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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

March 21, 2023

Engagement: Writing Our Story

Submitted by Deborah L Kohl

Each of us comes to our role in extension with a unique set of skills, abilities and experiences. With the help of a great coach, I have come to view each stop in my career as a chapter in my professional story.

Every opportunity to serve provides a different plot twist, develops a set of skills, and deepens the complexity of our persona. In most stories, members of the cast encounter difficulties and challenges and hopefully grow through them. No matter where you are in the arc of your professional tale, I would wager that working in Extension is making you into quite the character.

Like many of you, I am brand new to extension, but I bring layers of experiences and memory of how things are done in other places and in other organizations. Finding ways to incorporate new ideas, determining which practices of this organization’s past need to be kept, and creating my own space within our system can be exhausting. Understanding what to work on next, where resources are kept, whom to go to for what, and meeting my expectations is -- on many days -- daunting.

On those daunting days, I try to remember that as a system we are also writing our collective tale. I am amazed at the number of new characters introduced over the last year, and the themes that come up consistently. We are daily discussing career ladders, retention and onboarding - as we should be. We are sketching out impact reports, evaluations and how - with limited capacity - to best meet the needs of our stakeholders.

One of the consistent themes we are trying to pencil out collectively is where we fit with the call to be engaged. For you, this “new” call may seem confusing, because, from our perspective, Extension has been engaged all along.

That is true. Our extension professionals have always been uniquely positioned to engage with our local Kansas communities. For us, the “new” opportunity exists in the way we go about that work. In addition to being experts with fact sheets in hand and a bevy of programs to provide, we can also create safe spaces for our community members to voice concerns and share needs.

We know the grand challenges we’ve defined as a university and a system, and we have the unique opportunity to elevate our communities’ thoughts about those challenges to the researchers in our state who can focus on meeting those needs through further study and education. The difference may well be that some of those researchers and experts and university partners are now listening.

One of my career influences shaped my practice by encouraging me to ask: "What have I done for the citizens of Kansas today?" I think this is a good starting place. Shouldn't we also be asking ourselves:

  • "What have the citizens of Kansas told me they need today?"

  • "What are the hopes an dreams of my community?"

  • "Who can help me step up to the challenge of meeting those needs?"

Perhaps to respond to those questions we answer the call to engagement by carrying ourselves a little differently.

If your Extension chapter has been daunting as of late, take heart. We have more pages on which to answer those questions and I believe the answers we find will shape the future of our state. I can hardly wait to read the story we write.