Extension looking for diversity ambassadors

Serving Iowans is ISU Extension and Outreach's mission, but the organization is taking steps to ensure it's welcoming and reaching the most Iowans.

In October 2021, extension introduced its first diversity statement, guided by a leadership team and informed by numerous sources. Regenea Hurte, extension diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advisor, said the 2017 climate survey, a review of peer institutions and the overall mission and vision of extension and outreach helped create the diversity statement.

Extension diversity statement:

"Iowa State University Extension and Outreach celebrates all identities, cultures and backgrounds, and actively works to foster a climate that is grounded in respect, value and belonging. In our communities, diversity, equity and inclusion enrich the experiences of ISU Extension and Outreach participants and partners. In our organization, diversity, equity and inclusion support constructive workplace and educational environments and promote excellence throughout the organization. ISU Extension and Outreach aims to provide research- and evidence-based educational opportunities to cultivate the growth of Iowa’s agriculture, families, youth and communities; is dedicated to serving all Iowans; and will continue to take intentional and thoughtful steps to achieve this goal."

Hurte said the statement is an important step for the university in its role as a land-grant university. Vice president for extension and outreach John Lawrence said in an update to extension staff "the statement is not a box we check on our 'to do' list; it is a starting point and guide for our efforts going forward."

Diversity ambassadors

Hurte, who began her full-time role as DEI advisor in July, is recruiting extension staff, faculty, council members and administrators for roles as diversity ambassadors.

"Ambassadors will be front-line representatives for extension ensuring the diversity, equity and inclusion tenets are considered, included and manifested in the daily work of their county, division, and educational and program areas," Hurte said.

That includes a range of possibilities, from making sure extension is meaningfully accessible to the widest range of Iowans, to engaging traditional and diverse identifying communities in extension opportunities. Extension's continued commitment to DEI will help create a broader pool of individuals for educational and employment opportunities within extension or positions on extension county boards, Hurte said. Ambassadors also will help ensure extension is meeting its civil rights reporting responsibilities to federal and county partners.

Hurte, who worked in the university's office of equal opportunity from 2018 to 2020, is just beginning the process of identifying individuals to serve as diversity ambassadors, but ideally there would be at least one per county, region or unit. Training is being developed and expanded based on current extension offerings. Hurte is planning an information session for the coming weeks and hopes to begin training the first cohort of ambassadors as soon as possible.

"I have already received some interest from across extension, including our administrative units, which is exciting to me," she said. "We want representation in our 99 counties across the state, but also internally in the administration to demonstrate that this is a systemwide priority."

Hurte is leading the effort but is adamant others' voices will be included in the DEI efforts. She will rely on extension staff who engage with people in their communities to determine how the commitment to DEI can best serve them.

"They will absolutely inform what this program looks like and how it functions," she said. "It might look really different from one county to the next."

Regenea Hurte

Regenea Hurte

Extension employees and council members interested in learning more about or becoming a diversity ambassador can email Hurte at RAHurte@iastate.edu or call 515-520-1832.

Larger impact

DEI is one of four goals in ISU's current strategic plan to make faculty, staff, students and visitors feel welcomed, supported, included and valued. Extension is expanding those ideas across its statewide network.

"You can't prepare leaders for a global 21st century without being able to navigate the DEI tenets that are necessary," Hurte said.

Hurte said the extension mindset of sharing knowledge to help others sets a foundation to build on DEI initiatives across the state. 

"We are working to meet our goal of serving all Iowans," she said.