Extending good advice

WEBSTER CITY – Though often fulfilling, careers in university Extension are generally not regarded as the stuff of destiny.

But for Barb Wollan, serving as a family finance specialist for ISU Extension and Outreach supports her outlook on life and carries on a family tradition.

“I grew up in an Extension family,” said Wollan, a Little Falls, Minn. native whose parents both worked for their local Extension Service at various times.

“When I went to college, I expected to go into Extension,” she said.

But after receiving her degree at North Dakota State University, Wollan spent a few years in the classroom.

“I found that I really liked classroom teaching,” Wollan said.

However, after completing a master’s degree in family social science at the University of Minnesota, Wollan decided to put her skills to work elsewhere.

Throughout the nation, Extension programs expand the mission of land-grant universities by engaging citizens through research-based educational programs.

Among the stated purposes of ISU Extension is increasing the ability of Iowans to make informed decisions by applying relevant, needs-driven resources, to create significant impact in the state.

That’s a mission Wollan said she is proud to undertake.

Wollan is one of several family finance specialists within the Extension program. Together, the specialists serve each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Within Wollan’s nine-county territory in north central Iowa, she seeks to provide educational resources that help residents make sound, well-informed decisions about their finances.

A large aspect of her job is providing information.

Though facts and figures abound in the Internet age, Wollan and her Extension colleagues attempt to give people information that is untainted by commercial considerations.

“A large part of my job is finding out what’s new in the world of finance,” she said.

Wollan oversees several events and programs on an annual basis. She serves as coordinator of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project for Wright and Hamilton counties.

In March, Wollan helped bring Money Smart Week events to Fort Dodge for the second year in a row.

Created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago as a financial literacy campaign, Money Smart Week has been held in Iowa for the last 10 years.

“This year, we expanded into a Fort Dodge-area event,” said Wollan.

A misperception people sometimes have is that the educational opportunities provided by Wollan and Extension are only for those facing financial difficulty.

“I see three things,” Wollan said, in reference to challenges in her position. “First, people often feel like they’re getting along OK.”

This prevents them from seeking out useful information.

Other hindrances include embarrassment – either real or perceived.

“People don’t want to admit they have questions or concerns,” she said.

For some people, the fear of the unknown is enough to prevent them from seeking out information that could be useful.

“If they go out and learn something new, they may decide they need to change how they do things,” she said.