NPARL has committed itself to getting the information gathered by its scientific staff into the hands of those who need it, whether they be a local producer, Extension agent, or fellow researcher. As evidence of that commitment, NPARL researchers and staff have long been active in a wide variety of outreach efforts, including participating in local and regional field days, workshops, agricultural shows and exhibitions, as well as readily speaking before agricultural, community and school groups about their work. NPARL scientists have also long been involved in numerous professional organizations and collaborate frequently with other scientists on educational, as well as research, efforts.
But all of these activities, while valuable for both researcher and recipient, can also consume a lot of time in both preparation and presentation. Adding too many outreach projects – particularly those requiring additional technical skills –carried with it the danger of compromising the very research it was intended to promote. Recognizing that dilemma, NPARL officials established a new administrative position in 1999 to assist with technology transfer/outreach efforts at the lab. Funding for the new position was divided equally between the lab and the resident USDA-ARS TEAM Leafy Spurge Area-Wide Program, which already had a strong technology transfer component. The lab also routinely adds skilled temporary help when needed to bolster its outreach efforts.
With completion of the new lab/office complex and new scientific staff and programs now in place, the Sidney lab is poised to expand its outreach offerings in the next couple of years to include more on-site presentations and new technologies. Future plans call for the addition of educational/informational video projects to NPARL’s product list, along with new printed materials, including a general lab brochure, as well as unit and individual items.
Outreach in the Digital Age
With staff in place, outreach efforts at NPARL expanded significantly, although on-site events such as field days, meetings and workshops, remained hampered by space limitations, not eased until completion of NPARL’s new lab/office facility in the summer of 2002.Given that limitation, NPARL turned its attention to other, electronic means for distributing its research information. Among the first of several new projects undertaken was development of the “Northern PlainFacts,” a bimonthly, electronic fact sheet containing highlights of NPARL research and outreach activities. The fact sheet is posted under the News & Events section of this new NPARL Internet site.
In 2002, NPARL also agreed to do another regular column highlighting research efforts at the lab, this once a monthly offering initiated at the request of the local newspaper, the twice-weekly Sidney Herald-Leader. The columns are written by the scientists with help from outreach staff (if desired), and reviewed by ARS Information Staff before publication. The response after three months has been positive and NPARL is now circulating the series to other area media as well. Below are the 2002-2003 newspaper articles in Adobe Acrobat .PDF format.
NPARL has also developed a number of other electronic outreach products, including:
• “Grasshoppers: Their Biology, Identification and Management,” an interactive website (http://www.sidney.ars.usda.gov/grasshopper/) and CD-ROM, completed in Summer 2001.This was a collaborative project with USDA-APHIS, which has met with tremendous success. Already more than 3,000CDs have been distributed to interested individuals in more than 35 states and nearly 70 foreign countries.
• An extensive TEAM Leafy Spurge website (http://www.team.ars.usda.gov/) along with a series of easy-to-use, how-to manuals and CD-ROMs on Leafy Spurge control and numberous technical reports, brochures and other informational/educational items.
• A Hoary Cress Consortium website (http://www.sidney.ars.usda.gov/hoarycress/).
Reaching Out to a New Generation
In addition to the aforementioned outreach efforts, NPARL personnel, both administrative and scientific, also make extra time to reach out to new generations, giving tours and presentations to school groups whenever possible, and routinely participating in Career Day activities and school-to-work programs.
A particularly fun outing for NPARL scientists the past two years has been the annual Marketplace for Kids Education Day, held in nearby Williston, ND. The event targets but is not limited to 4th through 6th grade students and is designed to encourage innovative thinking and problem-solving skills and to provide a showcase for young people's ideas. Students are invited to display their inventions and problem solving projects and attend mini classes on a variety of topics.
Bugs have been the featured topic of NPARL’s two presentations, including a very popular "Let's Eat Bugs" class by NPARL grasshopper researcher, Greg Sword, this past May. His mini-class looked at the world of insects, what they are, what they eat, and what eats them. His grand finale featured a special "grasshopper stir fry" with Mormon cricket appetizer for all to sample. Other NPARL personnel staffed the lab's display booth which also featured an insect theme.
In its first year of participation, NPARL representatives attending the event won an “Innovative Thinker” award for an interactive PowerPoint presentation conducted by then acting lab director Dr.Ernest Delfosse focusing on the role of arthropods in the ecosystem, and highlighting entomology and ecology as career options. As a grand finale, Delfosse “built” an insect out of volunteers from the audience.