University of Vermont Extension team leverages eXtension’s Impact Collaborative, new connections, to deepen project development

“One of UVM Extension’s strategic priorities is to find new ways to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable atmosphere within our system and our program planning. We leveraged the opportunity to send members from our diversity committee to participate with eXtension’s Impact Collaborative. Their involvement with the Impact Collaborative provided connections to resources and contacts like the Carver Center at Tuskegee, creative ideas to build out their work plan, guidance on developing outcomes for their project, and metrics to support them.” – Chuck Ross, Director of Extension at the University of Vermont

Vermont DEI, a project team from the University of Vermont Extension (UVM), is promoting a shift in culture within their Cooperative Extension service and its programs to embrace and operationalize a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive atmosphere, recognizing multiple dimensions of identity and experience. The team is part of a 11-person committee from UVM focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, consisting of program and administrative staff and faculty. 

The goal of their work is to shift their organization towards a culture of belonging for UVM staff, faculty, and service-users regardless of their position, identity, and experience. This project has an internal focus and is looking to grow capacity to bring emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion to all external programs. The team is engaging critical internal stakeholders in conversations and learning activities to ensure that programs are more accessible. 

Joining the Impact Collaborative

The team first joined eXtension’s Impact Collaborative in October, 2018, at the first national Impact Collaborative Summit. That team included Cheryl Herrick, Communications & Office Manager; Alison Nihart, Strategic Implementation Specialist; and Sarah Kleinman Director of 4-H, Farmworker & Family Education Programs. Nihart also serves as a trained Innovation Facilitator with the Impact Collaborative.

A strategic priority for UVM Extension, the team had the support of their Extension Director to participate in the Impact Collaborative as an opportunity for deep engagement into this project. According to Herrick,“UVM Extension has a long history with a diversity committee with the purpose of increasing access along multiple dimensions of difference. After several iterations since the 1990s, we had a new Extension Director at the helm and he was very dialed in to the national conversation, including the American conversation and the Extension & Land-Grant conversation; he was able to see the opportunity to engage in this in a new way… we joined the Impact Collaborative with his encouragement as we are all passionate about building our capacity to be more effective in addressing inequity and injustice.”

At the October 2018 Impact Collaborative Summit, teams participated in an Innovation Skill-Building experience to help catalyze innovation in their program planning, informed by resources and expertise made available at the event. “We were walked through steps that asked a lot of different questions, and we ended up with a more complex set of answers than we may have otherwise received elsewhere. For me, the most important thing was being in the room with our national cohort. The coaches, Key Informants, eXtension Staff, and the fact we had historically white and historically black institutions in the same space able to talk to each other about how we are seeing these issues provided a transformative experience,” said Herrick. 

At that Summit, the team had the opportunity to present their program to a panel of Extension leaders and external partners at a “PitchFest.” Teams participating in the PitchFest not only gained valuable feedback from the panel and their peers across Extension, but teams that are most-ready to implement their projects and programs had the chance to secure an opportunity for strategic support. For the Vermont DEI team, their success at the PitchFest awarded them a free trip to the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit, and strategic coaching support from eXtension’s Partnership Development team consisting of Teresa Hogue, Andrea Hernandez, and Lynn Luckow. 

Strategic coaching support with the team focused on strengthening goals and anticipated outcomes of the Summit; clarifying external partner benefits and opportunities for sponsorship; and, defining considerations for future programming.

In addition to working with eXtension’s Partnership Development team, the team had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Shatomi Luster-Edward, eXtension’s 2018 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow. “Dr. Luster-Edward was really helpful in providing grounding and framing as we worked through our planning at the October 2018 Impact Collaborative Summit. She especially encouraged us to include the framework around building emotional intelligence as part of the internal culture shift we’re looking for,” said Herrick.

Continuing to Build Upon their Framework 

The team joined the Impact Collaborative again at the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit, including another member of their DEI committee – Beret Halverson, State Program & Education Coordinator. Building upon the first Impact Collaborative Summit, the April 2019 experience was focused more on providing individual support to teams through one-on-one coaching, focusing on potential audiences, and thinking more strategically about engaging partners. According to Herrick, “getting back in the room again with our national cohort was very valuable. For me, it was critical to continue connecting with our Extension colleagues at Tuskegee University and Prairie View A&M University as they are also working on DEI issues in different contexts.”

At this Summit, the Impact Collaborative created an Innovation Lab consisting of two graphic artists and a concept-mapping coach to work with teams on visualizing their projects and programs. “The opportunity to be forced to think differently about the words you’re using and how that translates across media is super valuable in communications efforts. Seeing what a visual artist creates based upon your own complex concepts was really interesting because it allowed us to see how our language may be perceived across different formats and by different audiences,” said Herrick. 

The culminating event of the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit was an opportunity for teams to present their projects and programs to a panel of Extension leaders and external partners at a “LaunchFest.” Similar to the PitchFest in October 2018, teams participating in the LaunchFest not only gained valuable feedback from the panel and their peers across Extension, but teams that are most-ready to implement their projects and programs have the chance to secure an opportunity for funding. As a result of their presentation at the LaunchFest, the Vermont DEI team received a pre-approved application for a $5000 grant funded by eXtension to move their project to the next level. 

The team is also receiving strategic coaching from the eXtension partnership development team and is coming together next month with their full committee to create a work plan. “Thanks to Dr. Andrea Hernandez from the eXtension Partnership Development team, we are going to focus the first part of our discussion on outcomes and impact to make sure we are at the operating at a broader level. We’ll be using the resources she’s provided to inform and guide this important discussion.”

Additionally, interacting with other Impact Collaborative teams at the Summit has resulted in a new collaborative opportunity for this team. During the Summit, Herrick had the opportunity to connect with members of the Tuskegee Public Dialogue team from Tuskegee University. During their conversations, they discussed collaborative opportunities between the Carver Center for Integrative Sustainability and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. After the Summit, the two centers were able to begin dialogue and discuss plans to pursue potential collaborative work. “That only happened because we were at the Impact Collaborative Summit,” said Herrick.  

Reflecting upon her Impact Collaborative experience and what made it unique, Herrick shared that “the gathered wisdom and resources in the room including peers, leadership, and designated experts – people that really know how to work with organizational structure and change management in the context of Extension – is an effective recipe that the Impact Collaborative has put together.”

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.