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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With a statewide mission to ensure healthy food, families and natural resources across Florida, a great way to keep up with the vast resources of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is through social media.
Social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, offer ways residents can join the IFAS conversation by sharing experiences and educating themselves on ways to make a difference on important issues ranging from food production, to water conservation, money management and conservation.
For example, when a call for volunteers to help clean up a UF campus nature preserve known as the Natural Area Teaching Lab went out through both the lab and UF’s Twitter account, new faces came to the site’s aid, said the lab’s director, Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman.
“We had volunteers that we might not have reached before,” she said. “Not only did we get more followers on our Twitter account, but a lot of people who had never heard of the Natural Area came down and volunteered.”
Social media also allows IFAS research and extension personnel to connect and improve their collaborative efforts, said Gillett-Kaufman, an extension scientist in UF/IFAS’ entomology and nematology department. She manages Facebook and Twitter accounts for her department and the Natural Area Teaching Lab.
“One of the best things with social media is the links it provides to all the different groups in IFAS and what they are doing,” she said. “I feel like I have a better understanding of what my colleagues are doing, and it didn’t cost me a lot of time to learn.”
Social media also is a low-cost way for IFAS messages to reach many people, said Cathy Carr, director of alumni and career services for UF/IFAS’ College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and manager of CALS’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Because of budget limitations we have had to stop printing some of the things we used to print in the past,” Carr said. “Social media doesn’t necessarily make up for that, but we can use it as an additional tool for spreading the word about programs and the great things our students, faculty and staff are doing.”
The CALS social media sites allow students in the college to connect and form a community while staying informed with CALS news, and its Facebook page has more than 2,000 followers.
IFAS is also using social media to help elementary, middle and high school students learn about protecting nature.
Students in Osceola County created 25 videos in a competition to see who could produce the best short video story on the dangers and prevention of invasive plants in Florida.
Invasive aquatic plants are a major problem in Florida as they out-compete native plants and make waterways unnavigable for wildlife and boaters.
The contest was sponsored by the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants and the Osceola County Extension Office as part of its education and outreach efforts, and many of the videos were shared on YouTube, said Amy Richard, the center’s education initiative coordinator.
“Plants are not something students necessarily embrace,” Richard said. “So how do you get students excited about plants? One way is to use something they are excited about, like video and YouTube.”
The students’ video plots ranged from plant invasions on an airplane to superheroes fighting against invasive plant villains and the mishaps that can stem from emptying invasive plants from aquariums. The video project has received hundreds of views, thus opening up the center’s message to a wider audience that includes the student’s parents, friends, relatives and more.
Ruth Hohl Borger, assistant vice president for IFAS information and communication services, said social media has provided new ways for IFAS to communicate as more people join social networks.
“IFAS has established itself on social media to engage people and provide them the timeliest information,” she said. “It is rapidly becoming the first medium we use.”
Many county extension offices in Florida can be found on social networks by searching the Internet or by looking at who UF/IFAS News likes on Facebook or follows on Twitter.
Writer: Robert H. Wells, 352-273-3569; email@example.com
Sources: Ruth Hohl Borger, 352-392-2411; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, 352-273-3950; email@example.com
Caption: This QR Code for UF/IFAS News on Facebook can be scanned with a smartphone to access the site.