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If the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were an elementary school student, its report card would undoubtedly contain the teachers’ well-worn phrase “works well with others.”

The Upper Mountain Research Station

At an elevation or 3,000+ feet, the Upper Mountain Research Station provides a real-world lab for the study of subjects such as cold-hardiness and fungal diseases. It represents an important partnership between the College and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The College has always worked with other organizations, and these collaborations nearly always benefit both parties. Yet forming partnerships and making them work is increasingly important.

“To effectively attack today’s complex problems, we need and we are actively seeking partners whose expertise and resources dovetail with those of our College,” says Dean Jim Oblinger.

The College does not always have all the resources it needs; that's where partnerships enter the picture.In the following stories, we look at some of the College’s most important partners, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; county governments; groups representing the farmers who produce various commodities; and organizations, such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, that help provide students with meaningful experiences.

Real-world labs

Sheep at the Upper Mountain stationJoe Hampton can guarantee at least a few below-zero temperatures each winter at the Upper Mountain Research Station. In 52 years of recording station temperatures, Hampton, the station superintendent, says the highest temperature recorded was 92; the coldest was minus 26. Cold winters make the station the perfect place to test plants for cold hardiness.

If a cultivar survives an Upper Mountain winter, it will be cold-hardy for the rest of the state.“If a new cultivar survives our winter, we can say with some assurance it will be cold-hardy for the rest of the state,” says Hampton. The station’s climate also makes it ideal for research on fungal diseases such as blue mold in tobacco and gray leaf spot in corn. Because it doesn’t get hot and dry enough to kill the fungi that cause these diseases, scientists are guaranteed they can do experiments involving the diseases.

The Upper Mountain Research Station is hardly unique among North Carolina research stations in being an indispensable outdoor laboratory.

College researchers work at all of the 16 stations scattered across the state. Six are owned by North Carolina State University; the other 10 by the NCDA&CS. They represent every geographic and environmental condition in the state.

Two stations, the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station at Fletcher and the Tidewater Research Station at Plymouth, also have research and extension centers on their grounds. These centers provide lab and office space for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service.

Any discussion of research stations would be incomplete without a mention of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at Goldsboro. A partnership with the NCDA&CS and North Carolina A&T State University, the center is reserved for research on sustainable and organic farming.

These far-flung facilities are as different and varied as North Carolina. Yet all are real-world laboratories indispensable for scientists working to solve real-world problems.

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A communication conduit

Sandy Stewart conducting cotton researchIt seems likely that what Alexander “Sandy” Stewart is learning about how to apply growth-regulating chemicals will save cotton growers money.

Stewart is a master’s student working with Dr. Keith Edmisten, a crop scientist. He is experimenting with a wick applicator that wipes, rather than sprays, chemicals on cotton.

Growth regulators are applied to cotton to limit plant height. But cotton plants are usually uneven in height. Spraying the same amount of chemical on all the plants means that while the growth of taller plants may be limited, the growth of shorter plants will also be limited, an unintended and unwelcome result. And some of the chemical invariably is sprayed on the ground, where it does no good.

The wick applicator can be set to brush chemicals above the shorter plants, where they are needed. Stewart says growers may be able to cut chemical usage by one half to one third. That would cut chemical costs considerably.

Stewart’s work is made possible in part by stipends from Cotton Inc. and the North Carolina Cotton Promotion Association. The funding is but one result of partnerships the College has formed with farmers’ organizations.

North Carolina is the third most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, and virtually every commodity produced in the state is represented by an organization. The College interacts with all these groups, says Dr. George Kriz, associate director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service. Kriz has listed on his 1999 calendar 103 meetings involving commodity groups and College faculty members. The first meeting is Jan. 3; the last is Dec. 11.

28 commodity organizations provide funding.Twenty-eight commodity organizations support the College with funding ranging from $2,500 to close to $300,000 annually. Perhaps just as important as the funding is the two-way communication between the associations and the College. By designating the projects their money is to support, commodity groups provide insight into their needs and concerns.

“It’s their choice which projects get funded,” Kriz says. “This enables them to express their priorities for research and extension.”

At the same time, commodity organizations serve as a conduit to help faculty to get information to farmers and others quickly and efficiently.

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Local needs, local resources

For decades, rural communities have struggled to meet wastewater treatment needs in ways that sustain growth yet protect the environment. A new center in Brunswick County is aimed at helping environmental engineers, home builders, septic tank installers and others better understand the latest wastewater treatment options.

The Southeast Regional On-Site Wastewater Training Center in Bolivia, N.C., will feature seven functional domestic wastewater treatment systems approved for use along North Carolina’s southeastern coast.

According to Brunswick County Extension Director Phil Ricks, the facility could not have been built if not for a strong partnership among the College and county, state and federal governments.

Cooperative Extension secured a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to fund the project. Building the facility required the expertise and support of faculty members in soil science and biological and agricultural engineering, Extension Master Gardener volunteers, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and several county agencies. The involvement of three area county health departments was especially critical in ensuring that the facility meets area needs, Ricks says.

County, state and federal governments support Extension.Such county government support has long been key to enabling Extension to meet its educational mission. County governments provide for county Extension centers and contribute to operating and personnel budgets for the field faculty. Their appropriations complement those from state and federal governments, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“As a land-grant institution, along with N.C. A&T State, we have a mandate to ensure that research and teaching reach beyond our campus. We meet this mandate by building partnerships like the one that made the Southeast Regional On-Site Wastewater Training Center possible,” says Dean Oblinger. “By providing cost-effective, hands-on training with systems suitable for the region’s soils, this partnership benefits communities and businesses while protecting the environment.”

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Reaching out to teachers

We are making a difference in helping teachers.For more than 15 years, Dr. Charles Lytle has worked to help science teachers spark their students’ interest and understanding. The professor of zoology and head of Biology Outreach Programs says his efforts spring from enlightened self-interest.

“There are those who’ve been content to say public schools aren’t doing a good job of preparing students for college-level science and math. But I think that the problem starts and ends with the university. We can — and we are — making a difference in building a network that enables teachers to be more effective in preparing their students for what they will encounter here.”

The College has, for example, provided a training and support program for teachers in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. Since its inception six years ago, the program has been supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In September, the institute awarded a second $1.4 million grant to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. The funds will be used to enrich and broaden science education for seventh- to 12th-graders and university undergraduates.

The grant enables Lytle and his colleagues to build upon the strengths of N.C. State programs —especially the Biology Outreach Programs and The Science House —that reach more than 20,000 K-12 students and teachers annually.

The Pre-College Program will sponsor science and technology career conferences for 2,000 seventh-graders and summer research programs for high school student-teacher teams. It also will establish a Science House satellite in a 10-county area of northeastern North Carolina. The office, staffed by a master teacher, will provide teacher training and computer and lab equipment loans.

In addition, Teaching With Research workshops will show teachers the benefits of active classroom learning and the potential of new technologies to facilitate such learning.

Dena Bradham shows students how to use probes and a computer.With support from the first Hughes grant, Dena Bradham, a biology teacher at Triton High School in Erwin, learned to use computer-based technology to help students understand science concepts.

“So often, the students would think of science as something you sit in a classroom, take notes and be tested on.” Bradham says. “The technology has made a big difference in terms of my being able to show that science is not that — that science is something you do.”

As her students became more confident, they became more eager to learn. Other teachers noticed and became involved. They sought and obtained resources for a permanent lab with computers, probes, digital balances, microscopes and laser-disc players.

With teachers like Bradham changing the way science is taught, Lytle is confident the College’s outreach programs are making a difference.

“Their success and this grant from the Hughes Institute demonstrate that N.C. State is well-established not only as a research institution but also as a leader in developing partnerships with schools.”

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