Episode 16 | Education Leadership for the Future

Mar. 1, 2018

Show Notes:

Interim Dean of UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Tiffany Heng-Moss, Ph.D., joins us for this episode of Catch Up With Chuck. They discuss innovation in higher education for the holistic student.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:03] Welcome back to Catch Up with Chuck [0:05] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:06] at the University of Nebraska. [0:08] I’m Chuck Schroeder I’m the Executive Director [0:10] of the Rural Futures Institute [0:12] and I’m delighted to say that with me today [0:15] is Dr. Tiffany Heng-Moss who is serving as the Interim Dean [0:20] of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources [0:24] at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. [0:27] That’s a long title. [0:28] That is a long title, yes. [0:30] Listen as we’ve shared before, [0:32] our mission at the Rural Futures Institute [0:34] is to harness the intellectual energy [0:37] of the University of Nebraska and its many partners [0:41] across sectors in order to create a positive impact [0:45] on humankind. [0:47] That’s a big mission. [0:49] Well central to that impact clearly is preparing [0:53] the next generation of business and civic leaders [0:56] in rural communities that will be our educators, [1:00] our healthcare professionals, other leaders in the community [1:03] but by the way who can be successful in a world that [1:08] is unlike the one we have today and largely unpredictable.

[1:12] So for some time we’ve wanted to get you all acquainted [1:17] with Tiffany Heng-Moss who is serving in this role [1:20] as Interim Dean but Tiffany is an education leader [1:24] on the UNL campus whose creative and intellectual energy [1:29] we certainly have grown to admire [1:31] at the Rural Futures Institute and we know [1:33] from our conversations with her that [1:35] Tiffany gets up every morning really thinking about [1:39] how we can change the educational enterprise at UNL, [1:44] within CASNR but certainly at UNL wide to prepare students [1:49] for that changing world in their windshield. [1:53] So Tiffany welcome, we’re glad to have you here. [1:55] Well Chuck thank you for the opportunity. [1:58] It’s exciting to be able to come share with you [1:59] some of the exciting initiatives that are going on [2:03] here in the college as well as some of the future things [2:07] that we hope to be able to push for. [2:09] As you know the college is now in its 145th year [2:13] and we have a remarkable foundation to build upon [2:16] and we are focused on continuing to transform [2:19] the lives of our students here in Nebraska [2:21] and around the world.

[2:23] Well listen what we know is of interest [2:25] to the folks who watch the show is okay [2:28] they see Dr. Tiffany Heng-Moss, a luminary leader [2:33] at the University of Nebraska. [2:35] Let’s help folks get to know you because I know [2:39] your family and your background created a foundation [2:43] for this passion you have for education. [2:46] So help folks know a little bit more about this.

[2:48] Sure, well I’m originally from Nebraska [2:52] so I’m from a very small town called Talmadge Nebraska [2:56] most don’t necessarily know where that is [2:59] but in southeast Nebraska about less than a 100 people [3:02] I always say on a good day is the population of Talmadge [3:06] but that background was instrumental in helping me [3:10] think about ultimately the career pathways [3:12] that I wanted to pursue but I have to admit [3:16] that when I started my educational pathway after high school [3:19] I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do [3:22] and so I was one of these students that navigated that space [3:26] by having several different majors and at the time [3:30] I remember talking through with my parents about [3:32] I was going on my fourth major change [3:34] and my parents like this is not good to me. [3:37] They thought maybe their kid was a little weird. [3:39] Right you’re above average but not in a good way [3:42] at this point in time but what really helped me [3:46] to unleash my passion and figure out where my space was at [3:51] was an opportunity in the research side [3:53] and so I had explored many different degree programs [3:57] ultimately ended up pursuing an opportunity [4:00] to work in a research lab on plant systems [4:03] and that unleashed my passion for research and discovery [4:07] and at that point in time I knew focus in plants systems [4:11] was an area that I wanted to pursue. [4:13] Ended up getting my undergraduate program and at that point [4:16] realized that I needed more education [4:18] because I was very committed to advancing [4:22] what we were doing in the plant systems area [4:25] and again I wanted to learn more and my curiosity [4:29] was driving me and so I accepted an opportunity [4:32] to work on a Master’s program [4:34] and this area was in entomology and I have to tell you that [4:38] at the time I did not recognize the importance of insects.

[4:42] In fact I hadn’t really thought about them [4:44] but what I knew is that the plant system [4:46] that I was working on, [4:48] they were causing problems to that plant system [4:51] and it was a creative way for me to explore [4:54] how plants defend themselves from different biotic stressors [4:57] and the stressor happened to be the insect [5:00] so long story short I ended up finishing my Master’s degree, [5:04] pursuing my PhD and at that point in time [5:08] I was pretty much focused that I wanted [5:10] an industry career pathway [5:12] and I wanted to still stay focused [5:13] on research and discovery but along the way [5:17] I had an opportunity to teach a course [5:20] and this allowed me to discover the passion [5:24] that I had for teaching. [5:24] At the end of this semester I was like I want more, [5:27] I want more, I want to be able to interact with the students [5:30] in a more meaningful way and that changed my trajectory [5:34] so I went from wanting to be solely research and discovery [5:37] to making sure that the position that I pursued [5:39] upon graduation would include some aspect [5:42] to connect with students through advising, formal teaching [5:46] as well in the site of experiential learning and that [5:49] and so I’ve been so very fortunate in my career [5:52] to have great mentors and have tremendous opportunities [5:55] and so when I talk to students I say you know [5:58] sometimes we don’t exactly know where we’re gonna end up [6:01] but push yourself to try new things. [6:04] Something that you think that you may not like [6:06] actually try it that was the case for me [6:09] and you might discover that that really is [6:11] where your passion is and at the same front [6:13] letting them know that the systems that we work in [6:16] in agriculture, food systems, energy systems [6:19] water systems, the landscape and how that impacts people [6:23] in our global society, I can’t think of [6:25] a more impactful career area to be involved in [6:29] and so again I’m happy to be here, [6:31] happy to have had the opportunity to be here [6:33] at the University of Nebraska and now [6:35] the privilege to serve in the role as our Interim Dean.

[6:38] Well those of us that know you and know your capacity [6:41] for engaging people from a variety of backgrounds [6:45] around the globe, across age, realms all that sort of thing [6:50] we think would have been a terrible loss [6:51] if we had locked your lab somewhere [6:53] but isn’t that the magic of education? [6:55] Yes it is. [6:56] It is that exploring and it’s not just a matter of [7:00] knowing when you’re 16, 17, 18 years old [7:05] just exactly where you want to go. [7:07] It’s so important to have that opportunity to explore. [7:10] Exactly. [7:11] So you were a 4her. [7:12] I was a 4her. [7:14] Again a lot of our parents are thinking about [7:19] experiences for their kiddos as they grow up [7:21] and that was important for you too. [7:23] Yes, definitely. Part of that. [7:25] Well listen you talked about CASNR as we call it, [7:28] the College of Agricultural Sciences Natural Resources [7:30] 145 years old. [7:32] It’s gone through a lot of changes [7:34] since I matriculated there 43 or four or five years ago [7:38] however long it was. [7:40] Give us a picture of CASNR today because I know that [7:45] you have been a part of its constant reshape [7:48] to reflect and change.

[7:51] As I mentioned we have a wonderful foundation. [7:55] Dr. Waller was an inspiring leader [7:58] really helped to set the course on the positive trajectory [8:02] over the years with our increase enrollments, [8:04] innovative programming and now what we’re looking to do [8:07] is take it to the next level [8:09] and some of the strategic focus areas [8:11] that we are paying very close attention to is number one, [8:14] thinking about holistic student development and so [8:17] really what we want to do is leverage [8:20] all of those opportunities for our students [8:23] to best prepare them to be those individuals, [8:27] going like to careers they’re going to solve [8:28] the grand challenges related to our food, energy, water [8:31] and landscape systems and so we’re being very intentional [8:34] about thinking about linking curricular with co-curricular [8:38] with experiential learning. [8:40] So the Engler program is a wonderful example [8:43] on the entrepreneurship side about [8:45] how we’re leveraging expertise here on our campus, [8:49] innovation in connecting with our Nebraska communities [8:53] and our global society really to provide our students [8:56] with opportunities beyond what they might be experiencing [8:59] if they were pursuing a degree in Animal Science, [9:01] Agronomy, Horticulture, School of Natural Resources, [9:05] Agribusiness. [9:06] We also are focusing on leveraging our partnerships. [9:08] In Nebraska we are in a phenomenal position [9:12] to be able to leverage partnerships with public/private [9:16] global partnerships our educational system and so in fact [9:20] we’ve been traveling the state this past year, [9:23] I’ve been doing that with Vice Chancellor Boehm. [9:25] Reaching out to our two-year partner institutions, [9:28] NCTA which is part of the University of Nebraska. [9:32] Exactly as well as our four-year partners [9:36] and really what we’re trying to do is identify [9:38] what are our unique strengths that each institution has, [9:41] how do we collectively leverage those [9:43] because what we want to do is make sure that [9:45] we are serving the needs of our Nebraska youth [9:47] as well as how do we position Nebraska [9:50] to be a opportunity and to be on the radar screen [9:55] and a destination for out-of-state students [9:57] as well as thinking globally also. [9:59] So that’s another key area. [10:02] We also were thinking a lot about graduate education too [10:05] in this space and so [10:06] we’re collectively coming together as a faculty, [10:09] a community of scholars of our graduate students [10:13] as well as employers of our students to think about [10:16] how do we push the boundaries [10:18] of traditional graduate education to think about [10:20] more diverse pathways. [10:22] How do we link professional development opportunities [10:25] for our graduate students and how do we make sure that [10:28] we have accessibility to students all over the world [10:31] that are interested in the areas [10:33] that are where the sweet spot is here for the faculty [10:36] in the University of Nebraska.

[10:37] Well listen I’ve watched you engage [10:40] with the angular students who we most often [10:43] cross paths with. [10:44] See the light come on for them in that [10:46] but in that process of connecting across departmental lines, [10:50] discipline lines, institutional lines in many cases [10:54] and I know that’s been a big part of your thinking. [10:56] I want to have you talk just a little bit more [10:59] because I don’t want to threaten your job [11:03] (laughs) [11:04] but I’ve heard Tiffany talk a little bit about [11:09] embrace this whole notion of the higher education [11:12] institution in the future maybe a place where [11:15] that departmental lines and and campus lines [11:19] and institutional lines are blurred much more [11:22] than they are today and you’ve talked about [11:26] creating that holistic experience. [11:27] Say a little bit more about that because I think [11:30] it’s something that quite honestly [11:35] it’s a fairly thin layer of folks like you [11:38] in higher education today that really [11:39] are embracing that notion but it could be critical [11:43] to our creating those genuine real-world problems.

[11:48] So what we need to think again about [11:49] is this holistic interdisciplinary even we think about [11:54] going beyond to extend to transdisciplinary, [11:57] we’re bringing the social sciences in as part of that, [12:00] a very important piece of how we think about [12:02] preparing our next generation of students and so [12:05] some of the ways that we’re doing that [12:07] is in our introductory course that we do [12:09] for all CASNR students. [12:11] We’ve shifted away from being more on [12:13] a content focus area to science and decision-making [12:17] and so how do you think holistically [12:19] about an issue around water and what does that look like [12:23] from the science lens, what does that look like [12:25] from your beliefs as an individual, the ethics behind it [12:29] as well as the economic driver and the social aspect of that [12:33] and so we’re challenging our students [12:34] to really look through the different lenses [12:36] and to be able to defend their position on something [12:40] by taking into account what is the science behind that [12:44] and let that be the driver in that decision-making. [12:46] So that would be one example of what we’re doing. [12:48] We’re also on the other end of the spectrum [12:50] thinking about interdisciplinary capstone experiences [12:54] and so we might have a student that is interested [12:57] in animal systems well then how does that link up [13:00] with a student that’s interested with plant systems? [13:02] What about our natural resources [13:04] What about the economic side of that? [13:07] What about the mechanization aspect and so [13:10] we want to bring these students together holistically [13:12] where we talk about these grand challenges [13:15] and they each bring unique perspectives to that discussion [13:18] and we can learn from that but really [13:20] when we talk about grand challenges [13:22] it’s not going to be solved by in my case an entomologist [13:26] working independently about something but it’s gonna be [13:28] a collection of critical thinkers and those individuals [13:33] that look outside of the box and think creatively [13:36] to solving these different types of solutions [13:38] and I can’t think of a better place for us to start that [13:40] than in our college classrooms.

[13:42] So that would be another example of what we’re doing. [13:44] The final thing I would lift up [13:46] which I’m really excited about is this upcoming fall [13:49] we’re gonna be launching our very first upper class [13:52] learning community and again it’s building on [13:54] the same things that we’ve talked about [13:56] and our focus is on water [13:58] and so we’re linking with the Water For Food Institute. [14:01] In this case we want to extend beyond CASNR [14:03] so we want to bring students from engineering, [14:05] we want to bring students from journalism, [14:07] we want to bring students from Arts and Sciences [14:10] particularly the social science from the business community [14:14] to think about issues around water and so [14:17] our students will go through [14:18] these different experience or learning opportunities, [14:21] discussions, engaging with global leaders [14:24] through the platform of water for food and then ultimately [14:28] they will go on in education abroad program [14:29] likely to Rwanda which we already have connections [14:33] to explore water quality, water quantity [14:36] all of those different aspects holistically [14:39] from a team-oriented perspective that again [14:42] is bringing now stretching beyond CASNR [14:45] but these different areas of expertise. [14:47] So that gives you some ideas about [14:48] where we want to take this. [14:50] Again knowing that we have our disciplinary pathways [14:54] and that is excellent but also recognizing [14:56] that we need more opportunities [14:57] to bring those disciplinary pathways together [15:00] at the intersection of this food, energy, water systems. [15:04] I just think it’s so critical for folks in our audience [15:06] to understand your thinking in that direction.

[15:10] One of my favorite classic examples is Shaw’s and we [15:15] at Arizona State who challenges his classes [15:20] to answer the question what happens to Phoenix [15:22] when there is no water. [15:23] Well is that an engineering question, [15:25] is it a theological question and it’s folks like you [15:30] that are going to create folks [15:33] coming out of these institutions that can think in that way [15:36] and it’s just so critically important. [15:38] Well listen here at the Rural Futures Institute [15:41] we launched about six years ago if I’m counting correctly [15:46] our rural serviceship program where we connect [15:49] high capacity students with communities to go out [15:52] and solve real-world problems and [15:55] I just was in McCook Nebraska this week [15:58] where we’ve had actually two sets of students [16:02] we’re gonna have five students there this summer. [16:04] It’s been a transformational experience for students. [16:08] One of our service ship students [16:10] is now their Director of Economic Development. [16:13] Hen his wife live there, getting ready to have [16:16] their first child and so we know it’s worked. [16:19] I know that this whole area of service-learning [16:23] has been of real interest to you. [16:25] Talk a little bit about how you see that [16:28] as part of this broad philosophy of yours [16:30] and how it might be useful.

[16:32] Definitely that’s a component [16:34] of a holistic student development because you’re linking [16:37] what the students are learning through their courses [16:39] whether that be face to face, online with opportunities [16:42] for them to put that in practice, [16:44] for them to have community engagement. [16:47] Thinking again from this holistic standpoint [16:50] and the impact that they can have and so [16:52] I very much am a big proponent of service-learning. [16:55] I’m excited that we already have some initiatives underway. [16:59] We have students right now that are out there [17:01] committing their time their talent and their passion [17:03] to helping our Nebraska communities but what I hope to do [17:07] in the upcoming months is to work closer with RFI as well as [17:10] our faculty and our colleges to figure out [17:12] how do we infuse more service-learning intentionally [17:15] into our programs because we know [17:18] it aligns with the learning outcomes [17:19] that we hope that our students achieve [17:21] and then the other big piece [17:23] that I’m also very much interested in is [17:25] how do we think from this global framework [17:27] and so we are a global college. [17:29] We are a community of global learners and I think that [17:32] that’s so incredibly important [17:34] because these grand challenges are not going to be solved [17:37] by an individual from Nebraska only [17:39] or it’s not going to be a student that we have in Rwanda [17:42] that goes back but collectively it’s these individuals [17:45] working together to solve these grand challenges [17:47] and again it’s the right time to be doing it [17:50] in our college classrooms and that engagement [17:52] but how do we also think about service shift [17:55] through the lens of not only Nebraska communities [17:58] but what do Nebraska communities have in common [18:01] with let’s say Rwandan communities [18:03] and how do we think about empowering our students [18:06] to connect with and engage youth [18:08] in becoming interested in career pathways [18:11] in agricultural natural resource systems.

[18:13] So really excited to work with RFI [18:16] and look forward to doing some creative brainstorming about [18:19] how we have service-learning that is more infused [18:23] throughout that career to provide our students [18:25] with these types of opportunities. [18:27] Sure. [18:27] Well you’ve you’ve talked several times about [18:29] your work with Rwandan program and this whole notion [18:33] of so I’ve been to Lecok this week and I had the question [18:39] and you hear it all the time. [18:40] Well what you guys have done is you take our brightest [18:43] and best kids and you take them down there [18:44] and you educate them and they go away [18:46] and they never come back. [18:48] Well the truth is we know through the Engler program. [18:51] our serviceship program we have students coming [18:55] from rural communities and coming from urban counties [18:58] that are saying you know what, [19:00] I’m really interested in going to a rural community [19:03] where I can build a business, build my family, [19:07] get involved without where I can make a difference [19:10] but you and which you have supported but also [19:13] have said yeah but you need to have that broader lens [19:17] and by the way have a friend [19:20] when you leave this University in Rwanda, in Zimbabwe [19:24] which we’ve had and we just know that [19:28] it creates those global thinkers who are acting locally [19:31] but who do see their role in a larger world. [19:34] Exactly. Yeah.

[19:35] So listen, one of our core beliefs Tiffany [19:38] at the Rural Futures Institute is that [19:41] leaders are known not necessarily by their title [19:44] but by their vision, by their passion, by their energy, [19:47] by their willingness to draw people together [19:49] in collective action and we think [19:52] you’re exactly one of those kinds of leaders [19:55] and we’re so delighted to be associated with you. [19:58] Anything you’d like to add before we clock today? [20:00] Other than I just appreciate the opportunity [20:02] to come visit with you and definitely [20:06] partnerships are key to what we do here in the college. [20:09] Partnerships among our academic units, our different centers [20:13] our different programming that we can leverage in that way [20:16] and then thinking about what do partnerships look like [20:19] on the side with our educational systems here in Nebraska [20:22] as well that private sector, or government sector [20:25] and those types of things and so [20:27] that’s one of the key things that I live by [20:29] is how do we leverage those partnerships [20:31] to best position our students to have opportunities [20:34] that allow them to pursue their educational pathways [20:37] and position them to be successful [20:40] in what they choose to do next.

[20:41] So thanks again for the opportunity to visit with you. [20:43] Well you’re a door opener of the first class [20:46] so we’re delighted. [20:47] Well listen, we invite you to stay in touch [20:50] with the Rural Futures Institute through Facebook [20:53] and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and our website. [20:58] We would love to hear from you and have you engaged [21:00] in our work and stay with us. [21:03] We’ll be back next week with another look at real people [21:06] and real places that demonstrate thriving rural communities, [21:10] our legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [21:13] Thanks for joining us.

Previous Episode

Next Episode

Episode 17 | Creating Rural Opportunities