Arizona Cooperative Extension 2019 Conference Summary and Resources
Extension personnel convene for two days of connection, reflection, and engagement
On August 6th, 2019, Arizona Cooperative Extension personnel from across the state and the University of Arizona Campus descended on Tucson, Arizona for a two-day conference. The annual gathering brought together agents, specialists, program coordinators, business officers, directors, and other support staff from all our counties, academic units, division administration, and for the first time, our partner Native American institutions.
“This conference is our way of engaging all Extension personnel from across the state and across the University of Arizona campus to highlight our footprint in Arizona and preview what we’ll be delivering next,” said Dr. Jeff Silvertooth, associate dean and director of Arizona Cooperative Extension. “With offices in every county of the state, within the offices of five Native American Tribes, and five agricultural centers, Extension takes the science of the university to the people of Arizona and our conference helps us to demonstrate how we deliver on that initiative. This conference is also the one time where we can all be together to share information, connect, and plan for the year ahead.”
The event was attended by over 270 people who are responsible for the delivery and execution of Extension programming in the areas of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR); Family, Consumer, and Health Sciences (FCHS); 4-H Youth Development (4-HYD); and Tribal programming (FRTEP). In addition to the conference attendees, there were over 40 presenters and speakers providing valuable information on topics such as evaluation, water, grants, nutrition and healthy living, community building, and making long-term impacts.
“Many attendees have mentioned this is one of the best Extension conferences they’ve ever attended,” Silvertooth said.
“The committee did an excellent job of providing the right mix of education, networking, and information sharing for conference attendees.”
New Employee Orientation
Kicking off the two-day conference was the return of Extension’s New-Employee Orientation. Absent since 2015, this important component was back because Extension leadership recognized the value for faculty, staff, and the organization as a whole. This year’s version was organized by seasoned faculty and staff and included presentations from external and internal Extension personnel.
“We recognize the importance of onboarding for new employees to ensure a shared vision and expectations,” said Dr. Dan McDonald, county extension director for Pima County. “The contribution of planning committee members, as well as content experts from around the university, made for a very useful two hours. In addition, attendees provided us with some valuable feedback on what information they felt was still needed,” he said. “The plan is to continue to provide these onboarding opportunities moving forward.”
McDonald was joined on the Orientation planning committee by Kim McReynolds, Jeremy Elliott-Engel, Ursula Schuch, and Gloria Blumanhourst. Each brought something different to the session as they’re a diverse group of newer and seasoned Extension personnel. The orientation culminated in a World Café session where attendees had the chance to mix and mingle and attend informational stations set up around the room.
“We definitely wanted to provide an engaging atmosphere and allow attendees to ask the questions that were important to them,” said Dr. Jeremy Elliott-Engel, 4-H youth development associate director. “As a newer addition to the Arizona Cooperative Extension family, I found myself asking what information would have been valuable to me when I started, and the best way to administer that was through the World Café model.”
Pillar of the Community
This year’s conference theme, “Pillar of the Community”, was selected as homage to our place as the Land Grant University of Arizona and how we have a presence in so many areas of the state. Our general session continued the theme by providing presentations from our program leaders: Dr. Paul Brown (ANR), Dr. Dan McDonald (FCHS), Dr. Jeremy Elliott-Engel (4HYD), and Trent Teegerstrom (FRTEP). Each presentation provided high-level information on updates, progress, and direction for each programmatic area.
The keynote speaker, Buchannan “Buck” Davis of the University of Arizona Government Relations Team, provided insight on “Effectively Communicating the Extension Message to Stakeholders.”
“This continues to be something I’m passionate about,” Silvertooth said. “We have to be better storytellers. We do so much amazing work and we have to do a better job of telling our story.” Silvertooth also mentioned that “having the university’s government relations team at our conference, it’s a great way to partner and create more advocates across campus for Extension.”
For the first time, partner organizations were invited to participate. Representatives from Dine College and Tohono O'odham Community College attended and engaged and it was fitting to the theme as much of our Tribal work across the state is done in conjunction with these organizations.
The first day ended with the Poster Session, another sought-after event. This year, there were over 60 presentations with a variety of focus areas. Everything from early literacy readiness, nutrition, integrative pest management, youth leadership, plant pathology, dairy, equine, field crops, water, and many more. A detailed list of all posters can be downloaded here.
“I think this is the model we want to duplicate in future planning of this event,” said Sandra Saad, organizer of the Poster Session and conference committee member. “Attendees were able to comfortably walk through the room to see all the posters and have time to talk to the presenters. People didn’t feel rushed and were able to engage and that’s the real value for all involved.”
The number of posters being presented was the most ever achieved for Arizona Cooperative Extension in large part due to the recent Extension Strategic Investment Program (ESIP). In FY19, Extension initiated an in-house competitive grant process and provided funding to over 50 new efforts across all programmatic areas. Funding recipients prepared posters to demonstrate what they initiated, progress thus far, and future planning and goals.
Day two started with breakout sessions. Conference attendees were able to choose between 16 sessions in four blocks. A call for proposals went out at the initiation of conference planning and Extension personnel did not disappoint with their submissions.
“The conference committee had their work cut out for them in choosing which sessions were placed during the conference,” Silvertooth said. “From all the feedback we’ve been receiving, it appears they chose correctly and the presenters did a phenomenal job of providing all the relevant information to conference attendees. I’m thoroughly impressed with the caliber of talent we have in Extension and their ability to deliver their expertise.”
Sessions included everything from evaluation, program development, new technology, nutrition, community building, water in Arizona, inclusiveness, and some general reminders on Extension programs as well as benefits available to Extension personnel. Many of the presentations can be accessed here. This will be updated as we receive more presentations from the conference.
Heart of Extension Awards
The closing of the conference includes a segment that has quickly become one of the most anticipated: The Heart of Extension Awards. Making its debut in 2018, the Heart of Extension award was established in order to recognize and reward, in front of their peers, those individuals within Arizona Cooperative Extension who produce at a high level, consistently, and do so with the utmost professionalism and care.
“I’m delighted and honored to be able to recognize so many deserving individuals across the state with the Heart of Extension award,” Silvertooth said. “This was a needed distinction within Extension as so many amazing personnel go unrecognized at a larger level. I truly thank the committee for establishing this platform and for all the people who take the time to submit individuals for this award.”
This year’s recipients were:
- Joyce Alves, Apache County
- Jon Callahan, Pima County
- Brandie Gobble, Coconino County
- Delmi Ortega, Maricopa County
- Kathryn “Kay” Orzech, Nutritional Sciences
- Cindy Pearson, Graham County
- Ursula Schuch, School of Plant Sciences
- Jennifer Smith, Extension Administration and FRTEP
- Lisa Elliott, Pinal County
- Dave Bogner, ALVSCE CCT
In addition to the Heart of Extension Award winners, three other awards were presented during the conference:
- Lisa Gerber, Yavapai County, received the Outstanding Staff in Cooperative Extension Award
- Cathy Martinez, Pinal County, received Extension Faculty of the Year Award
- Elaine Mattes, ALVSCE Dean’s Office, received the Friend of Extension Award
Here’s a brief video of the award presentation.