Catching Up with CALS — May 20, 2020
Dean's Message — Keeping Momentum
CALS faculty and staff continue their work to help agriculture, families and communities address issues that are important.
UI Extension faculty gather information to help farmers and ranchers solve plant pest and disease issues that will make a difference this week and later this growing season.
The UI Extension 4-H Youth Development program is preparing to take the Idaho 4-H State Teen Association Convention online to continue the efforts that help children learn leadership skills and adopt healthy approaches to life.
These are the things that make CALS faculty and staff relevant to so many of the state’s residents on a regular and first-name basis.
Despite the pandemic that has so radically changed our lives and employment, we continue to find ways to keep up our responsibilities inherent in a land-grant institution.
What we must also do is think of maintaining the momentum that we have worked so hard to create over the past four years. These projects always looked to the future to improve our ability to deliver better solutions to stakeholders and enhance the state’s economy.
We need to focus on the positive messaging these projects provide as U of I and CALS look to the time when we pass this COVID-19 crisis.
Our major initiatives from CAFE to Parma to Rinker Rock Creek Ranch all attracted major support from the state’s leaders, businesses, agricultural commissions and non-governmental organizations. We expect to announce more good news soon that will further demonstrate that positive momentum.
Our challenge, and this is no trivial matter, is to connect our work on local matters to the larger issues.
The U of I’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust at the Rinker Rock Creek Ranch, and with CALS partnership with the College of Natural Resources is a step in that direction.
The scale of the ranch, 10,400 acres (with an equivalent amount of adjacent BLM land) affords the unique opportunity to conduct research that has immediate impact on how our rangeland is used and maintained.
In addition, the results from this research will have national implications as many western states face the same challenges with their rangelands.
I am confident that the diverse faculty from the College of Natural Resources and CALS involved at the ranch in collaboration with the conservancy and land trust will develop research protocols with both statewide and national implications.
We have talented faculty who are capable and interested in making that sort of impact and now we have the facility outside of Hailey to make it happen. Our path forward will rely on making the most of opportunities.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
58,700,000 bushels of winter wheat is the 2020 forecast for Idaho from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, down 1% from 2019. Based on May 1 conditions, the forecast predicted yields will average 85 bushels per acre, down 2 bushels from 2019. Growers planted an estimated 730,000 acres in the fall of 2019, the same as the previous year. 2020 harvested acres are forecast at 690,000 acres, up 10,000 acres from 2019.
Our Stories — 25 Years of Teaching Online
Online learning, the fallback position for professors worldwide as COVID-19 forced campuswide retreats from the classroom, is familiar territory for CALS environmental chemist Greg Moller.
He joined the CALS faculty in 1990 and began moving online shortly after, incorporating a website in a class-based chemical engineering course, hazardous waste management in 1995. The 25-year-old website is still available online.
The site featured printable lecture notes and Cafe Toxic, a rudimentary discussion board. Still, it was a leap from his first web-surfing experience in 1993 when only 48 webpages existed on the web. His connection to the website relied on a telephone modem.
In addition to awards for website design and video along the way, Moller won one of the nation’s top honors for his teaching, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ USDA National Teaching Award in 2014.
His three classes are all taught online, available as video documentaries and lectures so students can complete the work whenever their schedules allow. His commitment to students is to offer them a live connection to the material when they need it.
Early U of I work on the web, including Moller’s and the university’s push to tap into the nation’s fastest fiber-optic “backbone,” caught Wired magazine’s attention. It ranked Idaho among the top 10 wired universities across the U.S. in 1998.
That year, Moller began streaming his environmental toxicology lectures. In the early 2000s, he was among the early faculty who offered lectures on Apple’s video streaming service.
He then shifted to Second Life, a virtual reality, video game-like world where students adopted avatars, and he joined them to lecture and answer questions.
His biggest teaching transition was to convert his classes to doculectures, mini documentaries about individual lecture topics. He now teaches principles of sustainability spring and fall, food toxicology during the fall semester and principles of environmental toxicology during spring semester.
Taught as both undergraduate and graduate classes during the 2019-20 academic year, the four offerings enrolled 140 students, 74 undergraduates and 66 graduates.
Sustainability class students from Chicago and Atlanta sent notes thanking Moller for lectures that helped them expand their understanding of issues and both distract them from COVID-19 and prepare them for future roles in their companies.
His online students come from around the world. Many are working professionals who want to earn an advanced degree or expand their understanding of a specialized area.
The classes are popular with students because of the subjects, and because he strives to be accessible. “I encourage students to communicate with me in whatever way works best for them. They appreciate it when they get a text from me at 11:30 p.m. answering a question,” he said.
The classes challenge graduate-level students in particular. They must write a scientific journal-style paper on the subject of their choice. “I encourage them to choose topics that relate to their jobs or their personal interests so it matters to them,” he said.
Faces and Places
Apparel, textile and design instructor Chelsey Lewallen in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences received a $750 grant from the Idaho STEM Action Center for materials to develop and make personal protective equipment.
- May 20 — Wine Down Wednesday with Coco and Karl Umiker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars on Facebook, 5-6 p.m.
- June 2-3 — Vandal Giving Day focusing on supporting students and providing scholarships.
Feedback or suggestions? Please pass them along through email@example.com