I participated in a national conversation yesterday with Extension directors and administrators to discuss leadership in a time of social, economic, and political disruption. There were more than 120 participants and the conversations were at once inspiring and perplexing. A key focus of the discussions was around the paradox of creating and sustaining an infrastructure for the future (whatever “post-COVID” looks like), while effectively addressing local needs and community issues. This balance has never been easy and COVID has not done anything to make it easier. There were two breakout sessions focused on innovation and systems thinking as it relates to post-COVID-19 Extension and to racial equity. The discussions were enlightening and highly engaging as leaders across the nation discussed the concerns, resources, best practice/lessons learned, and ideas for leadership in these times. I left the meeting with many excellent ideas, some new connections, a wealth of new resources, and an even deeper belief that Extension and the land-grant system is poised to make a legacy difference in addressing the critical issues of our time. We are the bridge between the most up-to-date research and science and the application of this knowledge in real-life situations. We are and have always been in a position to engage the community in conversations and reciprocal discussions about life informing research and research informing life. Now is the time for us to really listen and to hear what is important and needed locally and across our state. It is time to prioritize our time and efforts toward what matters most. I look forward over the next few months to beginning our strategic alignment process and making progress on addressing recommendations from our program area reviews, our urban plan, as well as our LifeWorks and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task forces. Our goal is to ensure everyone has a voice in determining our path in OSU Extension and that we are creating a vibrant future for our employees and our communities that makes a discernable difference in the quality of life for all Ohioans.
I can’t close my message today without mentioning the importance of our ongoing need to address social and racial inequities as we continue to experience additional injustice in our communities of color. We are an organization that exists to meet the needs of all Ohioans. We need to reflect and ask ourselves what we are doing to improve the quality of lives for everyone.
As our university non-discrimination notice states, “The Ohio State University is committed to building and maintaining a community to reflect human diversity and to improve opportunities for all. The university is committed to equal opportunity, affirmative action, and eliminating discrimination and harassment. This commitment is both a moral imperative consistent with an intellectual community that celebrates individual differences and diversity, as well as a matter of law. Ohio State does not discriminate on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, genetic information, HIV/AIDS status, military status, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or protected veteran status, or any other bases under the law, in its education program or activity, which includes employment.”
We are particularly positioned to make a difference around the social indicators of health, food security, workforce preparation, community vitality, personal and economic well-being, and impacting the culture of inclusion and respect. I would encourage each of us to consider what we can personally and organizationally bring to the table to make this a better world for everyone.