What’s New

Compiled by Leah Barbour · Photos by Kevin Hudson

Extension Nutrition Educator Earns National Recognition

A woman stands in front of a grocery store fruit display.
Tabitha McRunnels works with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

Tabitha McRunnels (pictured above) offers nutrition education as part of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP, in Lee County. In March, McRunnels, a program assistant with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, received one of only three national peer educator awards in recognition of her contributions to EFNEP’s legacy of improving lives of low-income families through nutrition education.

McRunnels challenges participants in her nutrition education classes to learn new skills and develop new attitudes about healthy eating. In Mississippi, EFNEP is administered by Extension with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Goals include increasing healthy behaviors among children, young people, and families.

Studies show that EFNEP participation in Mississippi reduces government costs for healthcare, increases participants’ fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity, and improves food preparation and storage safety practices.


Mississippi 4-H Equine Programs Boost Safety Standards

A young boy wearing a red Spiderman jacket and a blue helmet stands next to a brown and white horse.
A new helmet policy has been put in place in order to prevent head injuries.

Almost one in five horse-related injuries impact the rider’s head, and these injuries, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, are the leading cause of equine-related rider deaths.

Mississippi 4-H leaders, understanding that common-sense safety precautions can prevent these kinds of head injuries, are implementing a new statewide policy. Now, when they practice or compete at 4-H events, 4-H’ers aged 18 and younger must wear properly fastened American Standard for Testing Materials (ASTM)/Safety Equipment Institute (SEI)-approved headgear when mounted on a horse.

This new helmet policy for all Mississippi 4-H equine events went into effect in March. Requiring riders to wear helmets reinforces the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s dedication to the safety of young people, and the policy emphasizes the importance of adhering to the very highest safety and health standards.


Extension Hires New Irrigation, Peanut Specialists

Dr. Drew M. Gholson,
Irrigation Specialist
Dr. Brendan Zurweller,
Peanut Specialist and
Assistant Professor

The Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station recently co-appointed new irrigation and peanut specialists to serve the state’s agricultural producers.

Irrigation specialist Dr. Drew M. Gholson will serve as the primary contact to support Mississippi growers with their irrigation needs. He will conduct research and share demonstrations with producers to improve efficiency and promote conservation. Gholson completed his bachelor’s degree in rangeland ecology and management, his master’s degree in water management and hydrological sciences, and his doctorate in soil science from Texas A&M University.

Dr. Brendan Zurweller, peanut specialist and assistant professor, will deliver educational programs and conduct research designed to improve the peanut-production systems in Mississippi. Zurweller earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and his master’s degree in soil science from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He earned his doctorate in agronomy from the University of Florida.


Extension Agents Learn Mental Health First Aid

Five women and two men stand next to each other smiling. Two women in the middle hold a stuffed animal.
The PROMISE (Preventing Opioid Misuse in the SouthEast) Initiative

As the opioid epidemic continues impacting lives, the Mississippi State University Extension Service is “promising” to make a difference, and a recent instructor training allowed agents to earn certifications in delivering Mental Health First Aid.

As part of the PROMISE Initiative, 15 Extension personnel, including agents and faculty specializing in family and consumer sciences and in agriculture, were trained and certified as Mental Health First Aid instructors. These agents and specialists are certified to teach the 8-hour Mental Health First Aid course, which teaches individuals how to understand, identify, and respond to signs of mental illness.

PReventing Opioid Misuse in the SouthEast, or the PROMISE Initiative, is supported by a $310,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grants Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and a nearly $1.1 million grant over 2 years from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Rural Opioids Technical Assistance Grants Program. To schedule Mental Health First Aid training in your community, contact Mary Nelson Robertson at mnr72@msstate.edu.

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