Michigan State Consumer Horticulture Team Recognized for ‘Working Differently’

Jimmy Henning, eXtension Governing Committee honors (l to r) Michigan State's Rebecca Finneran, Mary Wilson, and Bindu Bhakta with a Working Differently Award.

The Michigan State University Extension Consumer Horticulture Team was honored by eXtension with a new, Working Differently in Extension Award. Team members include:

Bindu Bhakta,
Bob Bricault,
Rebecca Finneran,
Gary Heilig,
Hal Hudson,
Gretchen Voyle,
Linda Whitlock,
Mary Wilson.

According to nominators: “With reduced budgets and staff and increased programmatic responsibilities, how do Educators maximize limited time and resources to meet the growing demands of the gardening public? This is the question the MSUE Consumer Horticulture Team tackled when faced with the daunting task of delivering science-based, environmentally sound information to a potential 8 million plus gardeners, a number drawn from the most recent census. Using technology as the main thread for success, their innovative solution weaves together new educational products, services, delivery systems, and collaborations.

They launched the Gardening in Michigan website as a platform to offer a variety of online classes and resources. They then added an Ask an Expert widget to the website’s front page and worked with the Michigan State University Extension’s eXtension Institutional Team to develop an Ask an Expert training process suited for advanced Master Gardeners.

Through this widget alone the team has answered more than 700 questions in 13 months. In addition, a large part of Michigan’s increase in Ask an Expert questions answered through a widget on the Michigan State University Extension’s website home page—from 723 questions in 2010 to 1044 questions in just the first six months of 2012—can be attributed to this team.

The team is also delivering information and answers to Michigan gardeners through a 24/7 diagnostic hotline. Within one year, calls increased by one thousand, and the hotline has served clients from 80 percent of the State’s 84 counties. Another important target for working differently was the Master Gardener Program. This was redesigned to reduce volunteer management time and create a statewide, easy-to-replicate program integrating a hybrid in-person and electronic delivery method.

Michigan State University Extension’s Consumer Horticulture Team is an inspiration and a model for working smarter when faced with reduced resources.”

The Working Differently Award recognizes either an individual or a team for their engagement with clientele, co-workers and others in new and different ways. It lauds the demonstrable impacts made, both quantitatively and qualitatively as they do their work. And, finally this award provides an opportunity to show how these individuals or groups are working online and within a learning network…something to be truly held up in Cooperative Extension.