Jack's Insights: Traveling and lessons learned

 Jack Whittier, director UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

A couple weeks ago I spent a day in a rubber raft with five young men ages 13-16 on a fun, yet challenging, whitewater rafting activity. Also in our raft was an experienced guide named Hunter, who told us this was the third summer he had been working as a rafting guide. I’ll admit, I was apprehensive as we were given some safety instructions before getting in the bus to ride up the canyon to where we put in to the rushing river in Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, Colorado.

When we got to the drop-off spot, Hunter adeptly gave us instructions about how to paddle, some dos and don’ts while in the raft and on the water, and off we went. By design, the first stretch of the river was rather calm; yet with all the winter snowpack, and the fact that mid-June is the peak runoff time, the river was high. As we floated in the rather calm portion of the river, Hunter made sure we understood how important it was to work together and to listen to and act on the instructions he was giving. Because, as he said, the river gets more challenging the further we go.

Having this “warmup” segment of our whitewater rafting journey allowed those of us in the boat, including our guide Hunter, to develop confidence in each other and recognize the importance of working together. As the float trip continued, the river got faster and rougher as we passed through class 2 and class 3 rapids. Through each stretch of rapids, Hunter was in the rear of the raft, shouting instructions about how to paddle to navigate the water. Hunter also had a paddle he used to steer from the rear of the raft to help us stay afloat.

By the time we reached the first stretch of class 4 rapids, although we were still a bit apprehensive of what was coming, we had all gained confidence in ourselves and in our guide. Accordingly, we navigated ourselves and rafting buddies safely through this rough water. As we approached the second stretch of class 4 rapids, we even began to laugh and joke with each other. Our experience upriver had prepared us for the challenges ahead.

By the time we ended the float trip, the young men and I were each feeling a sense of satisfaction and fun from our experience. We had taken on a challenge and succeeded – and we had fun in the process.

Many analogies could be drawn from this rafting experience. Please indulge me as I share one analogy drawn from my personal experience at UNL.

June 1 marked five years since I began the role of Director at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center and Panhandle Extension District. During the first period of my director journey, I was apprehensive and rather inexperienced as an administrator, having come from a faculty position and only watching from the sidelines as administrators navigated the waters of a department, college or university.

When I got in the boat myself, I realized that there are certain things as an administrator you only learn by doing. I also learned (and am still learning) that if you don’t pay attention, it is easy to fall out of the boat. Gratefully, I have had adept guides and mentors, and support from many in Scottsbluff, in the Panhandle, and across the university to rely on and am still afloat in my role. Thanks to those who have helped and supported.

I’m continually impressed with the faculty and staff here at the Center, and the Extension Educators and Assistants located in the county offices across the District. These people are skilled, truly dedicated and committed to serving the needs of those in their areas – and are helping “paddle the raft” to assure that the mission of the university is met in western Nebraska.

Thanks to all for an enjoyable and growing five years. I plan to stay in the boat for another while, assuming my supervisors agree.

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