Initiative Memorandum – Excellence in Education & Extension



To:        Agronomy Faculty

From:    Lee Burras

Date:     September 07, 2001

Re:        Preliminary priorities, a request for more names of possible stakeholder advisers, and what’s next.

The Path to the Future

Isu Agronomy

In the following table I have taken the liberty of combining and organizing the 23 original priorities we developed on August 21 as well as some of the general sentiment I heard then as well as in individual meetings.  I toyed with a number of frameworks although in the end I realized the best approach is to put our priorities in the context of questions.  For that idea and for recording the original list of priorities I am once again in Ricardo’s debt.








Who are we?


We’re an agronomy department committed to understanding and improving agriculture, food systems, and natural resources.  We are a stable unit that feels a strong and healthy commitment to our central mission.




What do we do?


We educate all learners interested in agronomy as defined in its broadest sense.  We serve learners who are on and off campus, undergraduates and graduates, majors and non-majors, farmers, agribusiness employees and the public at large.




How well do we do it?


Answering this question is a priority, especially given our self-assessment that we need to reconnect with our external clients who have evolved and diversified (e.g., some use the internet exclusively, others will never do so).  As one of us said “We need to evaluate how our program delivery is accomplished and how effective it is.”  A thrice-mentioned way to begin this is developing an outcomes assessment program suitable for teaching, extension and possibly research. 




Philosophically, what else should we do?


Answering this is a priority.  Several of us stressed we need to better educate society about agriculture, the total food system, and natural resource issues. We need to increase active knowledge exchange among and between practicing professionals (inclusive of other disseminators of information) and ourselves.  We need to address future needs as well as current ones.  We need to explore how to stay at the forefront of effective educational technologies.  We must strive to integrate across initiative areas in order to insure timely dissemination of advances.




Pragmatically, what else should we do?


We need a GIS education module that teaches learners and teachers the fundamentals of GIS and using ARCView.

We need interactive decision aids for off and on campus learners.

We need new distance and continuing education programs.  Specifically we need ones that address CCA CEU requirements, climatic issues, and integrated agroecosystems.

We need courses and educational opportunities for ourselves as educators.

We need to leverage our initiatives such as the MS in Agronomy.


Based upon the preceding table, I see us having three equally important umbrella priorities, each of which may entail one or more actual proposals.  We need to develop a comprehensive outcomes assessment project that will give us a definitive document with regards to our on and off campus education endeavors in one to three years.  We need a conceptual project that addresses our philosophical concerns.  I see this as a pilot project that lets us assess some combination of our likely clients in the future, their relationships with one another and us, and their future knowledge needs.  We need a technical project that will put knowledge in more hands.  Those hands may be ours (i.e., teaching the teachers) or on-campus students (decision aids) or off-campus learners (climatologic databases). 


An alternative to my suggestion of three umbrella priorities is we pick one or two priority areas to focus on for this next year.  If I were to do that, I would pick outcomes assessment and technical needs.  I would do so because our strategic plan, The Path to the Future and Agronomy 2005 already address philosophical and strategic issues regarding education and extension.  But I write that knowing there is a strong current within our group regarding promoting comprehensive education about food systems and the whole of agronomy and that may require more philosophizing.


As we think about which way we want to go in refining and finalizing our priorities for this year, I think we should consider some practical questions as well


(1)    What is the speed at which we can implement these priorities? 

(2)    What is the level of faculty commitment?  Is it held by one person or many people? 

(3)    How clearly will a priority take us past were we’re going anyway? 

(4)    Why aren’t we doing the initiative anyway?


Furthermore, I encourage everyone to remember The Path to the Future specifies five program areas within Excellence in Education and Extension.  We should be comfortable that our priorities mesh with these programs – e.g., we should build in scholar exchanges where appropriate.


Request for names of potential stakeholders.


During our August 21 meeting we identified five possible stakeholders to invite to future meetings.  They are:


Don Duvick (Affiliate Professor, Agronomy)

Mary Huba (Assistant Vice Provost, Professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies)

Paul Hewitt (Bayer Agriculture)

Rob Meade (FS Growmark)

Gary Colliver (Farmland Industries)

A Farmer


Clearly each of us could and should add to this list.  So, please send me a name or two in the next week.   For example, three comprehensive thinkers I have worked with include Tom Hall (American Crop Protection Association), John Sellers (farmer, Wayne County) and Marty Braster (Lake Rathbun Watershed District, MS in Agronomy student). 


As you think about stakeholders, please to remember that we are identifying these folks as evaluators of our priorities.  Thus, we need global forward thinkers who are as good at listening as they are at speaking.  We also want breadth of representation. We don’t want people who will try to manage the details. My bias is we also want some new faces.    So, as always we’re looking for the right people.    My only other suggestion is that we do not list potential collaborators; otherwise conflict of interests will develop.


Once I have a more comprehensive list I will run it by Dr. Fales and the other IC’s so that we can winnow it to 3 or 4 people.  I will then contact these folks to see if they are willing to help us and when they could meet with us.  I will then work on a scheduling when they can meet with us. 


What’s next?


Once we have a list of stakeholder advisers and their schedules, we hold a retreat wherein we discuss with them our priorities, listen to their feedback and then develop (and walk away with) a refined set of umbrella priorities.  These will serve as part of the guidelines to be used by the proposal review panel.