AGNR Rises in the Face of COVID-19, Developing Innovative Educational Resources and Research Initiatives for Multiple Audiences

September 29, 2020 Graham Binder

While summer may seem like a sleepy time for institutions of higher education and the University of Maryland, the reality runs contrary with intense academic year planning taking place in the background. It's also arguably the busiest time of year for University of Maryland Extension, as the department's non-formal statewide education for Maryland residents kicks into its highest gear.

This 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disproportionately affect everyone's lives throughout the Spring and Summer, and now into the Fall, planning efforts were upended as faculty, staff, and college leadership shifted their priorities to focus on an educational model that was resilient in the face of the pandemic. Decades of in-person instruction was transferred to online delivery in a matter of just a few weeks, and refined as we move into the summer in preparation for fall. A virtual forum was held to educate the public about COVID's origin, disease transmission, and strategies to prevent future pandemics. Our Department of Veterinary Medicine began work on an intranasal vaccine. This is just a short list of highlights. Below we've compiled several ways in which AGNR has stood up to the pandemic, and persisted in fulfilling our core mission areas of research, academics, and Extension.

Personal Protective Equipment Construction

AGNR students sourced, constructed, and supplied thousands of individual personal protective equipment to Maryland hospitals -

Virtual Issue Forum Focused on COVID-19

AGNR and UME faculty co-hosted a virtual issue forum to educate the public about COVID’s origin, transmission, and reverse some misperceptions while offering strategies related to food safety, shoring up our food supply, how to prevent transmission, and strategies and best practices to prevent future pandemics. 

Backyard Farming Program Expands

UME expanded its backyard farming program to a larger region and audience with the inclusion of multiple agents, featuring topics on hay and forage, small ruminants, beekeeping, poultry, and more.

New Focus on Mental Health Programming

UME expanded its mental health research including the hiring of Alex Chan, a mental health specialist specializing in child and family wellness. Chan published several resources on the Family and Consumer Sciences online wellness blog.

UME Creates New Poultry Extensive Collaborative

An uptick in poultry farming due to the pandemic and resulting food shortages has highlighted a need for animal welfare education, helping new and existing farmers make conscientious decisions about obtaining and raising birds. UME's poultry management and welfare specialist Shawna Weimer, and colleagues from several cooperative Extension programs, created the Poultry Extension Collaborative (PEC) to educate farmers on making scrupulous decisions for their animals.

Content on Breathing Room Blog Expands

UME expanded COVID information covered on the health and wellness blog Breathing Room, including financial resources, family stress, time management in telework, indoor air quality and more. Here's an example entry on financial wellness.

UME Helps Its Own with a Database of Virtual Engagement Tactics

UME developed a comprehensive set of online training resources for faculty and staff to help them pivot their programming to the virtual world. Many in UME were used to traditional in-person consultations or site visits, but now understand the different ways to engage their audiences virtually. 

"Morning, Farmer!"

UME is launching “Morning, Farmer!” in Dec. 2020, designed as an online meeting place for farmers to talk live with agents as well as interact with each other. This program is currently in development.