Category Archives: Impacts

Rich connections in District 14 affect students throughout the state

We asked Brandon Schroeder, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Sea Grant educator, to share with us about a strategic connection he has made that has strengthened his impact. Brandon’s current programming efforts involve fisheries science, biodiversity conservation, sustainable coastal tourism and Great Lakes education: working with coastal communities in northeastern Michigan to apply science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes issues locally.

“I value my Extension role in making connections and building relationships, and believe it’s an important role we play in our communities,” Brandon said.

Our questions and Brandon’s answers follow:

Will you tell us about a strategic connection you’ve made?

One successful educational partnership I’d like to highlight is with the statewide Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) and our leadership for the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network. These relationships reflect rich connections made between schools and educators across northeastern Michigan – and the entire state – as well as fostering greater school-community partnerships. This place-based stewardship education initiative seeks to engage youth, through their learning, in environmental stewardship projects that make a difference in the community – and so youth also are connected as community partners.

How did you go about making the connection and building relationships?

  • Seeking organizational partners, building personal relationships: Early on, we identified an opportunity (with funding) to partner with the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and an emerging statewide GLSI network. With this in mind, we sought out and met regularly to recruit potential school and community partners who had mutual interests in connecting Great Lakes and natural resource stewardship with school learning opportunities.
  • Networking in regional meetings to foster relationships: In 2006, collaborating with 4-H colleagues, we hosted and facilitated the first of many regional networking meetings inviting school and community partners who had much to contribute and to gain in this Great Lakes and natural resource education conversation. This was an educational workshop also designed to serve a networking function by facilitating relationship-building and resource sharing among schools and partners. Conversations sparked during our first regional networking meeting, now an annual tradition, became the foundation for the NEMIGLSI partnership.
  • Facilitating an engaged leadership team: A regional leadership team for the NEMIGLSI was established and helped launched the initiative. This regional team still meets regularly to coordinate our educational efforts, provide shared leadership in implementing activities and collaborate around new opportunities (and securing new resources) for our growing NEMIGLSI network. Our leadership team is more than an advisory group; they are active contributors and beneficiaries in this joint programming.
  • Sharing investment, sharing successes: Leadership team partner organizations – community, school and teacher advisors – contribute significant time, expertise and resources toward NEMIGLSI network goals. In trade, we work to ensure that network programming and successes align with their own goals and educational initiatives.

What has been the outcome of this connection and how has it influenced your work and your district?

Our NEMIGLSI network and partnership is successfully fostering a growing place-based education culture in northeastern Michigan. Since 2009, more than 19,000 students (around 20 percent of student population annually) have engaged as Great Lakes stewards and valued community leaders through NEMIGLSI. This initiative has supported more than 35 schools (290 educators) from eight counties in professional development, community partners connections and stewardship project support. Numerous NEMIGLSI student projects have directly benefited Sea Grant and partner priorities helping to conserve Lake Huron’s biodiversity, map threatened and endangered species habitat, restore native fisheries, monitor water quality and vernal pool wetlands, manage invasive species, enhance aquatic habitat, investigate marine debris and more. A published program evaluation found that students value their learning experiences as hands-on and engaging, community connected, career oriented and fun. Perhaps most exciting is that students are serving as valued community and conservation partners today – and perhaps even more in their future!

Schroeder stands in the pond with three boys and is explaining the monitoring device in the water.

Schroeder engages students in wetland ecology: invasive phragmites monitoring.

Schroeder and a boy and a girl hold up a large net to do fisheries sampling.

Schroeder fisheries sampling with students during 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp

What have you learned (personally or professionally) from this connection?

  • Embrace the power in partnerships! We can all cover more ground more efficiently and effectively, and achieve deeper, richer impacts as a result of collaborative programming. Relationships and connections (or partnerships) are both organizational AND personal. They demand significant time, energy and a bit of patience to foster, and require ongoing attention, commitment and care.
  • Relationships and partner connections are equally important to our science or technical content expertise, and the educational processes and methods we use to deliver this content in communities.
  • In Extension, I have found the most vibrant and exciting projects to be at the intersections of stakeholders and opportunities that wouldn’t normally (or as regularly) cross paths. For example, connecting schools, educators and youth with Great Lakes scientists or community development partners. Many times I find that community expertise, ideas and resources abound once we have simply helped open a door for networking and relationship-building.

Thanks again to Brandon for taking time to share with us about his strategic connections. One of our great strengths in Extension is our ability to bring people, organizations and resources together to make a profound impact on our state. Each month, I’ve shared a story from each district highlighting strategic connections our colleagues have made in hopes that it will inspire all of us to reach out.

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Filed under 4-H, Conservation, Impacts, Invasive species, Partnerships, Sea Grant Extension, strategic connections

MSU Extension team responds to help families with farm stress

A person with a hat sits in a field with a combine in the background.

About a year ago, commodity prices fell, especially affecting dairy farmers. Michigan saw a rise in attempted suicides among farmers and farm families. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension responded by forming the Farm Stress team, made up of Suzanne Pish, Adam Kantrovich, Roger Betz, Tom Cummins and Beth Stuever, to create resources for educators and others who work with farmers and their families.

The team, with the assistance of ANR Communications and Marketing, put together a fact sheet and video for farmers and farm families so that our staff could have access to resources they could use in their programming and interaction. The team also put together two programs to help Extension educators and others who work with farmers and farm families. The first was a mental health first-aid training: a full-day, hands-on, certification course that can help those people working with farmers and farm families to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and emotional crisis. The second was a workshop designed for people who work with agriculture producers and farm families who want to know more about managing farm-related stress and ways to approach and communicate with those in need.

The team and the resources that they have produced are an example of how important it is that we work across institute or department lines, and that we mobilize to meet immediate needs of Michigan residents. We have our traditional programs that provide ongoing, stable service to our constituents, but we also can function in an emergency response role, just like we did in our response to the Flint water emergency.

Do you work with farmers, farm families or both? Do you have connections who do? You might want to take some time to watch the video about stress management for farmers and take a look at the other resources on our MSU Extension webpage devoted to farm stress. If you have any questions about the resources or the team’s work, feel free to reach out to Suzanne Pish.

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, health, Impacts, Resources, Social and emotional health

Is this seat open? Going where the relationships are in District 13

Zelda Felix-Mottley and state Sen. Al Psholka posing for a photo.

Zelda Felix-Mottley and Mr. Al Pscholka, budget director for the State of Michigan.

Where can you cross paths with decision-makers? Michigan State University Extension educator Zelda Felix-Mottley’s advice is to “go where they go and mingle.” In other words, go where the relationships are. What does that look like? We asked Zelda to share her stories on what that meant for her strategic connections.

Zelda teaches nutrition education to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) audiences and also provides Smarter Lunchroom and Healthier Child Care Environments trainings. Where are her U.S. and state representatives, commissioners and other decision-makers going? To the county Human Services Coordinating Council meetings. So Zelda began to attend as well, each time highlighting her program area and highlighting other Extension program areas too.

It wasn’t just her presentations that built relationships though. Zelda began to sit next to the decision-maker she wanted to connect with. Sitting next to them allowed her to make small talk, learn about their interests and be able to talk about hers (Extension). After a few years of sitting next to Al Pscholka (budget director for the State of Michigan, formerly a state representative and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), she invited him to the local Extension office, and he visited. Becoming an Extension ally, Al advocated for Extension services and agricultural research during the 2014 budget development process, making sure that funding was strengthened for our organization. We gave him a Key Partner Award in gratitude for taking a stand for us.

Who else has Zelda sat next to? State Sen. John Proos, who visited the local Extension office and helped Zelda with a presentation to Health and Nutrition Institute staff members about successfully reaching elected officials. Also, she has sat next to county commissioners, who have now become advocates in their county meetings and to other county departments, helping to advocate for funding and partnerships.

State Sen. John Proof poses for a picture with Extension staff in the kitchen at the Berrien County office.

State Sen. John Proos visits the Berrien office to meet with the Nutrition and Physical Activity Extension staff members.

We can learn so much from Zelda’s approach to strategic connections.

“Be patient, it can’t be done all at one time,” Zelda said. “You have to be intentional: start small.”

It can be as simple as going where the relationships are and taking the empty seat next to them.

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Filed under Health and Nutrition, Impacts, strategic connections

How one person leads to another: Strategic connections in District 1

Erin Carter is a Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator with the Extension Health Research (EHR) and Disease Prevention and Management (DPM) teams. She’s been with us since 2015 and serves our MSU Extension District 1. As part of the DPM aspect of her position, she offers programming in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, Dining with Diabetes, Matter of Balance, Personal Action Toward Health (PATH) and Diabetes PATH. She works with an Ishpeming 5th grade class to offer the SPartners physical activity and nutrition program.

Headshot of Erin Carter, MSU Extension health and nutrition educator in District 1.

Erin Carter, MSU Extension health and nutrition educator in District 1.

The goal of the recently formed EHR team is to serve as a model to promote partnerships nationwide between Extension and university academic faculty to advance health in all our communities. EHR offers “Are You Research Ready?” to train Extension educators to use their health programs, expertise and community connections to work closely with the MSU College of Human Medicine researchers. The team also offers “Speed Meetings” to inform statewide faculty about Extension programming so they may use our programming, our connections or both in their research.

When making strategic connections, Erin told us that she’s not quiet for long.

“When I feel strongly about something I only sit back when forced to do so. With this being said, I talk about Extension a lot, which opens doors to things I didn’t know existed or something I could be involved in,” Erin said. “It’s interesting how one person leads to another and with each relationship, positive things began to happen.”

Erin made an important connection when a person who works in health with the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians approached her. He asked her to help him form a coalition at the K. I. Sawyer community.

Once a pristine U.S. Air Force base, K. I. Sawyer, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, turned rural Gwinn into a bustling small city starting in 1955. This all changed after the Base Realignment Commission of the federal government decided to close K. I. Sawyer in 1993. Upheaval of the Air Force base left behind miles of land. Air force properties sold to private individuals, companies and the Sault Tribe mostly for $1 per property. Some of the housing is vacant, but other homes are inhabited by families and individuals, many of whom cannot afford to live elsewhere.

Eighty-seven percent of students in the K. I. Sawyer School are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch. The community within K. I. Sawyer, Lake Superior Village, reports numbers of 100 percent free and reduced-lunch status. In this small section of K. I. Sawyer, the former community center has opened its doors to serve these families with volunteers within the neighboring counties. Donations have been the only means of providing services for an after-school and summer program, which offers healthy snacks.

The residents of Lake Superior Village do not have access to health care. The closest hospital is a 30-minute drive for individuals having the luxury of owning a car.

If employed, individuals usually work in service jobs earning minimum wage or just above minimum wage. Since these jobs are primarily in Marquette, workers must take public transit or drive personal cars requiring more cost and hardship.

“It only took me one visit to know this partnership was important and could do some great things in a community of need,” Erin said. “The social determinants of health talks about the importance of healthy communities and how unsafe or unhealthy communities affect everyone. If there are no programs for this community, what will happen to the outlying communities? It takes committed people willing to take the time to see the needs and begin to help the people of a community left behind.”

The coalition came together with representatives from the Sault Tribe, the YMCA of Marquette and MSU Extension. They teamed together with other local partners to offer programming in healthy food preparation, physical activity, diabetes prevention and gardening.

Erin sent us some amazing updates of the coalition’s progress:

  • A kickoff dinner brought the K. I. Sawyer Coalition idea to community leaders, police departments, city planners, early education specialists, garden experts, K. I. Sawyer community building employees, local papers and media, Marquette city professionals and community residents.
  • A new community center kitchen that will offer cooking demos and serve more people healthy food is in the blueprints stage.
  • The basketball courts are being repaved, and the MSU Extension Marquette County 4-H group is working to improve the baseball fields.
  • An abandoned hoop house at the school will be moved to make room for a garden.
  • Buses from the school will transport community residents to the events at the community center.
  • Volunteers from all over Marquette County will start a butterfly garden this summer.
  • Partnering with the Sault Tribe has increased MSU Extension programming participant numbers in the area three-fold.
  • Northern Michigan University students collaborate with us in the schools to bring healthy changes to the school’s students by encouraging physical activity.

Paul Putnam, MSU Extension District 1 coordinator, shared the results of Erin’s work.

“Erin has helped to expand our relationships and partnerships with her joint position, and has community connections in both the Houghton/Hancock and the Marquette areas,” he said. “She along with several other strong community partners are making significant impacts in a relatively short period of time.”

Erin said, “Being one of the core people to start the K. I. Sawyer coalition has made me realize how getting a few caring people together can really move a community forward. I’m fortunate I get an opportunity to see the impact a few projects can make to brighten a community and offer another type of value to people’s lives. Sometimes it feels like reaching out to make a connection takes too much time out of our schedules and remembering the value is difficult, but when this time is taken, it can really make a difference.”

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Filed under 4-H, Accomplishments, Children and Youth, Economic development, Greening Michigan, Health and Nutrition, Housing, Impacts, Native Americans, Nutrition, Partnerships, strategic connections, Uncategorized

MSU Extension continues to meet Flint needs

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is providing adaptable programming to meet the specific and urgent needs of the people of Flint. Through cooking demonstrations and instruction from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ‒ Education (SNAP-Ed) on purchasing and preparing healthy foods, we have been disseminating nutrition information to help block lead absorption. Through our Master Gardeners and edible flint, we’ve taught about growing healthy food in lead-contaminated soils and water. Through the 4-H dog, rabbit and cavy clubs, we’ve led discussions in caring for animals exposed to lead. Through early childhood development education, we’ve identified the importance of using play to combat lead effects. We have also developed the Fight Lead Exposure site to provide important resources and information to the people of Flint and the state at large.

We have been facilitating partnerships with those wanting to pitch in and help. We appreciate the resource donations from the Michigan Milk Producers and the Michigan Vegetable Growers. We are also grateful to MSU Athletics and MSU students, faculty and alumni that have donated their time volunteering. The Food Bank Council of Michigan and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan have been an essential partner in our efforts.

Why does Extension have such an important role to play? We have been serving the people of Flint since 1913 and have built an essential level of trust. MSU Extension has strong partnerships with county government, health and nutrition, agriculture, 4-H and early childhood development, which makes us a presence that can adapt to specific and urgent needs in the community. Not just in Flint, but across Michigan.

Now, more than ever, MSU Extension is in the state and national spotlight. For example, everyone who received the email invitation to the Democratic Debate on Sunday, March 6, received the MSU Extension “Fight Lead With Nutrition” handout attached by the Democratic National Committee Debate Team. Our work was recognized by the national debate team putting the event together. The effects and range of our outreach are growing. Remember that it is important that each link in our organization be strong and ready to respond to the next crisis or need in our communities.

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Filed under 4-H, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Children and Youth, communication, Flint Water, Food, Health and Nutrition, Impacts, Nutrition, Partnerships

MSU Extension featured on AgDay TV show

Recently two video stories produced by ANR Communications, “4-H Volunteer Rain Garden” and “Horse Tales Literacy Project,” have aired on AgDay.

The nationwide news show airs locally on WSYM Fox 47 and also on RFD TV on Dish and Direct TV satellite services. It covers the latest on agriculture, including agribusiness news, farm equipment reports, harvest tips, marketing analysis, weather and more.

“Horse Tales Literacy Project” was produced by student intern Victoria VanDerZiel, and “4-H Volunteer Rain Garden” was produced by television producer Kraig Ehm.

You can watch the full news segments online at: http://www.agweb.com/agday/. The rain garden story on June 19, and the literacy project story aired on June 25. Great work by everyone involved!

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Filed under Impacts

Partnership with the Molina Foundation builds literacy in Michigan

For the past few years, the Molina Foundation and Michigan State University Extension have been working to place books in the hands of children living in low-income situations and enhance literacy levels of Michigan’s children. Since 2011, the Molina Foundation has donated and MSU Extension has distributed about 250,000 books to Michigan children.

This past summer, MSU Extension educators and program coordinators received 30,000 new children’s books to give to Michigan children. They handed out the books at community events, elementary school open houses, Project FRESH, outreach programs for children in migrant camps, county fairs, Operation: Military Kids events, summer camps and more, reaching thousands of children with the gift of free books.

This type of program gives children access to age-appropriate books that they otherwise may not have had.

One MSU Extension staff member said, “Many of the individuals who received the books were quite emotional when told the books were theirs to keep and they were free. That had never happened for them before. And more than a few little ones said they never had a storybook before and couldn’t wait to start reading. They obviously had a love for books, just hadn’t had too many opportunities to hold one.”

MSU Extension staff members who provided leadership for this effort include Jodi Schulz, Bay County educator; Jodi Wrzesinski, Bay County 4-H program coordinator; Theresa Silm, Clinton County educator; and Carrie Shrier, Livingston County educator.

The Molina Foundation received a key partner award at Fall Extension Conference this year for its continued work with MSU Extension and dedication to improving literacy in Michigan.

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Filed under Children and Youth, Impacts