Author Archives: msuespotlight

Michigan State Fair a huge success for Extension and the CANR

By Patrick Cudney

Many of our colleagues spent this Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4‒7, at the Michigan State Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

We can all be proud of the work being done to enhance the Michigan State University Extension presence in southeastern Michigan. More than 112,000 visitors attended the fair this year, so the event created the opportunity to build awareness of our programs to a huge audience. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources was fully engaged with us in the marketing effort.

Julie Chapin, Children and Youth Institute director, and I attended a VIP pre-opening event, which gave us a firsthand look at our giant 60-foot by 40-foot exhibit space that was free to MSU Extension. Credit for obtaining the free space goes to Debra (“Debbie”) Morgan, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator, who has been coordinating a 4-H presence at other expos at the Suburban Collection Showplace since 2005. This is the first year we’ve had a coordinated presence from all of Extension. Debbie helped us to build on the base that she created through her previous work at the fair.

Michigan State University Extension staff contributed to the success of the Michigan State Fair that took place Sept. 4‒7, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich

Michigan State University Extension staff contributed to the success of the Michigan State Fair that took place Sept. 4‒7, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich:
Front row (left to right): Fran Adelaja, MSU Extension specialist; Debra Morgan, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator – Oakland County; Margaret Stockert, MSU Extension 4-H support – Oakland County; Glenda Weiss, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator – Wayne County
Back row: Patrick Cudney, MSU Extension associate director; Julie Chapin, MSU Extension Children and Youth Institute director; Alan Jaros, MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm director; Karen Craig, MSU Tollgate Conference Center coordinator; Jason Scott, MSUE 4-H program coordinator – Oakland County; Jake DeDecker, MSU Extension children and youth associate state leader; Mary Blumka, 4-H program coordinator- Oakland County.
Photo credit: Lou Waldock, Waldock Tree Farm

Debbie said, “In 2014, I was invited to the press conference where Oakland County and District 11 were offered space at the 2014 Michigan State Fair. When I was invited in 2015, I asked if we could have a larger space to include all of MSU Extension and they said ‘absolutely – what do you need?’ It is a win-win situation and the folks with the Michigan State Fair and Suburban Collection Showplace have been super accommodating and so easy to work with. I believe we have created a mutually beneficial relationship and a great opportunity to showcase all the services MSU Extension has to offer to the public.”

She added that when Extension educator Alan Jaros, who is director of the MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm just miles down the road from the Suburban Collection Showcase, attended the press conference with her this year, she knew then we were going to do something bigger and better this year.

Tollgate is Extension’s 160-acre learning laboratory visited annually by 12,000 people who explore food systems, agriculture and horticulture, and experience a greater connection to our natural resources.

“With Tollgate’s strong roots in Novi and the surrounding area, our partners and the local community have come to expect high-quality, unbiased, research-based and interactive educational opportunities from MSU Extension. When we were approached to have a stronger presence at the fair, it was an obvious chance to build a greater awareness of MSU Extension’s impact beyond Tollgate,” said Alan.

The fair provides the perfect opportunity for our 4-H youth to showcase their projects and apply for the scholarships offered to youth exhibitors. In fact, this year scholarships totaled $40,000.

It would be impossible to list everyone involved in our success. The following people were involved in coordinating the event. Besides Alan and Debbie, they included Fran Adelaja, Megghan Honke, Betsy Braid, Mindy Tape, Jake DeDecker, Kristine Hahn, Kristi Evans and Mary Wilson.

Others contributing to the event’s success included Beth Stuever, Kittie Butcher, Carol Lenchek, Mary Gerstenberger, Margaret Stockert, Glenda Weiss, Karen Craig, Jason Scott, Ed Scott and Mary Blumka.

In addition, approximately 80 staff and volunteers signed up to help set up, tear down and work the booth throughout the weekend. It really was a team effort!

Patrick Cudney, MSU Extension associate director, tests his skill at hoverball archery

Patrick Cudney, MSU Extension associate director, tests his skill at hoverball archery as Julie Chapin, MSU Extension Children and Youth Institute director, looks on at the Michigan State Fair that took place Sept. 4‒7, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich.
Photo credit: Debra Morgan.

The large space was well utilized by each institute. The Children and Youth Institute supplied hands-on activities including crafts, hoverball archery (yep, I tried it, it’s fun), the 4-H Commodity Carnival interactive game, Legos, an early childhood sensory table and the 4-H Life Skills Wheel. 4-H Tech Wizards provided Rockets to the Rescue. The Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute Master Gardeners presented Smart Gardening daily, and the Health and Nutrition Institute provided information and a nutrition and health wheel game. Greening Michigan staffed a resource table with information on foreclosure counseling, Sea Grant and the Michigan Fresh program.

I appreciate all of your efforts in moving our organization visibility forward. This is an excellent example of how MSU Extension can improve our engagement and understanding of the work we do in fulfilling our mission. Strategic connections at the finest!

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FEC 2015: You spoke, we listened

Mark your calendars for Fall Extension Conference (FEC) 2015. This year’s event takes place at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on the Michigan State University campus Oct. 13-14.

The conference really kicks off on Monday, Oct. 12, with pre-conference sessions. We have two full days of sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Awards Banquet runs Tuesday evening from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The banquet helps us acknowledge and thank our Key Partners and our Friends of Extension that allow us to be successful across the state. We’ll also honor our colleagues for a variety of awards. One post-conference session takes place Thursday, Oct. 15.

Betty Blase chairs our FEC planning committee, a large group of 16 members, representative of all of our staff across the state. We’ve designed this year’s conference with staff in mind. We listened to what you wanted from a conference and we’ve delivered. FEC 2015 focuses on two core competencies: program planning and reporting, and educational and information technology. You’ll learn more about MSU resources and you’ll connect to MSU faculty. We’ll have attendees up and moving with 11 tours and 58 sessions. We even have an FEC 2015 mobile app.

Tuesday’s keynote speaker is Walt Drenth, director of MSU cross country and track and field, who led the 2014 women’s team to a national championship. Wednesday’s keynote is June Youatt, MSU provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Youatt has a history with Extension both professionally and personally.

Registration will be open by Wednesday, Aug. 26. You must register by Oct. 4.

Visit the FEC website ( to register, to find a schedule and a listing of discounted accommodations.

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Filed under Fall Extension Conference

Congratulations to Step III awardees

Every year, senior staff members work with the administration to review the applicants for Step III. It is a rigorous process for the applicants, involving a portfolio review and a seminar presentation, which is assessed by the applicant’s peers and institute director, but a great opportunity for recognition within Michigan State University Extension. The four staff members who have been awarded the status this year are Rebecca Finneran, Brenda Long, Janet Olsen and Holly Tiret.

Step III is awarded to Extension academic staff members who have demonstrated excellence and scholarly achievement in their work as Extension professionals over an extended period. Those who are awarded Step III achieve “senior” status, similarly to a professor rank among faculty. Their titles will now reflect their Step III status by adding “senior” before them.

Please join me in congratulating them on their hard work and dedication to Extension!

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Former Extension staff member receives Jack Breslin Award

Earlier this week, Lynn Vecziedins was honored with the 38th annual Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award. The award is given annually to six Michigan State University staff members and includes a cash prize. Selections are made based on “overall excellence in job performance, supportive attitude, and contributions to the unit or University that lead to improved efficiency or effectiveness, and valuable service to the University.”

With more than 20 years of service at Michigan State University Extension, Lynn has had experience with the organization that has spanned many transitory periods. She has continued to be a strong asset through those times. She worked as an administrative assistant II/S for MSU Extension, providing support and helping the 10 counties in districts 7 and 8 to run smoothly and efficiently.

Some of her noted accomplishments included learning new technologies and training MSU Extension staff to use them as well as functioning as a liaison with MSU Extension business office staff to relay local questions and concerns to their attention. However, it wasn’t just her effective work ethic that earned her this award – her co-workers and supervisors, when interviewed, talked about her amazing attitude and her great communications skills with everyone she interacted with.

MSU interviewed Lynn about the work that got her nominated. They also interviewed her peers about why she deserved the award. You can see the interviews on YouTube:

Congratulations, Lynn!

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Lenawee United Way to honor 4-H leader

Lenawee United Way, a local chapter of United Way, is all about building up communities through education, empowerment and social change. Since Michigan State University Extension works with a similar vision, a partnership between one of our staff members and the local United Way chapter is a great opportunity for collaboration. Janelle Stewart, an educator for Michigan 4-H, is also a United Way board member and served as board chair from 2012 to 2014. This service has earned Janelle the upcoming honor of the Stubnitz Award, which is presented to a person demonstrating exemplary commitment to the mission of Lenawee United Way and volunteerism.

This award will be presented as part of the Lenawee United Way annual meeting on June 23.

Carol Boyce, interim executive director at Lenawee United Way, explained why Janelle is being honored, “Stewart provided leadership to the United Way volunteers responsible for determining funding allocation, trained funded agencies and assisted in many other capacities. Stewart truly exemplifies the ‘Live United’ philosophy, by thinking of ‘we’ before “me.’”

In the article announcing the event, active community members or aspiring leaders are encouraged to attend Lenawee United Way’s annual meeting on June 23. (Just send an RSVP email to or call 263-4696 by June 6.)

Although the award is for her commitment to Lenawee United Way, it is also reflective on the commitment Janelle has shown for her community and MSU Extension’s values. Congratulations, Janelle!

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Filed under 4-H

Some clarification on teams

Before and since Fall Extension Conference, we have called our TEAMS in Michigan State University Extension many different names and by institute, they are titled differently. We hear them referred to as teams, work groups, work teams, AOE teams, expertise teams and other names. Perhaps it does not matter so much as long as we get the job done. But while we are in the process of updating operating guidelines, developing strategies for team input on performance evaluation and streamlining plan of work development, it’s a good time to consider consistency in what we call our teams.

Our administrative team took time to review this at our last administrative meeting and concluded that we would use the terminology of work teams to describe the primary operating structures within our institutes and work groups to identify subsets of the work team that may be needed to carry out the programming of the institutes.

Each institute will use work teams as the primary structure for developing, delivering and evaluating programs. Institutes will likely need from four to 15 teams to deliver their educational content. Some teams will find it necessary to break into work groups within the team to address content specialties or projects that the team would like to address. This would be more desirable than forming a separate smaller work team. Most work teams will need a critical mass of at least 10 to 12 members to develop and deliver programs on a statewide basis.

Using our current institute structures, MSU Extension would look like this:

Agriculture Agribusiness Institute (AABI)

Work Teams (work teams currently under redevelopment!)

Children and Youth Institute (CYI)

Work Teams:

  • Academic Success
    Work Groups:

    • Early Childhood Education
    • Youth Life Skill Development
    • Science Literacy Education
  • Leadership & Civic Engagement
  • Career Exploration & Workforce Preparation
  • Capacity Building

Greening Michigan Institute (GMI)

Work Teams:

  • Government/Public Policy
  • Community Food Systems
  • Natural Resources
  • Sustainable Communities
    Work Groups:

    • Tourism
    • Entrepreneurial Development
    • Leadership & Community Engagement

Health and Nutrition Institute (HNI)

Work Teams:

  • Nutrition and Physical Activity
  • Disease Prevention and Management
  • Social-Emotional Health
  • Food Safety
  • Extension Health Research

As affirmed at our fall conference, MSU Extension has always valued teamwork and has used a variety of team structures over time to carry out program planning and delivery. Our focus in building a more “colorful future” for MSU Extension teams over the next year is determining how we can support our teams organizationally to become more effective and improve program outcomes and impact. Look for more to come in future Spotlights as we launch the action teams that were recruited at Fall Extension Conference.

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Filed under Agriculture and Agribusiness, Children and Youth, Greening Michigan, Health and Nutrition

Potato field days

By Patrick I. Cudney

Last week, Chris Long, Michigan State University potato specialist, and James DeDecker, MSU Extension specialty field crop and bioenergy educator, collaborated with Mike Wenkel, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, and Christian Kapp, research technician at the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC), to put on two Potato Field Days. The first event took place Aug. 26 at Erke Farms in Rogers City in Presque Isle County, Michigan, and the second took place Aug. 27 at TJJ Farms in Cornell in Delta County, Michigan. I was able to attend both of these events. They were a great example of industry, extension and research, working collaboratively in support of agricultural economic development.

This program offered an opportunity for producers and agribusiness professionals to view an on-farm potato variety trial and receive industry updates from commission representatives and MSU Extension specialists. The sessions included updates on local crops, insect management, the seed industry and the potato industry.

The events grew this year, particularly in Presque Isle County, more than doubling the attendees from last year’s event. There were some new faces, including new agribusiness representatives interested in getting involved in the potato industry so that they will know what the growers will need in the future. Some consumers attended as well. This is important because the agriculture industry comes under scrutiny by the public at times. Giving them a first-hand look at farm management practices can be very useful.

James DeDecker said, “Diversity in crops and production systems is what makes Michigan agriculture unique and resilient. The fresh market and seed potato industries in northeast lower Michigan and the U.P. are examples of producers and agribusiness advancing the tradition of making the most of what Michigan has to offer in soils, climate, etc., in order to produce an abundant, healthful and profitable crop. MSU Extension is dedicated to supporting the potato industry in its efforts through research and outreach events like the annual Potato Field Days held in Presque Isle and Delta counties.”

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming