Educating About Turfgrass Innovations: ALEC faculty and undergrad research assistant take on the challenge

ALEC Agricultural Education Professors Dr. Jason Peake and Dr. Nick Fuhrman are members of a multi-institutional/multi-state research project led by Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis at NC State titled, “Improving drought tolerance and sustainability of turfgrasses used in southern landscapes through the integration of breeding, genetics, physiology, economics and outreach.”

Soon after they started this research, Peake and Fuhrman realized they needed help with the fine details that this research required. They knew exactly who they needed working alongside them and asked Edy Copeland to join the team. Edy is now their student research assistant and is currently a junior in the Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics, where she is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness.

Edy’s specific research is identifying the key players in the turfgrass industry in the southern United States so collaborating researchers can better disseminate innovations derived from the larger project. The purpose of the larger grant is to develop more sustainable and drought-resistant turf cultivars in order to ensure the long-term viability of turfgrasses. Edy, Dr. Peake, and Dr. Fuhrman are leading the Education and Outreach portion of this project and ensuring the diffusion of these new innovations.

Dr. Peake’s, Dr. Fuhrman’s, and Edy’s research has been broken down into two phases. Phase One of this research is identifying “key players” through a snowball sample survey. Individuals are being identified as leaders in their separate industries (strata) and asked to provide contacts for people they trust in the turfgrass industry. The identification of these players will give Edy an advantage in promoting the adoption of these new drought-tolerant turfgrasses throughout the southern United States.

Phase Two of this research consists of the creation of educational materials to maximize diffusion and impact. As this research progresses from the identification of key players, Edy plans to create Extension-outreach programs to help Extension experts, stakeholders, and consumers understand the long-term impact of drought-tolerant turf selection and conservation of water. She will use existing systems to distribute materials like Cooperative Extension, 4-H, the Department of Education, and social media to target specific strata of the target audience.

Dr. Peake, Dr. Fuhrman,and Edy began working together during January 2020 and are currently in Phase One. Edy’s dedication to this research is evident, and it comes as no shock that her research proposal has been accepted by CURO, Center of Undergraduate Research Opportunities, the CAES Undergraduate Research Symposium, and is currently under review to be a part of the Crop Science Society of America Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona this fall.

This is one more example of how ALEC team members continue to find new ways to achieve the UGA research mission “to encourage and support innovative interdisciplinary research, scholarship and creative activities that contribute to the physical, emotional and economic well-being of the people of Georgia, the nation and the world,” even amidst a storm of changes.

Keeping the end goal in mind, Edy has stated, “With this research I hope to motivate adoption of drought-resistant turfgrasses in urban areas through educational materials like videos, pamphlets, and social media to inform the public on the environmental impact of adopting these grasses to save water.” This transdisciplinary research is a great example of the need for collaboration of both social scientists and natural scientists. Dr. Peake, Dr. Fuhrman, and Edy are working through education and outreach to effectively diffuse the innovations that natural scientists have discovered, and we look forward to seeing the results!

By Mary Logan Tostenson

Edy Copeland, an Agribusiness major, serves as the student research assistant on this turfgrass innovation outreach project.
Dr. Jason Peake supervises Copeland's undergraduate research and recruited her specifically for this project.
Dr. Nicholas Fuhrman
Dr. Fuhrman is an instrumental part of the turfgrass innovation research with Edy and Dr. Peake.
Turfgrass Education Research Poster
This poster details phase one of the turfgrass outreach research.