1890 Extension Leadership Academy Prepares Future Leaders To Act As Change Agents, Creates Culture of Innovation

By Rose Hayden-Smith, Digital Engagement Specialist, Extension Foundation

The 1890s Extension Leadership Academy (ELA) is designed to prepare future and upcoming leaders in Cooperative Extension to act as change agents, with the goal of creating a culture that encourages and sustains innovation. The academy seeks to equip leaders to respond to critical challenges proactively. The ELA is offered in collaboration with Fort Valley State University & Extension Foundation, alongside key partners from Kentucky State University and Lincoln University. The most recent 6-month cohort experience was facilitated virtually and featured guest speakers, assessments, Extension Foundation’s Impact Collaborative curriculum, and leadership development activities.

The ELA utilizes tools from Extension Foundation’s Impact Collaborative, with a focus on program and leadership development. The ELA also incorporates a framework from Google’s Project Aristotle. Project Aristotle assesses five characteristics of highly effective teams, including psychological safety; dependability; structure & clarity; meaning; and impact. Over the course of the ELA, teams saw improvement in each characteristic. 

Recently, Extension Foundation’s Aaron Weibe sat down with ELA participant Nahshon (Shon) Bishop of Lincoln University in Missouri for a podcast interview. Mr. Bishop serves as a regional small farm specialist with Lincoln University’s Innovative Small Farmer’s Outreach Program. Other members of the Lincoln University team are Clement Akosten-Mensah; Adrian Hendricks II; Marion Halim; Brenda Robinson-Echols; and Marla Moore Collins.

The Lincoln University team, which has named itself Lincoln University Cooperative Extension – Technical Connection Team (LUCE – TET), was given the question about how to address equity issues created by the digital divide. Mr. Bishop said that the team used the Impact Collaborative tools and the ELA framework as a step-by-step process to work through the process of developing their ideas. “The digital guide encouraged us to ask good questions about who we are serving; how we solve problems; what is the “ask”; and what do we need for our project.”

As part of their work for the ELA, the team created this “pitch” of their project:

“Today, there is an expectation that every citizen is afforded equal access to technical resources and services via the internet.  Our initiative aims to strengthen Missouri communities by improving digital accessibility serving hard-to-reach stakeholders and therefore improving social equity.

Many of our financially limited stakeholders do not have access to modern technology, software or services in their homes.  This critical need is compounded by the global pandemic forcing communities to rely on internet services as a tool for daily life.  Our initiative would install a fleet of retrofitted mobile units equipped with satellite technology in order to help thousands of disadvantaged Missourians. Improving digital accessibility will enable Missourians to engage with businesses, health care services online education and connect with their community while following CDC social distancing practices.”

When asked how the Lincoln University team changed over the course of the ELA, Mr. Bishop said “Everyone has specific gifts and strengths. For the team to be successful and get traction, you have to keep these things in mind…to see and understand what role each individual would most comfortably play because of their personality.”

Mr. Bishop also added that “The strength of the ELA is the introduction to 21st century tools, and how useful these tools could be for developing ideas, and focusing the creative energies we have in every department in the 1890s Extension.”

Mr. Bishop noted that participating in the ELA “…was a wonderful experience for myself specifically. The eye-opening self assessments helped me understand myself better and provided a framework to view others. An “aha” moment for me was Karl Bradley’s discussion about trust. Trust takes time; it is a precious commodity and resource. It takes time to build that capacity and you have to do the work.”

Listen to the podcast episode here

The ELA is part of the Impact Collaborative’s larger offering on leadership development, including Rev Up Your Virtual Leadership. The Extension Foundation’s Impact Collaborative is a results-driven program that catalyzes innovative ideas through a unique, structured, and supported process. The process enables Extension to work with community partners to find and implement the kinds of solutions that will result in the greatest local impact. The Impact Collaborative program is available to Extension Foundation members. Learn more about upcoming opportunities with the Impact Collaborative program at extension.org or by joining Connect Extension at connect.extension.org.