I am truly humbled to receive the ACE Professional Award and to join the eclectic group of previous recipients of this honor. This is a long way from where this redheaded Kansas prairie girl transplanted to the Louisiana bayous thought she would be. Agricultural communications and ACE have provided a rewarding experience and a lifetime of professional and personal friends. I remember Elizabeth Gregory-North said, in her acceptance speech in Indy, “This award makes you feel a little old.” Yes, but it takes a lot of hills, journeys, failures and successes to get here. (Above: ACE's 2014 Professional Award winner Frankie Gould, LSU AgCenter, with President Becky Koch.)
Bob Dylan said, “A person is a SUCCESS if he/she gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he/she wants to do.” That means doing something you truly enjoyed. That is what Agricultural Communications and ACE have provided me.
If you don’t enjoy your career, then think about finding one that will give you that kind of pleasure. Don’t stay in a position you don’t enjoy! It will make you miserable, and it will make those who work with you, miserable, too.
For the past 18 plus months, I have had the opportunity to serve as the national co-chair of the Centennial Celebration of the Smith-Lever Act that created the National Cooperative Extension System. Cooperative Extension has excelled with its core mission of bringing the research-based knowledge of the land-grant universities out to the people of our country.
While the centennial provides an opportunity for us as a system to pause and review the tremendous accomplishments Cooperative Extension can claim in the past 100 years, it also is a time to consider our place in contemporary society and for us to lay the groundwork for another century of accomplishments. What is Cooperative Extension’s current role in our society? How will we find relevance in our increasingly technologically and “me” focused society?
We have to pose these same questions to ACE and agricultural communicators.
So here are my thoughts:
We must be strategic and sit at the table with our decision-makers and administrators to serve as the vehicles to craft the messages, promote land-grant programs, get our information to our audiences, leverage funding, manage issues and communicate in a crisis. My dear friend Robin Adams from North Carolina said in a presentation we gave at the southern region extension program leaders meeting in Memphis, “As communicators, we have to be ready to sit at the table. We have to make sure we are thinking globally, strategically, multidisciplinary, ethically, analytically and critically. I can’t and shouldn’t come to the table if I’m not ready.” Are you ready? Do you sit at the table?
We must tell our stories by getting involved in reporting impact into the National Excellence Research, Extension and Teaching in the Land-grant System database. These reports will serve as a resource to mine for land-grant successes to support messaging and funding – to illustrate the difference we have made in the economy, the environment and people’s lives.
We have one of the most powerful networks in the world, with 3,000-plus store fronts across the country and agricultural communicators at most of the land-grant institutions. Tap into that network and make it work for you. It proved to be a valuable resource when creating a communications team to promote the extension centennial, our social media campaigns and the “100 Days of Extension Centennial Tweets.”
We must serve as mentors for other communicators new and seasoned, so we can grow our next leaders, our organizations and our future.
We must keep up with new communications trends and technology – designing for mobile devices and sharing technology through consortiums and collaboration.
We must continue to conduct communications research to validate the need for our profession and to determine needs and future directions of our programs.
Many of you have heard me say, “I owe my success to my waitress mentality in life.”
Please do not interpret this as degrading or second class. Being really good at any position takes strategy and enthusiasm and good judgment.
How many of you have worked in food service during your lifetime? It is not easy!
I was a waitress in high school and as a college undergraduate. I met my husband of 42 years at a Mr. Steak. He was a cook. I was an excellent waitress, because I enjoyed my job. I also realized that the customer is not always right. But they are still the customers, and your goal is to give them the best experience possible so they will come back. So it does not matter if you are a strategic, service, research or teaching communications group, it is all about providing exceptional experiences.
In many respects, I am still that waitress, making sure stakeholders, faculty, co-workers, administrators and funders are provided the best experiences possible into what land-grants have to offer and to keep them coming back for more.
I want to extend my thanks to the LSU AgCenter administrators, faculty and communications team who make my experiences enjoyable and to the ECOP-Extension Committee of Organization and Policy, 1890 administrators and Southern Extension and Research Directors who trusted and believed that agricultural communicators can lead their key initiatives regionally and nationally. Thanks to those who nominated me and all my friends I have found through ACE who have supported my crazy journey so far. It is not over yet, so watch out!
I will close with an adapted Bob Dylan quote, “May you, ACE and land-grant extension and research, stay forever young.”