Eileen Hollander, Pearl River County Master Gardener
Webinar series provides Extension programming virtually
Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson
Wearing a face mask and keeping his social distance, Dr. Christian Stephenson dropped by Eileen Hollander’s Poplarville home in early September. He was there to help her identify scale insects on the mulberry trees in her garden and suggest research-based remedies.
Though Stephenson is an Extension agent based at the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Hancock County office, he just happened to be in the area, conducting horticulture research at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station.
Hollander knew him from the horticulture webinars he’d hosted at least twice weekly since April 2020, when COVID-19 made it necessary for Stephenson to deliver his educational programming virtually. Since March, any face-to-face meetings between Extension staff and clients have followed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to mask use and social distancing.
“He not only answered the questions in his program on scouting for insects, but he actually came by to show me how to do it and what was wrong with my trees,” Hollander says. “It’s not just the webinars; he provides a service to gardeners by visiting with them personally and helping them with their problems.”
Hollander is a Pearl River County Master Gardener who splits her time between her native New Orleans and Poplarville. Through the Master Gardener program, which is administered by Extension, she receives consumer horticulture training and certification in exchange for volunteer service. She is a frequent attendee of Stephenson’s interactive webinars.
— Dr. Christian Stephenson, Hancock County
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“I plan my schedule around them,” she says. “They’re almost like face-to-face meetings. I appreciate the webinar method of learning safely through the pandemic.”
She says Stephenson answers gardening-related questions before and after the formal presentation.
Much of her volunteer work is connected to MSU Extension’s Crosby Arboretum, an internationally recognized native-plant conservatory dedicated to research, education, and preservation of plants in the Pearl River Drainage Basin. She is a member of the Arboretum’s “Green Team” of volunteers who rescue native plants from areas scheduled for development and helps with plant sales, proceeds of which go to the conservatory.
Stephenson leads many of the webinars Hollander has participated in, but other Extension agents also teach, depending on the topic. Lamar County Extension agent Ross Overstreet leads presentations on lawn maintenance and beekeeping, while Hancock County Extension agent Jennifer Joseph covers health and nutrition. Wayne County Extension agent Jessica Sibley discusses getting started with backyard chickens. Topics for these presentations come from participants’ requests. Stephenson hosted more than 60 webinars in 2020.
“The founding principle of Extension is to reach out to people in the community and provide information that improves their lives. We haven’t been able to meet face-to-face because of the challenges presented by COVID-19, but we still have a commitment to our clients,” Stephenson explains. “Being there when they need us is what we do, and this presentation series has been one way we’ve been able to keep helping them during a difficult time when they need that connection.”
Another advantage of the webinar format is an evaluation link that allows attendees to provide their recommendations for future topics.
“The information being provided in these presentations is based on sound, research-based sources and is relevant to the specific location where the clients live,” Stephenson emphasizes. “The aim is to present it in a format that allows for the topic to be covered in detail without being overwhelming.”
For Hollander, having presentations geared toward outdoor enthusiasts and gardeners of any skill level is a bonus.
“All the speakers on the webinars are very knowledgeable,” she says. “They provide practical and useful guidance in a very convenient way. The webinars include basic information for the beginner and details relating to new horticultural techniques and research findings for the seasoned gardener.”
The following videos featuring Hollander were produced by Louisiana State University Ag Center as part of Hollander’s Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener requirements.
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