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Colorado State Extension Mindful Engagement Project “Ready to go in a way we wouldn’t have been”, thanks to the Impact Collaborative Summit

“The Impact Collaborative Summit and process provided an important place for our Mindful Engagement Project team, led by Sue Schneider, to develop their concept and determine next steps. The ability to access expert key informants and resources, both pre- and post-summit, galvanized the team, enabling them to fully conceptualize and explore the potential of the project in a very short time. The pandemic has created many challenges for communities, and having this opportunity available in a virtual setting was incredibly important to moving the team’s work forward.” 

– Ashley Stokes, DVM, PhD, MBA – Associate Vice President of Engagement and Extension, Colorado State University

Mindful Engagement is a newly conceptualized project from Colorado State University (CSU), led by Sue Schneider, an Extension agent in Family and Consumer Sciences and Community Development based in Fort Collins. The team also includes CSU Extension’s Lisa Auer, who serves as the site coordinator for the Larimer County Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI); and Tony Lynch, a community champion who is a member of the 2020 FLTI cohort. The team was one of 25 groups from across the country that participated in the first ever virtual Impact Collaborative Summit, held in October 2020.

The Mindful Engagement project will leverage community champions seeking to affect social change, through mindful engagement practices geared toward individual and collective compassionate resilience. The community champions are alumni of a 20-week Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI). FLTI seeks to build individual and community capacity, bridge the gap between local residents and decision makers, and encourage the co-creation of programs and policies that reflect the diversity of community voices. 

The Mindful Engagement Team partnered with the eXtension Foundation through the Impact Collaborative Summit. Teams participating in the Summit were provided one-on-one coaching by the Impact Collaborative’s network of Innovation Facilitators. Innovation Facilitators are Cooperative Extension professionals who are trained to provide individuals with a new way of looking at program and project development, using the Innovation Skill-Building Experience (ISBE). ISBE is a methodology that helps new and existing programs across states and institutions identify gaps in their program planning and design, ensure they are most ready for implementation, and have explored all considerations to maximize their local impact

In addition, each team participating in the Summit had access to “expert” Key Informants from Extension and other external organizations. The Key Informants assisted teams on a range of topics, including catalyzation, innovation, program development and evaluation; community partnerships; communications, marketing and digital engagement; diversity, equity, and inclusion; educational technology and instructional design; visualization; and more.  

The Mindful Engagement project is responding to the need to provide additional training to FLTI alumni that highlights mindfulness and compassion in community work. The project team has identified – with the community – five pillars that they believe will elevate mindful engagement. They are creating curriculum, training, and a mini-grant program to support the project. The team’s coach was Karl Bradley, who serves as the eXtension Foundation Leadership Development Specialist. He is also a Colorado resident. 

When asked what it was like to have a coach embedded within the team, Schneider replied, “It was amazing…We were able to work through how we’re communicating around the program with him. He offered so many ideas about experts we might work with in the future, how we could  connect with eXtension Foundation resources in the long-term…he was really thinking into the future the next ten steps, and what might support our work and how eXtension Foundation could be part of that support.” 

Access to Key Informants also proved important to the team. Schneider noted that those conversations enabled the team “…to begin to grapple with complicated things, including curriculum delivery, what it is the longer-term vision, and what kind of funding sources should be thinking about…everything from solidifying our team and commitment to this to getting external perspectives on our process and methodology…”

Schneider indicated that the Summit “…galvanized our thinking.” She said that the Summit helped solidify the team, enabled them to realize the full potential of the project, and formulate ideas about next steps. Based on input they received at the Summit, the team decided to include a trauma resilience pillar in their work. They were also able to draft a project timeline and garner ideas about grants and fundraising through a post-event activity. 

Bradley – who was embedded with the team throughout the Summit – said, “The team’s expertise was only surpassed by their passion to help the citizens of Colorado.”

Schneider has positive things to say about the team’s experience. “The Impact Collaborative Summit was an amazing experience on multiple levels. Our team was able to put dedicated time into collectively thinking about how to develop a responsive and action-oriented mindfulness training program for community leaders. We had access to a set of brilliant thinkers and experienced Extension leaders who asked really tough questions and helped us explore a range of options for our program. And we were introduced to the vast resources that eXtension has to offer specialists in the field. This was a worthwhile investment of time that continues to reap benefitsWe’re ready to go in a way we wouldn’t have been.”

To learn more about the Mindful Engagement Project and the team’s experience at the Summit, listen to this podcast interview with team leader Sue Schneider.

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. 

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Workforce Readiness & Makerspace Team from Oregon Brings Community Partners to Impact Collaborative Summit, Wins Seed-Funding Grant for Western Region

“The Impact Collaborative provided an ideal space for the Malheur Workforce Readiness team to work through a structured process that challenged their thinking and assisted them with building a strong, informed, foundation. It equipped them with critical insights on how to best evaluate their program and the potential impact, and better communicate and engage with their partners moving forward” – Anita Azarenko, Interim Vice President – Outreach and Extension, Extension Director, Oregon State University. 

Malheur Workforce Readiness is a project from Oregon that is a grassroots collaborative effort co-led by Barbara Brody, Extension Faculty, Oregon State University Extension and Nickie Shira, STEM & Innovation Coordinator, Frontier STEM Hub – Malheur Education Service District.The team also includes Erin Carpenter, Project Director, Eastern Oregon Workforce Board; Melodie Wilson, Education Technology & STEM Specialist, Frontier STEM Hub – Malheur Education Service District and Jerry Peacock, Eastern Oregon Career Technical Education Regional Coordinator. 

This is a workforce readiness program for underserved youth that connects the learning needs of youth to the talent needs of industry resulting in a more inclusive and vibrant local economy. They do this by equipping youth with job-ready skills breaking the cycle of poverty, unlike traditional career-technical education programs that end when students graduate from high school. According to Shira, “we have two components to our project…the overarching project is workforce readiness and we are combining that with the makerspace to provide opportunities for students at the schools with internships and connecting them to local career and job opportunities. The project seeks to narrow the opportunity gap that so many of our students face…”

In 2020, the team partnered with the eXtension Foundation through its Impact Collaborative program at the Impact Collaborative Summit. Teams that participated in the Summit were provided one-on-one coaching by the Impact Collaborative’s network of Innovation Facilitators, including twenty six coaches. Twenty-five Key Informants from across Extension and other external organizations assisted teams on a range of topics, including catalyzation, innovation, program development and evaluation; community partnerships; communications, marketing and digital engagement; diversity, equity, and inclusion; educational technology and instructional design; visualization; and more.

The team leveraged the opportunity to participate in the Impact Collaborative program as a way of formalizing their work together and equipping the team with new skills and tools. “Bringing all of us together and identifying what our roles are and those needs makes us more successful…This opportunity helped us with our skill sets and gave us some other tools to move us forward…We had never been through a training like this as community partners. In my opinion, it really helped,” said Brody. 

The Impact Collaborative trains Cooperative Extension professionals in its Innovation Skill-Building methodology to provide a new way of looking at program development and innovation to assist local teams develop projects or programs more quickly, and strengthen program design. Trained individuals are referred to as Innovation Facilitators and there are currently 151 trained through the Impact Collaborative. At the Summit, Innovation Facilitators serve as coaches with teams to help identify gaps in project and program planning. For the Malheur Workforce Readiness team, their coach was David Keto, Communications & Technology Manager, University of Wyoming. 

“The whole coaching model worked really well for me; David was alongside us wanting us to succeed. It’s hard in a rural community to have resources like this, even in my Extension office, so having the coach was great and his connections had a ripple effect that expanded our capacity,” Brody said about her experience having a coach assigned to her team. Regarding the Key Informants, she shared “when the Key Informants asked us difficult questions and identified our gaps…that was a huge area of growth for me. It enabled us to put together an evaluation matrix for our team. Lastly, it was reassuring that what we were trying to say about our project was able to get across.”

As part of the Summit, teams were invited to apply for $5000 seed-funding grants funded by the Impact Collaborative. One grant was awarded to one team from each Cooperative Extension region that applied. The Malheur Workforce Readiness team received the award for the Western Region. When asked about their next steps and how they plan to leverage these funds, Shira stated “we received additional funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, and the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board to support this initiative. We are looking to hire an internship coordinator and we have funding for a two-year position to build a solid foundation for the program. With the seed-funding grant, we’ll be able to use that to focus on the evaluation piece. It will be really beneficial for us to make sure that we know the best way to move the needle forward, and how we’re going to evaluate it as we go through the process of implementation to have good measurements. It will also really help us communicate with our partners moving forward.”

Reflecting on the team’s experience and the value of participation, Brody shared that “it was hard work, but it was done extremely well…I liked the remote opportunity and I honestly don’t know if we could have participated because of the cost of travel. I don’t know how the Impact Collaborative matched the coaches with the teams, but David was a great fit for us because he understands rural remote and the environment we work in… I’ve gone back to the Impact Collaborative workbook and tools numerous times…I’ve never had an opportunity like this…it was refreshing to get this learning experience and it’s a comfort knowing that I can email, and someone will help connect us to what we need.”

eXtension’s Impact Collaborative program is available to eXtension Foundation members. The Impact Collaborative fosters the incubation of innovative ideas and provides a unique, structured, and supported process that enables Extension to work with community partners to find and implement the kinds of solutions that will result in the greatest local impact. eXtension Foundation members can learn more about upcoming opportunities with the Impact Collaborative program at extension.org or by joining Connect Extension at connect.extension.org.