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June 8, 2018 - 8:35pm

Director search underway at Cornell extension, interim director says her job will be 'a delight'

In a couple of weeks, Beverly L. Mancuso will visit her brother in Ohio and attend a couple of her nieces' recitals. Once the State of New York releases the retirement funds she long paid into the system, the former executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County will consider more elaborate travel plans.

"Bev" spent Thursday saying goodbyes at the extension's headquarters on East Main Street in Batavia, winding down the final hours of 16 and a half years of employment there, the longest of her career.

She is dressed in khaki and coral colors, with "bling," as she calls it, to match. Tanned, with an easy laugh and quick mind, her mien is forthright, she is plain spoken, and admittedly unkeen on "micromanaging" adult professionals.

She left on her birthday at the top of her game, with a solid track record of achievement, and an unclouded sky above her.

There are several reasons for that.

Having steeped herself in the machinations of county government for five years prior to Cornell helped, as did a deep dive into the finances of the extension for the two years she served as business manager and associate director prior to landing the executive directorship.

Before that, her expertise in systems administration helped her develop the skills that could bring greater simplicity and clarity to the administrative side of the cooperative extension. For example, she helped craft a shared business network and that took more than six years to build.

"We already had strong programs, so I focused on the administrative side," Mancuso said. "How could we work smarter and do things differently? I tried to make it easy for people to do their actual jobs, so they're not doing busy work."

And always she kept mindful of taxpayers' money, and how she could be more responsible with it.

The days of 25 employees at Cornell extension in Batavia are history, she said, noting that today there are 10 permanent employees.

One idea she has, this daughter of the nation's creator of the first business incubator, AKA the Batavia Industrial Center, is to have a "one-stop-shop for nonprofits, for human service agencies."

"So we can all maximize the limited funding...we've got to be smarter about how we're doing stuff," she said. "It's not going back to how it was, how it used to be."

Another reason for Mancuso's strength of tenure can be traced to a program she is really proud of perpetuating after others launched it: Leadership Genesee.

Developed at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Batavia, and also unique to it, Leadership Genesee took 10 years to get off the ground.

"It became a force in the community -- all the nooks and crannies -- and what makes it tick," she said. "Every day focuses on a different component of the community. We don't tell them what to think, we just show them how everything works and they make up their own mind."

To date, it has trained more than 500 graduates, including Mancuso, who graduated in its debut Class of 2001.

She says it taught her, among other things, the wisdom to "let go" and allow others to help when a seemingly insurmountable problem arose.

There were 35 people in the latest class and applications for the next one are being reviewed.

The merits of the yearlong program are not lost on area employers.

"A lot of different local employers, they get it, they see the value in it," Mancuso said. "It doesn't really focus on developing traditional leadership skills -- like decision making -- it's about people who really love where they live and gives them an opportunity to see a lot of the things that are going on."

Whether the day's focus is agriculture and farm tours, or economic development and government, or travel and tourism, or nonprofit resources, the range is so broad and the knowledge so finely tuned that the cumulative impact of Genesee-County-as-classroom on the learner is profound, as graduates readily attest.

After completing Leadership Genesee, graduates can apply their skills and knowledge to any area that speaks to them and hopefully be able to make a difference in the community for the better; that's the goal.

"It's the best way for people to learn," Mancuso said. "And really, the issue is, we have bigger needs than we can (adequately) address. Like the opioid crisis."

Her leadership in the leadership program is one reason she was honored as a New York State Woman of Distinction by Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer last month.

Overall, Mancuso says she has learned a great deal by listening to experts in agriculture, which is far and away the main economic engine in this county.

"These guys are so smart," Mancuso said. "(Farming) is so hard. If anybody undersells what they do, it's agriculture. But I've been learning, learning, learning. The people who do this here have such an amazing skill set and they are so brilliant."

She leaves the cooperative extension that helps them, secure in the knowledge that Robin Travis is temporarily in charge.

The interim executive director brings 40 years of experience with the extension and numerous associations in the Finger Lakes region.

The reason why she has come out of retirement for the third time after formally retiring seven years ago to serve in an interim executive capacity is that she has personally seen the positive difference CE makes in people's live -- 4'Hers, homemakers, farmers, business professionals. She also works as a coach to new executive directors, mentoring them.

She has turned down some gigs, but says even though Genesee County is her longest commute -- 92 miles -- it was an easy "yes."

"I look at the strength of the board, their financial position and I look at their programming and how they're doing," Travis said. "And this one is going to be a delight because things are running so smoothly."

Travis planned to meet Thursday afternoon with a senior staff member to do a brief interview to find out what that employee thinks, likes, dreams and would like to see changed or implemented. These one-on-one sessions will continue next week with the rest of the staff.

Travis's part-time job through Sept. 30 is to keep things running as smoothly as Mancuso left them. The executive director position is being advertised and closes July 1. Qualified candidates will be screened through phone interviews and those making the final cut will travel to Batavia for interviews.

A committee, co-chaired by the Board of Directors President Colleen Flynn and the State Specialist and Cornell Representative Renee Smith, oversees the search process.

"I feel strongly that being able to understand our mission and then applying it to everyday life" is key in filling to position, Travis said. "It's a very grassroots organization, so we really try to address the issues that are particular to whatever county we're talking about.

"(The committee) is looking for somebody who knows the mission, who has vision and can see possibilities, and that is not stuck in the past or in what's current, but can really see the future."

Despite the enormous impact of technology on all of the work done at the cooperative extension, it is the relationships with people that are still at the core of everything, Travis said.

"The way you help people change behavior is to form a relationship with them," Travis said.

Those relationships help strengthen the organization's credibility, too, and its accountability.

"The buck stops here," Travis said. "We have the research base; we have the worldwide connection to that research."

Travis is also impressed that Genesee County has a whopping three staff specialists in residence in Batavia, an indication of the power of agriculture in Genesee County: "Expertise at your fingertips."

And Travis's expertise is greatly appreciated by Mancuso.

"She has such a strong background; she knows programs; she knows the system," Mancuso said. "The local piece is different but she already knows and respects that. I think her personality and demeanor are going to play really well here."

Speaking of playing...There were a couple of bottles of beer in a bag on the floor of Mancuso's nearly bare office, parting gifts from colleagues. Maybe she'll sip a cold one while watching "Cold Mountain," which she jotted down as a note to self, following a reporter's suggestion because Mancuso, who is not married, is fond of its star, Jude Law.

He could serve her a cocktail on vacation, say, at Camogli beach in Liguria in Northwestern Italy. She says she would not mind at all.

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