Tag Archives: university of delaware

Taking on the #icebucketchallenge

Last week, Michelle Rodgers, the associate dean and director of Extension for the University of Delaware, nominated Patrick Cudney and me for the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) awareness. Before working with the University of Delaware, Michelle spent five years as associate director with us at Michigan State University Extension.

For those of you who don’t know, the Ice Bucket Challenge is an opportunity for individuals to raise money and awareness for ALS. The challenge is to dump an entire bucket of ice water on your head, nominate two to three additional individuals to do the same and then post the video on social media sites. The challenge was a great opportunity for us to get involved, and bring more awareness to the disease. We were excited to not only “take the plunge” in icy water but also make our contributions to this worthy organization.

I challenged Tom Coon, vice president, dean and director at Oklahoma State University (and previous director of MSU Extension), and Doug Buhler, director of MSU AgBioResearch, to take on the challenge next. Patrick challenged Ray Hammerschmidt, interim associate director of MSU Extension, and George Smith, associate director of MSU AgBioResearch. I am excited to see the future challenges!

Take a look at our Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS here:

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Working Differently in Extension – the rest of the story

In a recent Spotlight article, we lauded the Michigan State University Extension Consumer Horticulture Team as they received the Working Differently in Extension Award Oct. 2 at the National eXtension Conference in Oklahoma City. Read more about it here on the eXtension website.

I was thrilled – but not surprised – to see Michelle Rodgers receive a Working Differently in Extension Award. Michelle was recognized for her work in leading our I-team at MSUE as well as her leadership at the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. She was the first individual winner of the award. Read more about Michelle winning the award here on the eXtension website.

Michelle may be gone, but she’s not forgotten, and we STILL appreciate the leadership she gave us while at MSUE. And we STILL miss her!

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Farewell to a model Extension professional

Nearly five years ago, we were in the midst of a search process to hire the second of two associate directors for Michigan State University ExtensionDr. Steve Lovejoy had joined us from Purdue in 2006 as Associate Director for Programs and in 2007, our search for an Associate Director for Operations yielded an opportunity to hire a seasoned Extension professional from Penn State, Dr. Michelle Rodgers.  Over the past five years, I have been fortunate to work side-by-side with both of these colleagues as we sought to position MSUE to succeed in a challenging environment with great needs for our organization’s expertise and services.  During our restructuring process, we quickly realized that the lines we had drawn between programmatic responsibilities and operational responsibilities were too confining and we simply decided to work together as a team. We knew we would need to divide work responsibilities, but at times it might call on any one of us to take on operational or programmatic duties and we agreed that we would simply delegate the tasks as they presented themselves and as they matched with any particular individual’s skills and competencies.

The experience we have gained as a team has given each of us opportunities to stretch and develop skills that we might not have anticipated needing.  It’s been a rich experience for me and I think it has been for Michelle and Steve.  With those experiences, I knew that I was not likely to keep the team intact: both of my colleagues have great leadership skills and knowing that leadership opportunities open frequently in Cooperative Extension, I was certain that other institutions would be interested in benefiting from their leadership.

I was not surprised when Dr. Rodgers was recruited for and offered the opportunity to serve as Director of Cooperative Extension at the University of Delaware. She is a consummate Extension professional, with tremendous experience as an educator, a county extension director, and a regional director at Penn State and as an associate director at MSU.  As an organization and as a director’s office team, we have benefited tremendously from her experience, her insights and creativity, and her great work ethic.  She can manage an amazing number of projects at once, is determined to follow through on the essential details, and can conduct a difficult conversation with grace and respect.  She’s never satisfied with “good enough.” She always strives for doing what is “great.”

She has taught me a great deal about the mission of Cooperative Extension and the value that our programs can produce for farms, businesses, families and communities across the state.  We – all of MSU Extension – will miss her leadership and positive spirit. At the same time, I’m extremely pleased to know that another state’s Cooperative Extension program will benefit from her leadership. And I know that she will provide valuable leadership to Cooperative Extension across the nation.  We’ve been fortunate to work with her for five years and especially the challenging five years she has spent with us.

It seems incongruous to acknowledge the tremendous work that Michelle has provided us and yet to decide that we will not replace Michelle with a new person as Associate Director.  Her work was critical to our successful transformation, so how can we continue in our continued work without her or someone else in her role?  Quite simply, with the budget and staff reductions we’ve made over the past two years, I think we need to challenge ourselves in the administrative team to reevaluate what we need to achieve and how we will carry out our work with fewer resources. That should sound familiar, in that it is something we have communicated routinely during our adjustment to reduced budgets: we simply need to find ways to do the work we MUST get done, but with fewer employees. In some cases, that means we’ll do things differently. In other cases, it means we won’t do some of the things we have been doing with three in the Director’s office team.  And we’re far enough along in our change process that we OUGHT to be able to reduce some of the tasks we’ve felt a need to carry out as we worked together to plan and implement our changes. We’re not done changing, but hopefully the amount and pace of change will be reduced from what it has been in the past few years.

Michelle officially begins her role as Director at Delaware in April.  This week, she spent a few days at the annual national meeting of Extension Directors and Administrators, and fit in as the newest member of the Extension leadership team.  As she moves on to her new opportunities, I hope Michelle will always remember how much she meant to us as a Spartan and how much she contributed to not just saving our organization, but strengthening it during a very challenging time. Whatever she may face in Delaware, I am confident she will excel in leading them through the challenges they may face and prepare them to build on the opportunities that come their way.

Thanks, Michelle. You are a great model for all of us of what an Extension professional can do to help people improve their lives through education. We wish you easy sailing in Delaware!

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