Nebraska Extension director candidate visits Nebraska City

Julie Davis, CherryRoad Media

The priority candidate in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s search for its next dean and director of Nebraska Extension visited Nebraska City Nov. 10 as part of a statewide tour.

Charles Stoltenow, who currently serves as assistant director of extension for agriculture and natural resources at North Dakota State University, met with Nebraska Extension staff and the media at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center for a question-and-answer session Wednesday morning.

When asked why he was interested in being the Nebraska Extension dean and director, Stoltenow said that he has always been impressed with the people from UNL with whom he’s worked. He also said he’s familar the the Nebraska Extension system because it is similar to the one in North Dakota.

Finally, Stoltenow said he believes Nebraska Extension can be the No. 1 extension service in the country because the service manages its resources well and meets the needs of Nebraskans.

Stoltenow said North Dakota’s 53 counties are served by at least one Extension agent each, with the larger counties having more than one agent available. The counties and the state Extension service split the agents’ salaries, with the counties often providing office space for the agent, while the Extension service covers employee benefits for the agents.

He added that some agents in eastern North Dakota help serve the western counties of Minnesota, noting that many Extension employees enjoy serving others.

Stoltenow said his oldest daughter once told him that while having to anticipate his needs while helping with farm chores was one of the worst parts of choring, she also found that skill to be one of the most important things he taught her and her seven siblings. She also said her bosses at the time loved her because she was so good at anticipating and meeting customer needs.

He said that Nebraska Extension anticipated some customer needs following the 2019 floods, and the service pivoted to reach out to North Dakota Extension, which has experienced frequent floods along the Red River. The two services were able to exchange information and communicate internally and with the public effectively.

A program that has been especially successful in North Dakota involves a leadership swap between two communities that participate in the Extension’s Community Vitality program, said Stoltenow.

He said the leaders are encouraged to focus on bright spots and opportunities within the communities they are asked to evaluate, and that both sets of leaders benefit from fresh eyes evaluating their towns.

Stoltenow also discussed what North Dakota Extension learned during the COVID-19 pandemic about serving its customers and stakeholders.

When customers were asked how the pandemic made them feel, they said they were angry because COVID-19 had disrupted their lives and the lives of their families.

After that, Stoltenow suggested to the staff that they “assume positive intent and grant grace” to those with whom they came in contact.

Before joining NDSU Extension in 1996, Stoltenow worked as a veterinarian and epidemiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has also worked in private practice as an equine veterinarian. He has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from North Dakota State University and a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine from Iowa State University.

“Charlie is a forward-looking leader who is extremely passionate about extension, its mission and its future,” said Mike Boehm, NU Vice President and Harlan Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Nebraska. “I am thrilled to welcome him back to Nebraska for this next step in our search for a new permanent dean and director of Nebraska Extension.”

Stoltenow’s tour of Nebraska concludes Nov. 1.

Charles Stoltenow