Author Archives: tomcoon

A few farewells

We started the Michigan State University Extension Spotlight in 2007 as a way of calling attention to the many achievements of MSU Extension faculty, academic staff, support staff, retirees and volunteers. It has served as a vehicle for sharing reflections on the work we do and the world we serve as well. I thought it would be fitting to provide a few reflections from associate director Steve Lovejoy and from me in this final edition of MSUE Spotlight.

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Go right through…

The commencement season has come to an end for this year. It is such a rich and rewarding time of year, with spring bursting around us, families gathering to celebrate milestones, students conducting the end of semester frenzy through final exams ‒ followed by a brief respite before whatever is next ‒ and faculty extending that frenzy through the finals grading period, taking a break, and then jumping into whatever research, teaching or Extension activities they have planned for summer months.

I feel like I’m going through my own little commencement as well. I have been blessed to fulfill my career at Michigan State University. I have had the opportunity to explore my research interests in aquatic and fisheries ecology, to apply the mutual crafts of teaching and learning, and to practice leadership in a variety of roles. And I have had some tremendous colleagues and mentors along the way.

My final weeks at MSU have had their own frenzy, with routine tasks and meetings that accompany the end of a fiscal year accompanied by my personal set of “finals”: farewells, receptions, last lunches and many warm partings.

And as with any commencement, this one merits a commencement address. Fortunately, no one has to sit through hearing me deliver a commencement address, and I’m not even writing something original. I attended the Commencement ceremony for MSU’s James Madison College in May, and celebrated the graduation of our oldest son, Robbie (with honors). The James Madison faculty members and alumni have a knack for speaking, and found a way to fill a 150-minute commencement ceremony for 300 graduates. By comparison, the College of Social Science ceremony earlier that day took the same amount of time for more than 1,400 graduates to process across the podium.

Among the speeches delivered at the James Madison ceremony, I was particularly taken by the charge given by Dean Sherman Garnett. Many James Madison graduates go on to carry out careers in public service, either as diplomats, policy experts, elected officials or staff for governmental offices and officials. In that context, the dean reminded the graduates that their work was important and that as public servants, they had a responsibility to work as hard for the people they serve as they worked to complete their degrees in James Madison. The volume of reading, the depth of inquiry and the insistence on sound reasoning and writing is a hallmark of the James Madison curriculum. They set a high bar for their students. And the dean made it clear that the faculty expect the graduates to continue to work at that high level in their professional pursuits.

His message came home for me in the following statement:

“No success – no matter how great – relieves you of the obligation to do more. No failure or shortcoming prevents you from turning a page and recording a fresh start or an act of redemption.”

That statement captures the essence of what I have learned in my time at MSU. We serve the people of Michigan, and beyond that, the people of the United States and the world. This institution was founded on the principle that sound, scientific research and rigorous reasoning could help people to change the world, whether in their personal lives, or in their businesses, on their farms, in their homes and in their communities. And the fulfillment of that proposition rests in the hard work of all of us. Our work is never done. It is never good enough. There is always more to do and always a better way to do it.

That sense of obligation and commitment to hard work is infused in the spirit of this place. It is evident on the brow of President Hannah’s statue in front of the administration building that bears his name. It is evident in the determined cadence of President Simon’s speeches and her forthright gait. It is evident in the thinning hair on basketball coach Tom Izzo’s head. It is evident in the way the workers who clear our parking lots of snow early on winter mornings maneuver their plows around obstacles. It is evident in the laboratories lit late at night as a graduate student checks on a critical experiment. It is evident in the professor who takes an extra few hours out of her weekend to grade papers, review a manuscript for a colleague and finish off a grant proposal. It is evident in the freshman student who shows up for that morning class 10 minutes early in hopes of getting a chance to ask his professor some questions about his previous lecture. It is evident in the secretary who takes the time to track down the answer for an anxious parent or an impatient administrator.

MSU has some very smart people who work here, and I’ve been fortunate to work with so many and to learn from them. MSU also has many very hard-working people, and I’ve been fortunate to be inspired by them every day since I arrived in July 1989. It is that hard-working dedication that I value most about my Spartan experience. It is the notion that it is our obligation to work hard that matters most. That’s the commencement address I needed to hear.

Spartans will.


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Thanks to all who ‘SERVed’

Thanks to all of you who helped promote our Michigan State University Extension professional development by giving SERV (Sharing Extension Resources Virtually) presentations on May 29 and June 5. Thanks also to those who took the time out to participate in the sessions. If you weren’t able to attend the live sessions, I encourage you to visit at this link:

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MSU prof inducted into Michigan Golf Hall of Fame

Dr. Paul Rieke was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, on June 8. He was honored for his service to the golf industry through his teaching, research and extension activities while at Michigan State University.

Paul is the father of Phil Rieke, information technologist in Agriculture and Natural Resources Technology Services.

“He spent a lot of time helping people around the state in the turf industry and made many friends in the process, including former MSU turf program students,” said Phil about his dad.

Dr. Rieke is an MSU professor emeritus whose work included an Extension appointment. He was affiliated with MSU since 1960 and served six years as leader of the MSU Turfgrass Team. He helped develop the MSU Hancock Turfgrass Research Center and was involved in the indoor turfgrass project at the Silverdome for the 1994 World Cup. He’s generally regarded throughout the nation and the world as the authority on turfgrass soils and nutrition.

You can read more about Dr. Rieke’s many accomplishments as well as about the ceremony and the others inducted that day on this Professional Golf Association Web page:

By the way, another of the inductees, Becky Iverson, is an MSU graduate.

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Healthier meetings lead to a healthier workplace

Meetings are a necessary part of our workday. We often talk about making our meetings more productive and less time-consuming, but have we ever thought about making our meetings healthier? Our Michigan State University Extension Health and Nutrition Institute is working on that.

MSU Extension educator Dawn Earnesty has been recently trained as a Work@Health certified trainer through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. Dawn is piloting the CDC’s new comprehensive program that uses the CDC health scorecard to assess the health of a worksite. The scorecard includes 125 questions focused on health topics such as organizational supports, tobacco control, nutrition, physical activity, weight management and stress management. Based on a business’s scorecard results, Dawn works with health committee members made up of its employees, training them to work with leadership to make healthy program, policy and environmental changes within the worksite. Through the CDC program, Dawn will be engaging five local businesses to become trained in September. She’ll work with additional businesses in the future.

One way to improve overall worksite health is to improve the health of our meetings – both at internal and external sites. We spend nearly half of our waking hours at work with many of those hours spent in meetings and conferences. By adopting healthy meeting guidelines, MSU Extension can help to create an environment that supports employees’ and stakeholders’ efforts to eat well and be physically active.

The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) in the Center for Science in the Public Interest provided recommendations to improve the health of in-person and virtual meetings. The guidelines include general recommendations and specifics related to beverages, food, physical activity and sustainability as well as tobacco-free guidelines. They also include recommendations for a standard healthy meeting or a superior healthy meeting. Meeting hosts can make gradual improvements to reach the higher standard.

NANA provided the Healthy Meeting Toolkit that you can also share with partners that may host meetings. Organizations, institutions and companies have the opportunity to take the NANA Healthy Meeting Pledge to adopt healthy meeting practices through the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Having healthy meetings, conferences and events helps to create an environment that supports employees and members in their efforts to eat well and be physically active. As we make gradual changes as an organization, in the future we can look at the opportunity of taking the pledge ourselves.

In the meantime, let’s watch for opportunities to incorporate these healthy practices in our meetings. It’s a great model for us to recognize that when we’re doing educational programming, we’re telling others what they should do and how they should do it. Yet, if we’re not demonstrating the same good practices that we’re suggesting others follow, it cuts into our credibility with them. Let’s look for those occasions not only with our dietary choices but also with programming in physical activities that make for a healthy lifestyle.

If you know of a business that’s interested in a healthier worksite or just want to know more about promoting healthier worksites, contact Dawn at

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Teams work together to attain ACE awards, present at conference

Many of our Michigan State University Extension colleagues will attend the Association of Communication Excellence (ACE) Conference in Portland, Oregon, June 24-27. And once again, many will be presented with ACE awards they have received.

A team from Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications and ANR Technology Services received a silver award in the website category for our own MSU Extension website. Winners include Dennis Bond, Sean Corp, Michelle Lavra and Beth Stuever.

A silver award for a marketing communications campaign went to a team who worked together on the Smart Gardening Initiative. The team included Joy Landis, Mallory Fournier, Rebecca Finneran and Mary Wilson. The recipients developed a process for the Consumer Horticulture team to market Smart Gardening advice and expertise to reach a large number of Michigan gardeners. Additional staff who lend their expertise, time and effort to Smart Gardening include MSU Extension educators Bob Bricault, Diane Brown, Hal Hudson, Rebecca Krans and Gretchen Voyle. Entomology Professor Dave Smitley has also helped build the basis for the initiative.

A bronze award for a marketing communications campaign with a budget of $1,000 or more went to the team of Sean Corp, Katie Gervasi, Mariah Montenegro, Mindy Pratt, Paula Sheynerman and Beth Stuever, all of ANR Communications. The team won for “Extending the Reach of Michigan State University Extension.”

Congratulations to all winners!

In addition, a team from ANR Communications will be presenting at the conference. Sean Corp, Katie Gervasi, Mindy Pratt, Paula Sheynerman and Beth Stuever will present “Promoting Extension: They Come for the News: They Stay for the Programming” Wednesday, June 25 at 4:15 p.m.

Also, the Smart Gardening team of Joy Landis, Mallory Fournier, Rebecca Finneran and Mary Wilson will present “How a Message Campaign Produced a Team to Deliver Smart Gardening to a Smart Audience” Wednesday, June 25 at 11 a.m.

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MSU Extension staff member is CANR Staffer of the Month

Rebecca (“Becky”) Hulbert, Michigan State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications administrative assistant, has received the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Staff Advisory Committee June 2014 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.

Communications manager in ANR Communications Michelle Lavra nominated Becky for, among other things, her willingness to jump in and help, taking on both big and small tasks in stride.

Congratulations to Becky and thanks to Michelle for nominating her.

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A Full Heart

Michigan State Spartan pie created by the Grand Traverse Pie Company

Michigan State Spartan pie created by the Grand Traverse Pie Company

My time at Michigan State University is nearing an end, and nothing made that clearer than the wonderful reception held for Rhonda Coon and me at the MSU Livestock Pavilion yesterday. Our hearts are full of gratitude – for the event and the many people who worked to make it special (see the enormous pies made for the occasion by Grand Traverse Pie Company), for the many messages we’ve received, for the opportunities we have had at MSU over the years, and for the many, many friends we have here. It’s hard to say anything more profound than that our hearts are full.

Oklahoma State Pistol Pete pie created by the Grand Traverse Pie Company

Oklahoma State Pistol Pete pie created by the Grand Traverse Pie Company

As a fisheries scientist, I’ve worked with a lot of different pumps over the years – in the lab, stream-side or lake-side. One of the first things you need to know about getting a pump to work is that you have to prime the pump, which means you have to get liquid into the pump chamber before it can do its job. The human heart is a pump and it needs to be primed as well. In fact, as a pump run by muscle tissues, it not only needs fluid in the chamber to be able to do its job, but it also needs to be filled so full that it stretches in order to trigger the muscle contractions that will cause the chamber to constrict and move the blood forward.

So a full heart is the starting point to getting work done. And with the fullness our hearts have from the life experiences we’ve had at MSU and from the many farewell greetings we’ve been given, there’s a lot of work we can do as we make our move to Oklahoma.

I’m not done here. I’ll be working for MSU through my last day on June 27, before I leave for a week’s vacation. You’ll still hear from me on Thursdays through MSU Extension Spotlight, and you’ll still hear from me on next Monday’s MSU Extension Update Webinar. Steve Lovejoy and I will still represent the MSUE Director’s Office in all official capacities through that date. I appreciate the opportunity to see and hear from so many of my colleagues during these final few weeks of my time at MSU. It fills and stretches my heart. Thank you for that.

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Michigan House adopts centennial resolution

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, May 8 marked the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service (and with it, the Michigan Cooperative Extension Service, now known as Michigan State University Extension).

Last Thursday, the Michigan Senate adopted Senate Resolution 143, recognizing the significance of the Smith-Lever Act to the establishment of Cooperative Extension nationwide and encouraging people to observe and celebrate the centennial with a focus on launching an innovative and sustainable future for Cooperative Extension. Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker was the lead sponsor of the resolution in the Michigan Senate.

Rep. Roger Victory was the lead sponsor on a similar resolution in the House of Representatives, House Resolution 362, which House members voted to adopt on Tuesday. Co-sponsors included Reps. Terry L. Brown, Gretchen Driskell, Martin Howrylak, Eileen Kowall and Bill LaVoy.

Thanks to all in both the Senate and the House who contributed to getting these resolutions passed.

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What does MSU Extension mean to you?

For 100 years, Michigan State University Extension has been focusing on delivering programs to help people improve their lives. We help families, farms, communities and businesses ‒ each made up of individuals. And each individual has a unique story to tell about what MSU Extension has meant to him or her.

During this centennial year, Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications is producing videos that highlight these individual stories. The series is titled “What Does MSU Extension Mean to You?” The first one features MSU student Danielle Bott who talks about her 4-H experience. You can watch it here:

Watch for subsequent postings on Facebook and YouTube.

Thanks to Danielle for sharing her story. Thanks also to ANR Communications social media manager Paula Sheynerman who is producing the videos.

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