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Looking Back and Looking Forward

December is a month of transitions. As the calendar winds down to the all-too-brief holiday break, we’re busily finishing the year’s tasks and setting new goals for the coming year. 2020 has been an especially exhausting year. I hope that as vaccines become available, we can make a slow but sure return to in-person events, less restricted travel and getting back to a sense of normal. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I’m looking forward to putting a cap on 2020 and turning with hopeful anticipation that 2021 will be a new beginning.

This year I also feel the transition very personally. After eight-plus years as dean and director of UF/IFAS Extension, I will be taking a new position as dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Things are a little hectic right now in the Place house—while we’re completing work and planning for the holidays, Deb and I are boxing everything up and getting ready for the move to Athens. Every once in a while, when there’s time to reflect, I think about what a bittersweet time this is, and how much I’ve got much to be grateful for.

First of all, I’m leaving things in the most capable of hands. Beginning in January, Dr. Tom Obreza will serve as interim dean and director for UF/IFAS Extension, and CALS Dean Dr. Elaine Turner has already been overseeing the search committee for the new dean. Tom and Elaine have been my friends, my colleagues and outstanding stewards of IFAS’ land-grant mission. I look forward to meeting the new dean and director of IFAS Extension and working together with them soon.

We really have an extraordinary talent pool here in UF/IFAS Extension, from our program leaders to our district directors, our county Extension directors, state and county faculty, support staff and volunteers in every part of the state. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you, and I could not have asked for better people to help us fulfill Extension’s mission.

I’m also grateful to all our partners across Florida—the stakeholders, the producers, administrators, legislators, county commissioners, community leaders, as well as my colleagues at FAMU and other universities, with whom I’ve built strong and lasting relationships.

I am proud of the progress we’ve made over these past eight-plus years. Within Extension, we’ve increased our strategic staffing, greatly increasing our number of statewide and regional specialized agents. We’ve made professional development a priority, with increased ISTs, mini-grants and other opportunities. We’ve developed smart revenue enhancement initiatives, and through the “Road to 67” we’ve established endowments that will help staffing, Florida 4-H and other county Extension programs to better serve their communities for years to come.

Our collaborative efforts with other University of Florida colleges, including UF Health, along with community partners across the state, is extending our outreach to Florida’s diverse population and bridging the gap between rural and urban communities. This has served to bring the knowledge and research of a top-ten university to people across the state. We’re leading proactive work on critical issues such as harmful algal blooms, invasive species, climate change, stronger food systems, health and wellness, and water quality and quantity.

Through intentional branding and marketing, as well as embracing new media platforms, we’ve greatly raised our visibility and our reputation as a trusted source of fact-based, practical information at a time when Florida—and the country—needs it most. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we make a measurable impact on the quality of life in Florida—on our agriculture and natural resource industries, on local economies, on natural ecosystems and on youth and families across our diverse population.

Together, we’ve also survived hurricanes, budgets cuts, market fluctuations and an ongoing global pandemic. Our response to each of these crises has clearly demonstrated how resilient, professional, and compassionate we are under pressure.

All these things give me confidence that the new Extension dean is inheriting a strong organization leaning into the future with some of the best people one could hope for.

It’s hard to say goodbye. Between serving as a UF faculty member, as a state program leader, and as dean for Extension, I’ve built over 20 years of relationships with many of you. When I say I’ve been “Livin’ the Dream,” I mean that it’s been a pleasure and an honor to serve you these many years. I’ll miss our day-to-day interactions; however, I carry the memories and the bonds I’ve made with you forever.

And even though I will be rooting for the Dawgs next year, there will always be a part of me that believes…It’s GREAT to be a Florida Gator!

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