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MSU Extension Service reaches clients in new ways
MISSISSIPPI STATE – When people hear “Extension Service,” they typically do not think of cemeteries or archery contests, but Mississippi State University Extension agents and specialists are reaching out to clients with creative programs.
Mariah Smith, assistant Extension professor with the Center for Technology Outreach, uses seasonal themes and existing interests to design technology workshops with broad appeal.
“In October, I combined the popularity of genealogical research with a class on using iPads to create a ‘spooktechular’ experience,” Smith said. “Most of my students are retirees who finally have time to research their family trees, and they are amazed at the number of apps and technological tools they can use to make their searches easier.”
After an hour-long introduction to tablet technology and a cemetery mapping app, Smith and Itawamba County Extension coordinator Romona Edge drove class participants to the Duval Cemetery for a hands-on lesson. They used the tablets and related app to take pictures of headstones. Then they typed available information, such as names and dates, into the app’s database. Researchers all over the world can now access this data.
“I wanted to really learn how to use my computer, rather than just turning it on and doing one or two things I already knew how to do,” said Faye Hollingsworth, who regularly takes technology classes at the Itawamba County Extension office. “I do a lot of work in genealogy but didn’t know about this app. It’s going to be a great tool that saves me trips to the cemeteries to find graves.”
After the field trip, the class went to a local store to learn about the different types of tablets available, what features they should consider, and what bells and whistles they could do without.
“I want our clients to feel successful enough when they are using the tablets in class to want to buy one, and it made sense to talk to them about their options so they could make a prudent purchase,” Smith said. “Relating technology to what they are interested in and giving them the information they need to make a purchasing decision means they are more likely to adopt that technology.”
Technology is just one topic covered in classes, and the MSU Extension Service organizes livestock sales, robotics competitions, health fairs, wildlife expos and other events that appeal to Mississippians.
Based on client requests, Lowndes County Extension coordinator Reid Nevins and a team of Extension personnel organized the Lowndes County Hunters Extravaganza. More than 400 people attended.
“We brought together state and local agencies, so anyone who loves being outdoors could get educational information,” Nevins said. “People learned about available conservation programs and workshops.
“We also got a lot of support from local businesses. Why buy something online or drive a couple of hours when you can get it from someone right here in north Mississippi?” he said.
The MSU Extension Service, Lowndes County Forestry Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, Mississippi Forestry Commission, and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks set up in the lobby of the Trotter Convention Center in Columbus. Businesses, an archery competition and an air rifle fun shoot filled the main ballroom. Hunters brought mounted deer to be measured for the Magnolia Records program.
“The week after the extravaganza, several young people came by the office and signed up for 4-H Shooting Sports, so we were able to connect with kids who didn’t know 4-H offered that activity,” Nevins said.
Extension director Gary Jackson said it is important for Mississippians to know the MSU Extension Service is dedicated to providing research-based information they can trust.
“MSU Extension is a community partner, and we want to respond to our clients’ needs. We’re constantly looking for new ways to connect with people,” Jackson said. “We understand that Mississippians are diverse and have a wide variety of interests, and our goal is to deliver scientifically accurate information that helps our clients make decisions that will change their lives.”