Extension expands impact with language translation efforts

ISU Extension and Outreach serves as many Iowans as possible through its four educational areas.

One practical way to achieve that is by translating extension offerings into Spanish and other languages. Many of them are available through the extension store website for download or purchase.

Human sciences extension recently unveiled its strategic sustainability plan, Journey 2030. It expresses the desire to expand its reach to groups that historically were excluded or experience limited access to educational opportunities across the state. There are nearly 60 human sciences publications available in Spanish, such as Spend Smart. Eat Smart series.

Agriculture and natural resources extension produces a newsletter in Spanish along with numerous Spanish podcasts. It also has programming in multiple languages -- including Swahili -- for various communities.

Iowa 4-H youth development works to reach Spanish-speaking families through the CONNECT program to provide a gateway into 4-H. It's also developing an all-Spanish website for the program, and recently hired an AmeriCorps member to assist in a range of communication efforts.

Community and economic development extension offers a business planning course for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and partners with the Small Business Development Center to provide counseling. It also has a specialty crop processing toolkit available to farmers in multiple languages.

The 2020 census showed how the state's makeup continues to shift. The percentage of Iowans who identified as Hispanic or Latino was 6.8% (215,986) -- the state's largest minority group for the third consecutive census -- and the number who identified as nonwhite, multiracial, or Hispanic or Latino was 17.3% (552,268), according to community and economic development extension.

"Thinking about and serving all Iowans is front and center in our new strategic plan," said Deb Sellers, human sciences extension director. "We have done work in this space for a long time -- and we have made great progress -- but we also are aware that demographics are changing in Iowa and there is more we can do."

Growing need

Human sciences extension offers about 12 programs in Spanish, and has delivered some in French, Mandarin and other languages.

It has worked with a vendor for more than 15 years to translate publications aimed primarily at adult audiences, though it also collaborates with 4-H.

"We translate, as needed, if we have a program we are delivering so materials are available in both English and Spanish," said Kristin Taylor, creative projects specialist for human sciences extension.

Extension relies on employees in communities they serve to request materials or programs that would be most useful with translation, Taylor said.

ServeSafe is one of the programs delivered in Spanish at locations across the state, including people incarcerated in correctional facilities, to help people qualify for jobs and perform duties safely. Participants learn best practices related to safe food handling, cleaning and sanitizing, and other food safety essentials. They are aided through a series of videos in Spanish.

"We do know that Spanish speakers who take ServeSafe are passing and receiving the certification," said Barbara Woods, human sciences extension program specialist.

One of the newest programs is Salir Adelante, which helps Iowa Latinx families with middle schoolers prepare for college and career goals.

Over the past year, human sciences extension also helped train 21 bilingual family liaisons with the Des Moines Public Schools through the Strengthening Families Program. It is for parents and youth ages 10 to 14. The liaisons use more than 10  lanuages to develop meaningful relationships between the school district and the communities they serve, said  extension special project manager Barbara Woods. 

"They work directly with the families to help build that relationship between parents and children for better function during formative years," said Woods. "It is presented in a language that useful to the family."

Sellers said human sciences extension measures its engagement with Iowans through direct contact when educational information is exchanged. In a typical year that number is above 100,000, and even with the effects of the pandemic more than 89,000 contacts occurred over the past year.


Extension also has undertaken a multiyear effort to ensure that documents in its online store are accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. The eAccessibility Initiative goal is to convert more than 2,000 titles and more than 27,000 pages of content. About 55% of the titles and 48% of the pages have now been made accessible, said extension store manager Chris Johnsen. 

"Initially, we spent eight to nine hours per page making things accessible," he said. "Now we are under an hour. There are now 857 titles available in the store that prior to this initiative, people who needed the accommodations would not have been able to read them."