January: 2020, the year of vision | TheFencePost.com

January: 2020, the year of vision

Jack Whittier
Director, UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

The phrase “20/20 vision” refers to normal eyesight vision; according to many ophthalmologists, “…a person with 20/20 vision can see what an average individual can see on a standard eye chart when they are standing 20 feet away from the chart.” Why my reference to 20/20 vision as I start my insights column? Well, our calendars will show the year 2020 by the time you read this, so focusing (pun intended) on vision as we begin a new year seems insightful (pun intended again) to me.

During the past year, the University of Nebraska has been reflecting on its 150-year history since being chartered in 1869. This milestone was a stimulus to not just look backward, but also to look to the future across the entire breadth of the university — including the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. Our center is one of three R&E centers in the state. The other two are the West Central REC in North Platte, and the Eastern Nebraska REC located north of Lincoln near Mead, Neb.

During the latter part of 2019, the three REC directors (myself, Kelly Bruns and Doug Zalesky) have been involved with a planning process with the objective of developing a statewide strategic vision for the research and extension centers. While this process is still ongoing, there are some key outcomes relative to a unified vision. Here are two of those:

1. In an effort to better represent all three of the land-grant missions (i.e. research, teaching and extension) of the university across Nebraska; these centers will transition to Research, Extension and Education Centers, or REECs. The second “E” will be added to focus greater involvement in teaching and educational efforts, in addition to extension education. The following paragraph from a draft document seeks to describe what the added “E” will entail for Research, Extension and Education Centers:

“In partnership with UNL, the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources, and local college resources, REECs will support college-going and workforce development. This includes providing internships and experiential learning opportunities for students, micro-credentials (certificate and digital badge programs) for lifelong learners and assisting with degree completion, particularly for mid-career individuals seeking career advancement through degree attainment.”

2. A statewide survey of research and extension center stakeholders was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2019. Survey results from the over 250 respondents identified eight important opportunities on which to focus. These are listed in rank order according to survey results:

• Water and nutrient management, impacting both water quality and quantity.

• Innovative cropping systems to improve soil health, conservation, sustainability and profitability.

• Developing resilient food animal production systems.

• Precision agriculture for both crops and livestock.

• Developing programing for financial resiliency of ag producers.

• Connecting the rural-urban interface through agriculture and science literacy.

• Workforce development for agricultural systems.

• New and innovative technology to reach more people.

These eight opportunities are certainly not new to those who currently work at the off-campus research and extension sites. In fact there are numerous current programs and initiatives at the Panhandle R&E Center, which focus on aspects of the above list. However, the survey will provide further guidance to our statewide planning and vision for the Panhandle REEC going forward.

During 2020, it is our objective to crystalize our strategic vision to define and emphasize pathways to continue to serve the Panhandle in meeting the challenges of the next decade, and beyond. I invite you to hold us accountable during our 2020 journey as we strive for 20/20 vision to better serve Nebraskans. Have a good month and enjoy the new year. ❖

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