Category Archives: Community & Leadership

Families reclaim their homes and health thanks to Virginia Tech’s Urban Pest Management Program

Tomeika Ferrell in her home in Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Tomeika Ferrell, a resident of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, is now able to enjoy cooking and entertaining in her home thanks to Dini Miller’s work. Ferrell has not seen a cockroach in months.

Insect infestations in our homes – think thousands of cockroaches or bedbugs – can trigger a host of emotional responses.

In addition to embarrassment, those pests contaminating our living spaces can leave people feeling ashamed, defeated, and tainted.

The age-old clash between bugs and humans drives Dini Miller. The entomologist is impassioned about making life better for anyone tormented by pest infestations. Through her practical research and educational efforts, she is working hard to ensure that insects don’t make us feel like guests in our own homes.

Miller, urban pest management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and a professor of entomology in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is conducting a year-long experiment in two states that could all but eradicate German cockroach infestations in multi-unit housing communities and transform standard pest-management protocols.

“Much of my work through the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory is focused on eliminating pest problems in underrepresented communities. I would like to change the way that pest control is handled in public housing. A lot of people are living with a lot of cockroaches, and they don’t need to be. This problem, we can solve,” said Miller.

Each month, she travels to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) communities in Richmond and Hopewell, Virginia, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where she is engaged in an assessment-based program to treat homes infested with large numbers of cockroaches.

In Rocky Mount, a sleepy southern town once known for its tobacco and textiles, just an hour east of Raleigh, Miller is working to make life better for residents in 31 test homes. Her success, less than 10 months into the experiment, has made her a champion to residents including Sharon Jones.

Jones resides in a one-story, ranch-style duplex in a Rocky Mount HUD community.

“Once the cockroaches showed up, they multiplied quickly,” said Jones, a retired grandmother who has lived in her home for 16 years. “One Thanksgiving, I was cooking and they were so bad I couldn’t leave the food on my stove for a moment. I had to put everything on a table in the middle of the living room to try to protect it.”

In the middle of the night, Jones would awaken to find hundreds of cockroaches swarming across her sink and washing machine. In the morning, she often discovered the pests in her breakfast cereal.

Jones’ neighbor and friend Tomeika Ferrell experienced such a severe infestation that she feared her lease would be terminated when the number of cockroaches prevented building managers from painting her apartment despite monthly insecticide treatments by a local HUD-contracted pest control company.

“The exterminators made me feel like I was a bad housekeeper, like I wasn’t cleaning,” said Ferrell, a mother of three, whose home is welcoming and lovingly decorated with artwork and textiles. “My daughter has bad asthma and was experiencing an allergic reaction. I cleaned so often that I almost took the paint off of the counters. Nothing helped. Then, when the exterminators sprayed, the problem seemed to get worse, and I worried about how the chemicals would impact my daughter.”

Prior to exterminations, residents are asked to clean their homes, wash dishes, remove trash, and vacuum. They are also expected to remove all of their belongings from closets, cupboards, and other areas targeted for insecticide, such as the top of refrigerators, stoves, and other large appliances.

“Residents have to go through this process routinely, often weeks before the pest control company visits since they don’t know the exact date,” said Miller. “They have nowhere to put their belongings. But, the worst part is that when conditions aren’t perfect, the residents are blamed for the pests. The excuse is always that they didn’t prepare properly for treatment. It’s unfair, and it’s putting the blame in the wrong place.”

Miller’s protocol requires no prior cleaning, no spray insecticides, and is ingenious in its practical simplicity. Best of all, residents are not required to change their living habits in any way.

The entomologist places sticky traps in each unit the day before treatment. The next day, she counts the number of cockroaches in order to quantify how much bait to place in each apartment. She and her team then place bait containing an insecticide throughout the units, focusing on areas where the insects congregate.

“We used this process to save time,” said Miller. “Wax paper squares worked best for massive bait distribution. You can put them into cracks and crevices without contaminating anything. We found that even when attractive foods, such as pizza, are left out in the apartments, the cockroaches still eat the bait.”

Miller’s assessment-based, decision-making methodology – quantifying the number of cockroaches prior to treatment and utilizing a food bait rather than pesticide spray to kill the cockroaches – is innovative. Best of all, it’s working. In Rocky Mount, cockroaches have been completely eliminated in the test units. Hopewell has had a 99.7 percent reduction in cockroaches, while Richmond populations have decreased by more than 98.9 percent.

Although her method requires more time and money at the outset, it offers a greater reward: fewer roaches and fewer treatments over time, not to mention happier residents. This is the message she wishes to impart to HUD officials, apartment managers, and pest control operators. Buoyed by her success, and by the relief of her residents, Miller is now working to develop a new set of standards and a check list for pest control contracts in HUD communities across the country.

“There are two issues: the practical side (baiting), and the political side (how contracts are written for pest management companies),” said Tim Kring, head of the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology. “Unless HUD requires its managers to adopt the new guidelines, this will be a slow process.

“As people are forced to change, they will change. It’s easy to see that Dr. Miller’s protocol is better. But, it costs more. And, under the current HUD guidelines, spraying is the most economical treatment – but, it has not controlled the problem,” said Kring.

In the meantime, Miller has made life better for residents, whose relief is palpable. Ferrell has not seen a roach in months. She also reported that her daughter’s asthma has improved.

“This process has eased my mind so much,” said Ferrell. “Now, I can have company over and cook without worrying that roaches will jump on them. It’s much happier around here. I finally feel comfortable in my own home.”

Ferrell is joined by a chorus of satisfied residents, including Sharon Jones; Lakeyshia Mayo, a mother of one; and Marcia Simms, a Jamaican-American mother of four – in addition to residents in Hopewell and Richmond, Virginia.

“The change has been dramatic, and I didn’t have to remove anything from my home,” said Simms. “I was skeptical at first when I didn’t see any spray or chemicals, but whatever Dr. Miller is doing is revolutionary. I’m so appreciative to have been on her list. If there’s a Grammy Award, she deserves it.”

Miller may not qualify for a Grammy, but something even better is in the works. This summer, the Urban Pest Management Program received an endowment that will help ensure that work of this caliber will continue for many years to come.

In June, Joe and Mary Wilson, of Fredericksburg, Virginia established the Joseph R. and Mary W. Wilson Endowed Urban Entomology Professorship. Wilson is the former owner of PermaTreat Pest Control, a leading pest control company located in Central and Northern Virginia. The endowment will support urban entomology research – research that promises to lead to the types of discoveries that underpin Miller’s work.

“This gift is truly transformational to our program at Virginia Tech,” said Kring. “There is a void in basic foundational research for urban pest management. We want to expand our program by adding a research component to our toolbox in order to pioneer next-step treatment options for indoor pests. No insecticide lasts forever. So, coming up with a new tool requires research.”

— Written by Amy Painter

VIDEO: Virginia Tech entomologist finds practical solution for cockroach infestations

Share

Inga Haugen embraces her roots in her role as library liaison

Library liaison Inga Haugen discusses tobacco research with Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center director Carol Wilkinson and faculty member Ford Ramsey.

Library liaison Inga Haugen discusses tobacco research with Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center director Carol Wilkinson and faculty member Ford Ramsey.

Farming analogies roll off Inga Haugen’s tongue like hay bales off a baler.

“I love baling and stacking hay bales. Do you have any that I can stack? Sometimes I just miss it!,” said Haugen, the University Libraries’ liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Baling hay, milking cows, and enjoying wide-open spaces are part of Haugen’s history.

She grew up with her two brothers, Olaf and Thor, on Springside Farm near Canton in southern Minnesota. Her father, Vance Haugen, was an Extension agent for the University of Wisconsin, and her mother, Bonnie, ran their 100-head dairy farm. Her family also owns a 160-acre farm near Oklee in northern Minnesota, a century farm that has been in the Haugen family for more than 100 years. “It’s called Apocalypse Acres, because my dad always said we’d get crops off of it three years out of 10,” joked Inga.

As a library liaison for the college, she provides workshops and services for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty, including those in the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (AREC) across Virginia. Throughout the year, she visits the ARECs to provide updates from Newman Library and offer information about research data management, new library resources, and potential collaborations with Haugen’s library colleagues in digital libraries, research impact, data services, and the library studios.

“I love them best, these are my people,” said Haugen. “I understand their needs and can help them with their important work. Growing up on the farm, I saw first-hand the importance of ARECs. The information that they provide farmers could mean the difference between a red bottom line and a black bottom line in a farm’s checkbook,” said Haugen.

Haugen’s recent travels took her to Hampton and the waterfront Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (VSAREC) where the Hampton River opens to the James. There, she taught a workshop about the new search tool Discovery Search, digital object identifiers to track impact of published research, citation management tools, and opportunities to collaborate with the University Libraries’ studios, such as the data visualization studio.

In turn, she learned about the latest research being conducted in their labs. Graduate student Sam Ratcliff described his research in shrimp reproduction that could potentially cut hatchery costs in half for the ornamental shrimp industry. The VSAREC is known for its conservation projects, seafood quality and safety expertise, and applied marine hatchery research and extension that all directly support the Virginia seafood industry — a growing industry that employs close to 7,000 Virginians.

Her second stop of the two-day trip was the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SPAREC) in Blackstone.  There, center director Carol Wilkinson, Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics faculty member Ford Ramsey, and Haugen discussed a collaborative research project that utilizes the center’s 30 years of data about flue-cured tobacco, also known internationally as Virginia tobacco.

Haugen’s goal is to take that data, currently in paper form, and transform it to digital files stored in VTechData in order to make it more accessible for future researchers.

When Haugen learned about Ramsey’s research interest, she suggested that he visit the SPAREC and meet Wilkinson. Haugen knew about the unique and precious data he was searching for because she was making plans to digitize it.

Wilkinson and Ramsey discussed the best way to gather information from the tobacco production data and explored possible research collaborations. “I met Inga and mentioned my interest in studying historical tobacco variety trials. Someone in my position would never think to come out here. This is invaluable,” said Ramsey.

Wilkinson and Haugen have worked together on a variety of projects, including new areas of research in industrial hemp.

“The University Libraries is central to anything I want to do,” said Wilkinson. “All of a sudden I have to learn about hemp. ‘Inga, where do I find information about industrial hemp?’ Her answer is always ‘I can help you with that.’ Inga has broadened my horizons about all of the things my librarians can do.”

– Written by Ann Brown

 

Share

Virginia Cooperative Extension forms key partnerships to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic

Imagine awakening to the news that a jetliner has crashed, killing all 115 men, women, and children aboard.

As shocking as the magnitude of such loss would be, this is equivalent to the number of Americans who die from opioid overdose every day.

As if the deaths of approximately 42,000 people each year weren’t sobering enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion annually, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

“The rates of death as a result of opioid overdose are climbing, and they are over 50 percent greater in rural Southwest Virginia than for the state,” said Kathy Hosig, director for the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research and a specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the outreach program for the state’s two land-grant universities: Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. “There is a clear role for Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension to provide safety education and training at the community level to help stop the cycle of abuse.”

In June, Virginia Cooperative Extension was awarded a $1.28 million grant for collaborative opioid work through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant was one of only six conferred nationally for addressing community needs.

“By having Virginia Tech and Virginia State University partner on the project, we were able to double the funding,” said Crystal Tyler-Mackey, an Extension specialist in community viability, and co-project director, along with VSU’s Maurice Smith, a 4-H Extension specialist with the university.

Awarded by the USDA-NIFA Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk program, the five-year grant will support health education initiatives spearheaded by Extension aimed at preventing opioid abuse among vulnerable communities in Virginia. This work is a continuation of a $321,638 NIFA Rural Health and Safety Education grant awarded last fall to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Together, the efforts are reaching six counties: Grayson, Henry/Martinsville, Prince George, Orange, Sussex, and Henrico.

Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig

From left: Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig. Williams serves as national program leader with the NIFA division of youth and 4-H.

“Southwest Virginia is especially vulnerable. We have communities that are suffering. They are struggling to find homes for children whose parents are impacted,” said Tyler-Mackey. “And across Virginia, social service agencies and schools are overwhelmed. Employers are having trouble hiring people who can pass drug tests. We felt compelled to find a way as community-level educators to do something to address the issue.”

The grants will enable Extension to deliver educational programming to prevent the abuse and misuse of opioids and other illicit substances to those most at risk and to host meetings and events that bring together people and organizations concerned about opioid misuse for collaborative discussion, learning, and planning.

The NIFA funding will be targeted to two distinct audiences: adult hospital patients and their families in clinical settings, and middle-school adolescents through evidence-based educational programs.

The goal in targeting hospital patients is to make them aware of the dangers associated with use of opioid pain medications and to provide access to support should they or a family member experience problems related to opioid use. This intervention will take the form of one-on-one conversations with patients and their loved ones through the High Risk Patient Education Program.

“There are different risks with opioids than with over-the-counter medications because opioids are so highly addictive,” said Tyler-Mackey. “Patients do not always know that what they are taking for pain management is an opioid. So, many don’t know the risk associated with its use. The education of medical patients will be on proper use of the medications and red flags to look for, such as taking medication sooner, or more often than prescribed.”

Curriculum for this program is being developed by the Virginia Rural Health Association for delivery to patients as they are waiting to see health care providers in their offices and will also be available on the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Rural Health Association websites.

The second goal for the NIFA grants is to provide prevention education for adolescents at a vulnerable stage in their development – middle school – in order to provide children and their families with the skills and support required to make healthy decisions about drugs. This will take shape through a program called PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER), an evidence-based model developed by Iowa State and Pennsylvania State universities to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in youth.

Through this model, which connects university-based prevention researchers with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the public school system, community teams are convened to oversee the implementation of family and school-based interventions. The family-based intervention program is called Strengthening Families 10-14, and the program offered to youth in middle schools is called Botvin Life Skills Training.

All three PROSPER programs include classroom sessions addressing social and psychological factors leading to drug experimentation through the use of games, discussions, role-playing, worksheets, online content, posters, and videos. Endorsed by the Surgeon General in a 2016 report, the program has produced successful results. According to one randomized study, youth participating in PROSPER had 21 percent less prescription opioid misuse seven years after the program.

“PROSPER communities have wonderful outcomes for youth,” said Tyler-Mackey, who is working to educate a cadre of certified trainers throughout the state. “We have a longer-term strategy to start with a few communities and expand. Other states have had success with PROSPER, so we want to continue with that.”

“Given the importance of this effort and the need for partnerships to address the opioid epidemic at all levels, we’re also working to coordinate efforts across the state and region by building relationships with other universities, state agencies, hospitals, schools, and institutions who have a role to play in the opioid epidemic,” said Hosig.

In May, Hosig and other experts from Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research, and the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance brought together 71 higher education representatives from 23 colleges and universities across the region, along with community representatives from health departments, community services boards, and law enforcement for a day of conversations on how to jointly combat the opioid epidemic. Suggested next steps from the workshop include developing a common research agenda, formulating a regional approach, and integrating information on opioid misuse and abuse into the curricula at institutions of higher learning.

The workshop and NIFA awards would not have been possible without Virginia Cooperative Extension leaders Ed Jones, director; Cathy Sutphin, associate director of youth, families, and health; Karen Vines, an Extension specialist and assistant professor; and, Hosig, as well as colleagues at Virginia Tech, VSU, and the Virginia Rural Health Association. Jones’ leadership was instrumental in helping to secure NIFA funding – funding that stands to help save many lives.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is also partnering with West Virginia Cooperative Extension to develop steps to address the epidemic.

“The good news is that the opioid crisis in this country is being attacked on all sides as people and agencies on federal, state, and local levels come together to fight this problem,” said Tyler-Mackey.

– Written by Amy Painter

Share

Delbert O’Meara inducted to Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame

Alan Grant, Delbert O'Meara, and Dixie Watts Dalton

Delbert O’Meara (center) was inducted to the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame at the annual college alumni awards ceremony. He is pictured with Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Dixie Watts Dalton, president of the college’s alumni organization.

Delbert O’Meara, of Walters, Virginia, a 1962 graduate of animal science and a 1967 graduate of agricultural education, was inducted to the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame on April 20, 2018, at the annual college alumni awards ceremony.

O’Meara was born a year before the beginning of World War II and was raised on a farm in Loudoun County. As a youngster, he was an active 4-H member. Throughout his formative years, he enjoyed working with livestock. This led him to become the Sears and Roebuck Pig Chair and a state 4-H poultry winner. O’Meara also helped to establish the Prince William County Fair, the Fredericksburg County Fair, and the State Fair of Virginia. It was through these accomplishments that his early leadership skills were recognized, and he earned a trip to attend the National 4-H Congress in Chicago.

The young man’s 4-H experiences helped him develop numerous programs that are vital aspects of youth development today. These include the State 4-H Fair, the creation of 4-H centers across the commonwealth, and the State 4-H Horse Project. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing partnerships with the Virginia land-use taxation program and agricultural commodity groups, which serve as the backbone of Virginia’s agriculture. Following his youthful passion for 4-H livestock judging teams, O’Meara has served as a member of the National 4-H Livestock Contest for more than 50 years, and continues to attend the event to this day.

This alumnus has not only shown himself to be dedicated to the youth of the state and to 4-H, but also to his fellow and future Extension agents. He began his career in Extension in 1962 with the Nansemond County Office and went on to work in the Southeast District Office in a variety of positions until his early retirement in 1991. Throughout his career in Extension, O’Meara has been a mentor, working with both the Virginia and National County Agents Association on many programs for staff development. In conjunction with his work as a mentor in Virginia, he helped provide professional development for staff and new agents, starting the Agricultural and Extension Agent Leadership Fund. Delbert also brought Virginia Cooperative Extension to the national stage when he helped to plan and host the National Extension Meeting in Virginia in 1976.

In addition to his contributions of time and effort, O’Meara has made a number of philanthropic gifts to Virginia Tech and is a Distinguished Benefactor in Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society.  

Share

Virginia Tech professor and 4-H youth team up to establish Community and 4-H Center in Senegal

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

After years of fundraising and collaboration, the Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center has been established in Santamba, Senegal, an inland village in the southern region, just above the Gambia.

The center, designed to benefit the entire community, will become a place for youth and adults to develop leadership skills and move forward together.

The center was made possible through the work and financial support of many, including the Morris family, the Virginia 4-H program, the USAID Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project management team, and Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Ozzie Abaye, whose participation was instrumental. For Abaye, her work with the Santamba community was inspired by her parents and mentors, Samuel and Eleanor Morris, for whom the center was named.

“They dedicated their lives to public service and emphasized education as the tool for successful individual development and community-building,” said Abaye, explaining why her parents were a perfect fit for the naming of the center.

The center, which will serve around 300 people, is designed as a venue for a variety of social and business activities, providing a meeting room and a food preparation space. It will meet the needs of the Santamba community and will be led by a community-elected management team.

The center will also be key to the continued development of 4-H Senegal as a safe space for youth to gather and learn. 4-H Senegal was established to motivate young people to understand agriculture, to be involved in family farms, and to join in with their communities. The program was officially launched two years ago and now has a home in the center.

Katlyn Smith, a Virginia Tech student interested in youth development, saw the potential for a 4-H program early on. Smith traveled to Senegal with Abaye.

“I feel that 4-H is really going to help bring the community together, and I know the youth are going to be so appreciative to have something like 4-H to participate in,” Smith said following her trip to Senegal.

While there, she worked with children, playing games, gardening, and leading community service projects. This work was central to the early stages of 4-H Senegal.

When efforts on the Senegal project began, the center captured the hearts of Virginia 4-H’ers. The 4-H youth selected “Cents for Senegal” as their 2016 State 4-H Congress charity campaign – an effort that would become the group’s highest grossing youth campaign, more than doubling the initial goal. This was largely because of the personal connections many 4-H’ers made with Bineta Guisse, the Senegalese 4-H coordinator and outreach officer who visited Virginia during last year’s 4-H Congress.

Guisse’s visit was so impactful that one 4-H’er was inspired to donate all proceeds from the sale of her 4-H lamb project. Elizabeth Koranek from Madison County donated $2,331 after learning about the Senegalese woman’s hopes for the center.

Virginia 4-H’ers showed their dedication to their peers in Senegal while demonstrating the impact young people can make. The Virginia 4-H funds were used to pour cement, paint the center, and plant trees.

The Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center is advancing the efforts of USAID/ERA, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia 4-H. For the village of Santamba, the center will be a home for education and community.

— Written by Caroline Sutphin

Share