Author Archives: rayhammerschmidt

Thanks to all of you!

As this is my last Spotlight, I thought I would spend a little time reviewing all that we (meaning ALL of us – and especially you) have accomplished in the last year or so. At the 2014 Fall Extension Conference, we set out to make some adjustments in Michigan State University Extension that we felt would help improve the organization. We set up a series of committees and task forces including strategic connections, issue identification, MI PRS (Michigan Extension Planning and Reporting System) improvement, mentoring and several more. It was great to see how many of you engaged in these committees and proved without a doubt how much you care for MSUE. I was also really pleased to see very thoughtful work that each of the teams in each institute put into strategic and staffing plans. These forward-looking documents, along with the information gathered through issue ID, will help guide MSUE toward that more “colorful future” that interim director Maggie Bethel asked us to move toward in fall 2014. As we have talked about, teams are an important part of MSUE and that is how we “get things done.”

One team that has proven to be invaluable to me has been the administrative team that also consists of the institute directors, district coordinators, and budget and human resources leadership, along with associate director of operations Patrick Cudney and me.. I can’t thank them enough for all of the work that they do on behalf of MSUE. Patrick, in particular, has been invaluable in helping me navigate through the many issues that face the Director’s Office and the organization.

Equally important has been the outstanding support that I have received from Terri Badgley, Julie Delgado and Katie Nicpon – the folks that really run the Director’s Office. Just saying thank you very much hardly approaches the deep appreciation I have for all that they have done for me. These three folks also provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all who visit the office here in the Morrill Hall of Agriculture – and this is the sense of welcome that radiates throughout all of MSUE.

It has been a real privilege to serve MSUE over the last 18 months, and this time has been one of the most rewarding of my 35-year career at MSU. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know more of you and learning more about what MSUE does across the state. I also know that I leave you in very good hands with the new interim director Jeff Dwyer, Patrick and the entire administrative team.

As I look ahead, what I see for MSUE is perhaps best paraphrased from a Timbuk3 song – “MSUE’s future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.” Best wishes for the future and thanks for all of your great work!

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MSU Extension program receives governor’s award honorable mention

The Michigan Farm Energy Program received honorable mention for Best Communication or Educational Program at the first annual Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards.

Aluel Go, manager of the Michigan Farm Energy Program, received a letter from Rep. Sam Singh, dated Nov. 10, 2015, congratulating the program on its honorable mention. Al is a Michigan State University Extension energy conservation specialist and an outreach specialist in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering in the MSU College of Engineering.

The letter read in part, “This award is presented to an organization that has overcome the barrier of communicating the benefits of energy efficiency by developing effective communication tools, marketing campaigns, and customer or behavioral engagement programs. … It takes discipline and hard work to contribute to energy efficient methods that make such an important impact on the Michigan community. You should be proud of this accomplishment. I look forward to seeing what the Michigan Farm Energy Program achieves in the years ahead.”

 M. Charles Gould, MSU Extension educator in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute said that the Michigan Farm Energy Program “is recognized across the nation as the premier energy auditor-training program. Many states have utilized all or part of the Michigan Farm Energy Program to develop their own auditor-training program.”

In addition, according to Charles, this MSU Extension program has helped increase USDA funding.

“Audits completed by auditors certified by the Michigan Farm Energy Program are the reason Michigan went from ranking 46th in 2009 to third in 2014 in receiving USDA energy efficiency funding. The audits were of such high quality that nearly every application was approved!” he said.

Congratulations to all responsible for the success of the Michigan Farm Energy Program!

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4-H’ers build skills for life through livestock judging

How does one develop self-confidence? If you spoke to the four Michigan 4-H members who recently competed in the livestock judging contest at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky, they’d tell you that self-confidence comes from experience.

Throughout the fall, Lauren Bickel, Lapeer County; Amanda Breuninger, Washtenaw County; Brad Chapman, Monroe County; and Victoria Olger, Clinton County; practiced their judging in four states, improving not only their livestock expertise but also their life skill experiences in areas of decision making, and defending and communicating decisions. When it came time for the contest, the 4-H’ers were ready.

During the contest, the participants had to make quick decisions based on their previous knowledge of livestock and then be ready to defend those decisions in an organized fashion. That’s a skill that will come in handy in any life situation. In addition, the young people got a chance to practice their public speaking skills.

Brad was named an All-American and recognized as the Reserve Champion Sheep Judge as well as tied for the Reserve Overall Judge (placing fourth).

He said that the experience helped him “make connections across the country and become better at speaking in front of others.”

All four participants agreed that the experience boosted their self-confidence.

Read more in this Michigan State University Extension news article:

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MSU Christmas tree resources abound

If you’re a procrastinator and you haven’t purchased your Christmas tree yet or even if you’ve had it up and decorated for weeks, you’ll want to listen to a conversation on WKAR. Kirk Heinze, host of Greening of the Great Lakes, interviews Bert Cregg, Michigan State University Extension specialist and associate professor of horticulture and forestry, on how to pick out, care for and dispose of a live Christmas tree:

(After clicking on the above link, scroll down for the link to the conversation.)

Dr. Cregg mentions that many people have never had a real Christmas tree. To allay their doubts and fears, he and his team have developed programs and educational resources. One such resource is an MSU Extension article on first-time tree buying by Dr. Cregg and senior Extension educator Jill O’Donnell:

Scroll down on the same page to find more articles, a Michigan Fresh fact sheet Michigan Christmas Trees (written by Jill O’Donnell, Bert Cregg and Extension educator Erin Lizotte) and videos produced by Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications on selecting and caring for your tree.

Here’s a link to 14 new 15-second videos produced by ANR Communications giving species-specific information regarding Christmas trees: Retailers can use QR codes that link to the videos on tree tags to help consumers optimize tree quality and longevity.

In addition to educating the public, MSU Extension and AgBioResearch specialists and scientists are busy doing research that will assist growers with fertilization management. They’re also working with genetic selection, finding and identifying the species and types of trees that adapt best to Michigan growing conditions.

Watch this ANR Communications-produced video on Christmas tree research, part of the Did You Know? video series:

The video will be shown on WKAR on the following dates and times:

  • WKAR HD: Sat., Dec. 19, 4:57 p.m.
  • WKAR HD: Mon., Dec. 21, 12:27 a.m.
  • WKAR HD: Tues., Dec. 22, 10:57 p.m.
  • WKAR CRT (Create): Tues., Dec. 22, 3:56 p.m.

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MSU Extension celebrates 100 years in Cheboygan County

On Dec. 1, Michigan State University Extension Cheboygan County hit a historical milestone. On that date 100 years ago, Carl Knopf began work as an agricultural agent, the first MSU Extension employee to work in Cheboygan County. As you know, our MSU Extension staff continue to provide services in Cheboygan County as well as in the rest of the state, equipping Michigan residents with the information that they need to do their jobs better, raise healthy and safe families, build their communities and empower our children.

This is something worth celebrating! On December 2, Lisa Anderson, MSU Extension District 14 coordinator; Dave Ivan, Greening Michigan Institute director; Kylie Rymanowicz, MSU Extension early childhood educator; Leigh Ann Theunick, 4-H program coordinator; Patti Spinella, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program‒Education (SNAP-Ed) program instructor; and Mary McTevia, MSU Extension Cheboygan County office manager; gathered with county commissioners and community members in the Commissioner’s Room at the Cheboygan County Building in Cheboygan to commemorate the occasion.

Left to right: Kylie Rymanowicz, Leigh Ann Theunick, Lisa Anderson, Patti Spinella and Mary McTevia

Left to right: Kylie Rymanowicz, Leigh Ann Theunick, Lisa Anderson, Patti Spinella and Mary McTevia celebrate 100 years of MSU Extension Cheboygan County, Cheboygan County Building, Cheboygan, Michigan, Dec. 2, 2015.

Displays and handouts highlighted each MSU Extension programming area. Slides of photographs dated from the 1940s and beyond depicted the history of MSU Extension programming and outreach. And of course, it would not be a proper celebration without cake and coffee.

Congratulations, MSU Extension Cheboygan County!

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MSU Extension staff member named CANR Staffer of the Month

Rachel Kramer, Michigan State University Extension office assistant, has received the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Staff Advisory Committee November 2015 Administrative/Technical Staffer of the Month award.

The award goes to a member of the CANR support staff who has done something special or noteworthy within his or her college or unit.

Mary Schalk, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator based in Presque Isle County, nominated Rachel for her assistance in the process of hiring temporary on-call staff for the summer recreation program.

Mary said, “I am very grateful for Rachel’s professional and efficient handling of a situation that was nearing crisis mode for me. Rachel rocks!”

Congratulations, Rachel and thanks, Mary, for nominating her!

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Student Organic Farm restructures

You may be interested in knowing that university officials recently completed a restructured memorandum of understanding for the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF). This will secure the farm’s future, allowing it to continue to play an essential role, providing students a formal approach to learning about organic farming through an intensive training program.

Through outreach and extension programming, the SOF works with both urban and rural growers to provide training. It also partners with groups and individuals to create educational and research opportunities in hoophouse and greenhouse production, boost the education of dining hall consumers about local and organic food, and assist in many other areas. It reaches out to the community through the Student Organic Farm Stand and other programs.

Farm programs director Jeremy Moghtader and undergraduate engagement coordinator Laurie Thorp currently lead the SOF. They will now be joined by an outreach-engagement coordinator and a research coordinator.

The SOF Advocacy Council will help support and advise the farm, advocating for its success. In addition, a faculty, staff and student advisory group will advise the management team.

Read more here:


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Expect to Connect: Please send in your stories

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is an organization built upon relationships. With that in mind, we created the strategic connections initiative Expect to Connect. The initiative is built on the premise that every member of our MSU Extension team has responsibility for maintaining positive relationships with legislators, stakeholders and media in his or her community and throughout the state.

Following the momentum of the rollout of the initiative at Fall Extension Conference (FEC), we want to feature your strategic connections success stories in this Spotlight. We want you to tell us about the strategic connections you’ve made, relationships you’ve built and partnerships you’ve developed. We also want to know how these connections have had an impact on your work, on your programming, on the overall organization or on all three. Please send your stories to Patrick Cudney, MSU Extension associate director of operations, at, and encourage your peers to submit theirs. You don’t need to be a professional writer. We’ll help you tell your story. Just send us your story of approximately 250 words, and we can work with you from there.

To kick off the monthly Expect to Connect articles, this first introductory story will focus on the FEC workshop-on-the-move “Developing Strategic Connections” led by Mike Kovacic, MSU Extension outreach specialist. After learning about the Expect to Connect tools on the first day of FEC, participants got a chance to put their knowledge to work in downtown Lansing.

Over 25 MSU Extension staff members had an opportunity to tour the historic state Capitol and meet with lobbyists and legislators to learn more about how MSU Extension voices can be heard in state government. Nancy Vriebel and Scott Jones from Senate Appropriations Chair David Hildenbrand’s office shared insights on the importance of connecting with legislators and other stakeholders on a regular basis.

“We’re here to serve you,” Nancy Vriebel told the group. “We want to hear from you, in your words, how you are working with our constituents.”

The participants were treated to a special visit by Sen. Goeff Hansen along with his policy advisor Peter Wills who discussed key issues and the importance of citizen input as part of the overall policy process. Finally, workshop attendees connected with members of the Michigan House of Representatives to discuss individual programming efforts and the impact MSU Extension has on the lives of constituents.

Two of our colleagues talked about the experience:

“Meeting with legislators was the best part, especially the one-on-one with the representatives serving my work area,” Extension educator Jim Isleib, educator said. “Don’t be intimidated about meeting legislators. They will benefit from knowing you too.”

Extension educator Zelda Felix-Mottley said, “The representatives and senators want to hear from constituents. They are engaging and interested in what you have to say. Our legislators want to put a face to MSU Extension ‒ that’s your face with your Extension story.”

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MSU Extension staff members receive NEAFCS awards

Many of our fellow Michigan State University Extension colleagues received awards at the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) annual session Nov. 5 at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Individual awards:

Joyce McGarry won a Continued Excellence Award, which goes to an NEAFCS member of at least 12 years. It recognizes active involvement in professional improvement programs, promotion of professional development and leadership. This is the highest honor awarded to NEAFCS members. Joyce has worked for MSU Extension for 17 years, concentrating in the areas of nutrition and food safety programming. She supervises nutrition staff in seven counties and provides leadership as co-chair of the Nutrition Physical Activity Work Team in the Health and Nutrition Institute.

Gail Innis and Brenda Long both won Michigan and National Distinguished Service awards. The award is given to members of 10 years or more. It recognizes Extension family and consumer science educators for leadership, outstanding programs, and personal and professional growth. Gail began working for MSU Extension as a program associate in 1991. She describes her current position as educator in both the Children and Youth Institute and the Health and Nutrition Institute as “the best of both worlds” where she can draw on the resources of both to serve families across the lifespan. Brenda is a senior Extension educator and has been based in Ionia County since 2002. Her programming focuses on health, financial capacity and homeownership education.

Brenda also received two national awards for health insurance education, collaborating with eleven state partners. She took third place for the Florence Hall Award, which recognizes NEAFCS members who have been alert in recognizing emerging issues or new concerns and interests of families or individuals and have planned and implemented programs that benefit families or individuals. She took first place for the Marketing Package Award for an outstanding marketing package promoting a program pertinent to family and consumer sciences issues.

Lisa Treiber won a national and Michigan Clean and Healthy Families and Communities Award. The award honors outstanding educational programming efforts that utilize any of the American Cleaning Institute’s educational materials in the areas of food safety, emergency preparedness or response, safe and effective use of cleaning products, and others.

Team awards:

Teresa Clark-Jones, Gail Innis, Carolyn Penniman, Suzanne Pish and Holly Tiret took third place nationally and second place regionally and in Michigan for the Early Childhood Child Care Training Award for the “RELAX: Alternatives to Anger for Parents and Caregivers Workshop.” The award recognizes outstanding childcare professional training that addresses the needs of young children. Over 600 participants have taken this workshop throughout Michigan and in West Virginia and Texas.

Teresa Clark-Jones, Bill Hendrian, Jean Lakin, Brenda Long, Julie Moberg, Pam Sarlitto, Beth Waitrovich, Chris Venema, (all NEAFCS Members), Jim Buxton, Moses Cantu, Angela Miles Griffin, Lauren Hale, Khurram Imam, Sharon Jeffery, Scott Matteson, Vivian Washington and Rob Weber (all non-MEAFCS Members) won a national, regional and Michigan Extension Housing Outreach Award for “Michigan State University Extension Housing Programs 2013-14.” The award recognizes programming that enhances housing outreach to communities and special needs families.

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Statewide MSU Extension and ABR Issue ID survey deadline extended

As of today, approximately two-thirds of the district focus group sessions identifying community needs and issues have taken place. Participation has been high and the preliminary feedback has been very positive. There are a few focus groups still scheduled for November, but most of the remaining sessions will take place in January.

Back in August, we asked assistance from all Michigan State University Extension staff to help promote our online Issue Identification (Issue ID) Survey, which we launched in September. As you know, the survey is designed to collect input from Michigan residents 18 years and older. Like the information collected through the district focus group sessions, this input will be used to shape future MSU Extension educational programming and MSU AgBioResearch research.

Earlier this month, we released multiple language versions of the survey. It is now currently available online not only in English but also in Spanish. In addition, it’s available in hard-copy form in English, Spanish and Arabic. Originally, the survey deadline was set at Nov. 15; however, we’ve decided to extend that deadline to Jan. 31, 2016, in part, to promote the multiple language versions but also to increase input from others throughout the state as well, making sure we collect data from a broad audience.

We know you’ve done your part, because responses from the survey are continuing to come in. However, we ask that you continue to promote the survey. Some ideas to further promote the survey follow:


  • Share on Listservs: Share information about the survey with Listservs and include it in your communication. Include the link to this MSU Extension article about the survey.
  • Share with partners and friends: Identify organizations that can help MSU Extension reach target audiences who might not already be receiving information from MSU Extension. Often, partner organizations and friends are happy to help push the survey to their contacts.
  • Share the link directly to the survey when appropriate:
  • Share through your email: Add this sentence to your Outlook signature and embed the link: Take the MSU Extension and AgBioResearch Survey to Sharpen Our Focus.
  • Share through social media: Look for messages you can share on the MSU Extension Facebook and Twitter Also, please encourage partner organizations to use their social media accounts to help spread the word about the survey.
  • Share with media contacts: While Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications is pushing out information about the survey to print, digital, radio and television media, you are encouraged to share with any personal media contacts. That extra push may result in more media placements.
  • Share the Issue ID handout provided on SharePoint: You can find it located in the Survey Promotional Materials folder by going to MSUE All Staff ‒ FEC Action Teams ‒ Issues Identification Team ‒ Survey Promotional Materials.

We’ll all look forward to seeing the results of our efforts!

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