Engaging in collective purpose - 2017 National Urban Extension Conference

The 2017 National Urban Extension Conference addressed the needs of urban, suburban, and peri-urban populations as well as urban-rural inter-dependencies.

The 2017 National Urban Extension Conference was held in Bloomington, Minn., on May 8-11, 2017. Engaging in collective purpose was the focus of the conference. The conference registration information stated:

“Some of the most pressing social problems and policy issues confronting America and the rest of the world involve urban people and places. Extension professionals across the nation are working in and across various program areas to address these issues. However, urban settings are often competitive environments for Extension educators, so novel approaches to programming are increasingly necessary in order for Extension to gain and maintain its place as a premier institution for the betterment of urban individuals, families, and communities. The National Urban Extension Conference provides an opportunity for Extension professionals to learn first-hand about these innovative approaches from their colleagues and receive inspiration for their work at home. Now is the time for a new dialogue to integrate urban Extension scholarship and practice and to define the role that Extension will play in engaging in collective purpose. The conference will provide opportunities for Extension professionals from all program areas to share their research and innovative educational strategies that address the needs of urban, suburban, and peri-urban populations as well as urban-rural inter-dependencies.”

The conference also offered some very engaging and vibrant mobile learning sessions that provided an opportunity for conference attendees to dialogue and engage with community members that are creating diverse and changing communities in Minneapolis. I attended the Exploring Extension Work with Somali American Children, Youth and Families mobile learning session. The program description for this session stated:

“Minnesota is home to one of the world’s largest Somali diaspora populations, which makes it home to a unique opportunity for cultural learning. This mobile learning session includes a walking tour of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and points of interest including the Somali Museum of Minnesota and the Somali Mall, to learn about the refugee experience, migration patterns, and life in Minnesota. This tour will also explore Extension programs carried out in partnership with the Somali American community.”

By dialoguing and engaging with the Somali community members, I began to understand the experiences and challenges Somalian refugees and immigrants faced in their home countries. The civil war in Somali had and continues to have major impacts on the structure of Somalian families, communities and culture. University of Minnesota Extension has played a major role in the transition and settlement of Somalian refugees in Minneapolis by partnering with Somalian community leaders to provide youth health and nutrition programs, and connecting families to resources in the community. This was a wonderful immersive learning experience.

Another great workshop was Drawing to Breach the Gap: Creating Safe Spaces for Latino Families to Deal with Educational Issues by Using Design Thinking. Design thinking is very popular and it allows the designer and the group(s) the designer works with to not only think about problems or issues, but also to visually and mentally think through the issues of concerns. This session description stated:

“Learn about Design Thinking, and its innovative use as a youth development practice addressing the Latino achievement gap in Minnesota. The workshop showcases several design thinking models and proposals that have been explored over the span of six sessions with five Latino families, to provide attendees with a case study focused on the application of design thinking tools for the creation of safe spaces of capacity building. This workshop underlined the effective design thinking strategies, consider how design thinking may be used with youth and families to identify issues like bullying in the school environment, and addressed the Latino achievement gap in metro regions.” 

Martha Aitken for the Washington State University Metropolitan Center workshop: Organizational Change through Empathy - The Poverty Immersion Session was very informative and the ultimate immersive learning experience because it allows participants to feel what people who are living in poverty experience and the daily struggles they make for themselves and their families to survive. It is a very important tool to recognize and support the need for changes in policies, programs and procedures to address issues of poverty. The session description stated:

“The Poverty Immersion is an interactive, three-hour workshop that lets up to 100 participants virtually experience life on a limited income. WSU’s Metropolitan Center has found a new niche for the Poverty Immersion as a tool to initiate organizational change. Public and private organizations seek to improve their services and outreach to low income residents. With a little re-framing, the Poverty Immersion becomes the vehicle for organizations to assess their gaps, and initiate changes in policies, procedures, programs and professional development to better serve those in poverty. This presentation will explore workshop content, how to target an organization’s needs, implementation, fee setting, and next steps.”

There were many very informative sessions on story mapping, ripple mapping and GIS mapping. There were many more wonderful informative workshops and keynote speakers such as St. Paul, Minnesota Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann, who explained Mayor Coleman’s administrations top priority the St. Paul Racial Equity Initiative. National Urban Extension Conference, National Urban Extension Leaders (NUEL) and the information that I learned from these workshops were transformative learning experiences and will definitely inform the work that I do statewide and locally in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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