Tag Archives: president simon

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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Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most

President Lou Anna Simon provided testimony to the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee yesterday and articulated a 21st century vision of what a land-grant university – THIS land-grant university – needs to do. Our mission is still rooted very much in our service to our state, helping to prepare our residents and our institutions for the challenges and opportunities we will face in the years ahead.

 I hear President Simon quite frequently, and occasionally stakeholders will assert to me that they think Michigan State University has abandoned the land-grant mission. It’s always hard for me to hear those comments, and I respectfully disagree when people make that assertion. I’m grateful for her leadership, and now I have her testimony to refer to for those who disagree with me. I encourage you to read her testimony when you have an opportunity and to pass along what she said by sharing this link with others: http://president.msu.edu/documents/2012_House_Higher_Ed_testimony.pdf. You can find a summary and this link on President Simon’s home page as well.

 So that was nice to hear. What blew me away was a brief video that the president insisted on showing to the committee members. It’s title is MSU: Impacts Across Michigan. Sounds pretty straightforward, I know. The shock for me was the lead story – it was a testimonial from Gordon Berkenpas, CEO of Greendorr Greenhouses, Inc. of Dorr, Michigan, who told of the importance of MSU research and Extension for his business’ success. This was the president’s show, and what she chose to feature was our work. Tom Dudek, senior Extension educator, is shown in the video, and Tom was contacted by the president’s office to arrange for a stakeholder who could tell the story of our impacts in a compelling way. Tom, you succeeded! View the video: 
 What added frosting to the cake was to see that the second impact story featured Dr. Carl Taylor, professor of sociology and a resource for our youth development programs. It shouldn’t be a surprise that MSUE would be tied to stories of impacts from MSU. It’s just nice to have the recognition, and I wanted each of you to know about this as well. Tom Dudek’s work with Greendorr Greenhouses and Dr. Taylor’s work with youth are representative of all that we do to help people improve their lives across Michigan. It’s a proud day to be a member of Team MSU.


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Charging for one-on-one programming

During our September 26 Redesign webinar, we shared information about the draft policy that is being developed on cost recovery for programs in our new structure (you can advance to this section of the September 26 webinar by moving to the 31:50 time mark in the webinar). During the webinar and afterwards, colleagues have shared questions and concerns that are quite welcome and helpful as we think through this policy and design it well. One of my greatest concerns is that we apply this policy consistently throughout the organization. As with any policy, we ultimately must rely on the judgment and integrity of everyone in Michigan State University Extension to apply the policy consistently and yet remain consistent with our other values and policies as well. We are still refining the policy and communications about the policy, but I thought it might be helpful to share a perspective that I didn’t share during the webinar.

 Some see the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and some see MSUE as the stewards or safeguards of the land-grant mission at MSU. My personal opinion is that President Simon holds that responsibility, and having listened carefully to her speeches and having read her communications over the past six years, I am convinced as ever that she is not only committed to our land-grant mission, but she is its chief advocate and proponent. Still, some see changes such as our move to apply fees for repeated education and visits with individuals – whether farms, businesses, families or communities – as an erosion or even abandonment of the land-grant mission. I would argue that this policy is not about the mission. We are stewards of public investments to have access to the resources, experts, research and extension programs, that equip us to translate research into practice. This remains at the core of what we’re doing in our programs – whether we are delivering to one individual or to a group of hundreds through online programs. The issue is about applying those public investments fairly and judiciously to public needs and then applying private investments to the application of these publicly funded resources to private interest needs.

 Reflecting back a few decades, the education mission of MSU was highly subsidized by public funds. In the 1960s, the state of Michigan appropriations covered 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs. Private funds – tuition and fees – covered the other 35 percent. As public investments have weakened in the past four decades, the burden of that funding has shifted more and more to the private interest that benefits from education – the individual students. Today, tuition and fees cover 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs and public funds cover the remainder. That has been achieved through a series of increases in tuition and fees. If the Board of Trustees had not increased tuition over that time, the ability of MSU to fulfill its education mission and to deliver the quality of education expected from the state’s land-grant university would have been undermined. From the perspective of someone who paid tuition in 1965, the university seems to have moved away from its principle of remaining accessible to the children of all of Michigan’s mothers and fathers. From the perspective of someone paying tuition in 2011, the university seems to be operating like other universities, trying to balance accessibility to all with the need to ensure the integrity of the university with funds need to operate a 21st century university. And as tuition and fees have increased, MSU has become more aggressive about increasing the amount of financial aid available for those who are qualified to study at MSU, but whose resources otherwise limit them from attending.

 MSUE has faced reductions in public investments over the same period. We do not charge tuition, and we do not benefit from the university’s collection of tuition. As we look ahead, it’s not likely that we’ll see a return to higher funding levels for MSUE in the near future. Yet the costs of delivering on the Extension leg of the land-grant mission continue to increase. As stewards of the Extension mission for MSU, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are developing other funding sources so that we can fulfill our mission. There are multiple sources of funding we need to pursue, including contracts and grants from state, federal and non-government sources, gifts from donors (individuals, companies and foundations), and fees for services that serve a specific individual need. So while charging for repeated visits with a farmer or a community or a family may seem out of line with our past practices, it is not out of line with our mission. As long as we are balancing the public investment to serve public needs and expecting private investments for serving private needs, I think we are not only consistent with our mission, but we are acting responsibly to ensure the ongoing availability of our education and applied research services.

 As part of our commitment to serve all residents, we must acknowledge that there may be some individuals who do not have the resources to pay for what clearly serves a private need. In that case, we need to develop a companion policy and set of resources – perhaps resulting from gifts from donors or sponsors – to subsidize the needs of those who lack the ability to pay. Your thoughts on how to develop and implement an explicit “financial aid” policy would be welcome.

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1st MSUE cohort in human development and family studies graduates

The first cohort of Michigan State University Extension staff members to graduate together with Master of Science degrees in human development and family studies: community services attended a reception for graduates at Cowles House April 26 at the invitation of President LouAnna K. Simon. This was the first time MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) offered this degree targeted at MSUE staff. Previous participants in this online degree program from MSUE completed as individual students without the benefit of the cohort experience.

 As a cohort, the women started as a group and finished together, connecting during the learning process through face-to-face and online meetings, and phone conferences.

 Said Extension educator Becky Henne, “I truly enjoyed the experience that much more because of the cohort design.”

 The group made the commitment to work hard to get their master’s degrees while working full time, and they did it in an area that will have great benefit to MSUE and the Children and Youth Institute. I’m told they did some pretty incredible work for their capstone projects that will bring great benefits back to our organization.

 The group included eight members: Laura Anderson, Kristina Bowers (former MSUE student intern), Andrea Caron, Eileen Haraminac, Becky Henne, Gail Innis, Lisa Myers and Michelle Warczinsky.

MSUE cohort graduates with Dr. Simon

MSUE first cohort members attend reception at Cowles House with President Simon. (Left to right) Shelly Warczinsky, Lisa Myers, Becky Henne, Eileen Haraminac, Dr. Simon, Andrea Caron, Laura Anderson and Gail Innis.

 This online degree was an important collaboration between the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and MSUE. Dr. Barbara Ames directs all of the graduate majors within that department. Many faculty members within HDFS contributed to this major. Retired Extension specialist and professor Joanne Keith and Health and Nutrition Institute director Dawn Contreras, whose overall role was advisor to the cohort, also taught courses.

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Land-grant leadership in the 21st century

At an early stage in our Michigan State University Extension redesign process, I had the opportunity to ask President Simon to share her vision for what our change process should achieve. She told me that she expected to create a model for Cooperative Extension that is relevant to and addresses the needs of Michigan in the 21st century. That vision has been at the center of my thoughts as we have gone through this process. That she chose the word “create” has been especially significant for me. To create suggests that we really are making something new and not just adjusting what we’ve been. It’s a more radical concept of change and suggests that we’re doing much more than “moving the chairs around on the deck (of a sinking ship).” It also calls for a new culture in MSUE, refocusing us on program delivery in ways that we would adopt if we were just creating Extension in today’s times with today’s technologies and today’s understanding of organizations.

 Just as the clients our Product Center innovation counselors serve are going through the start-up phases of their enterprises, we in MSUE are going through the startup phase of an enterprise. The main difference is that ours is an enterprise with many years of experience and insight and achievement that can inform our change process. But we really are feeling many of the uncertainties and anxieties that go along with an individual or team going through the process of creating a new business, farming operation, community organization or family.

 I heard a somewhat similar perspective on our role in the 21st century at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) meeting in Dallas, Texas, this week. Dr. Gordon Gee, president of The Ohio State University (twice), and former president of other land-grant and private universities, spoke about the role of land-grant universities in the 21st century. The motivation for his address was the fact that in 2012, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passage and signing of the Morrill Act that engaged the federal government in the experiment that pioneers in Michigan had begun seven years earlier. President Gee spoke to the importance of access for all and economic development at the farm and business level in the case that was made for creating land-grant colleges and universities in 1862. Like President Simon, he pointed out that those needs are still great in our communities, our nation and the world, and he challenged the U.S. to recommit itself to this great land-grant university experiment into the future. He called for legislation that would reenact the original Morrill Act. What a provocative idea! Although the words he used are slightly different from President Simon’s, President Gee’s intent was clearly in the direction of creating the land grants anew, rather than simply perpetuating them as they were at their outset. A recommitment should accomplish more than perpetuating. It should achieve a new model for access to university resources and should address the big economic opportunities of our times.

 At another session at APLU, our own Dr. Rick Foster, Greening Michigan Institute director, was asked what land-grant universities need most in order to address the most challenging aspects of America’s economic revitalization. His answer was not what audience members expected. He said that the singular most important asset for a university was to have a president who could articulate and lead towards a vision that propels land-grant universities to create new economic opportunities and enhance the quality of life. Some of those visions will take decades to achieve. But if other land-grant universities have leaders like MSU and OSU, I think we can all succeed in creating something new that will have lasting impacts on the people we serve across the nation.


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FEC10 by the numbers

What do you get when you mix –

  • 22 hosts
  • 120 presenters
  • 33 calls to the library help desk
  • 123 teaching hours
  • 334 people simultaneously online
  • nearly 600 total participants
  • 3834 person hours of education
  • 4294 visits to a Facebook page (last week alone!)?

 That would be Fall Extension Conference 2010 (FEC10), our first major online conference. Not long following fall Extension conference 2009, we began discussing the possibility of an online conference for 2010. Consensus was that we should give it a try, though I’m not sure we knew what we were asking for at the time. We had a great experience last week and want to thank all those who helped make it possible – and that’s all of you!

Michigan State University Extension is leading the way by creating a model for the virtual conference. We’ve been given support and encouragement from Dean Armstrong, Provost Wilcox and President Simon. In fact, Dean Armstrong was moved to adopt Adobe Connect for an important meeting he is holding with the CANR College Advisory Committee tomorrow regarding college restructuring.

 If you’d like to go back and view a session that you missed – and that’s one of the positive aspects of having a virtual conference, go to http://fec.msue.msu.edu/fec/proceedings. Scroll through and click on the presentation of your choice.

 We are conducting a comprehensive evaluation of FEC10, and you can participate by completing the survey available at http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22BCNAP3KY5. Your feedback will be key not only to future conferences here in Michigan, but to the Extension system as we intend to share what we’ve learned with other Extension professionals across the nation. Please take the time to give us your thoughtful feedback. And I’ll share some of what we learn with you through Spotlight and other outlets.

 The Facebook discussion is ongoing, too, with a couple new questions on technology and FEC 2011 for your input. Please continue to visit there. Meanwhile, if you didn’t take the opportunity to evaluate any of the concurrent sessions you participated in, there’s still time. Please visit the FEC Sessions Survey to provide this important feedback.

 See you next year at Kellogg Center, October 11–13, for FEC 2011!

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