by suggestion.  I don’t think I ever heard Laura tell me that I shouldn’t do something or shouldn’t communicate something, but I know there were many times when she would accomplish the same by offering an alternative approach. And, cognizant of the Maggie Bethel maxim, I quickly adopted her alternatives (well, most of the time).

Laura can write clearly, concisely, effectively and with an engaging style. She can edit mercifully but directly. She listens with the skill of a licensed counselor. And she works tirelessly to see that all is finished and done well. Although I’ve not interacted directly with Laura in recent years as much as I did in my early years as Director, I’ve always found it reassuring to know that somehow she’s likely to catch me if I’m headed down a wrong path. I trust and value our other colleagues in ANR Communications as well, but it will be an adjustment to live without at least the thought that she will be there to catch any missteps.  I’m so happy for Laura and for the College of Osteopathic Medicine.  At least she’s still working as a Spartan. Congratulations, Laura, and thanks for all of your guidance!

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