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Outreach connects faculty member’s work with real-world solutions

Elizabeth McCarty receives Warnell’s 2019-2020 Alumni Association faculty award for Outreach


Elizabeth McCarty is willing to help out.

From her office and lab at the University of Georgia’s Tifton campus, a typical day for McCarty could include a few phone calls from state agencies looking for pesticide guidance or a trip to a Georgia Extension office for an in-person tutorial.

Elizabeth McCarty headshotOr, really, a whole list of things. As forest health specialist for the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, McCarty spends a good bit of her time sharing her expertise with a range of stakeholders and constituents. It’s a great way to share her research and expertise, she says, and propels her to do more, both with the public and in the lab.

McCarty’s work also has been recognized by her peers at Warnell, where she’s received the 2019-2020 Alumni Association Faculty Award for Outreach. She is one of six faculty members receiving awards from Warnell this spring.

“I think this outreach/research appointment is perfect for me, and I think it allows my research to have a greater effect,” says McCarty, whose work focuses mainly on forest insects and diseases, pesticide safety and pollinators. “For example, I’ve applied for a research grant to do more environmental work with hemlocks, and I have a stakeholder team that is providing oversight and guidance.”

McCarty’s stakeholders can run the gamut, though, from the traditional Extension system to state and federal agencies. She says she tried to build relationships and be responsive. As a result, she says, people feel comfortable calling for advice or just asking a question.

For example, state agencies that run hemlock management programs are making decisions on how to treat their trees, and approach it in an environmentally responsible way. McCarty’s research in this area directly connects with the outreach work that she does.

“Sometimes it’s a phone call to give them guidance about a particular situation, other times it’s pesticide calculations for big programs,” she says. “A lot of it is talking through concerns about pesticide use, to help guide them.”

As a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, McCarty optimized a pesticide application based on the diameter of a tree. She then collaborated with partners in the Tennessee Division of Forestry and developed a practical application for the field. In the years since, through outreach work, the application method has been adopted by agencies in the eastern U.S., amounting to more than 100,000 treatments.

It’s one of many success stories that McCarty is happy to have a hand in telling. “We’re working with people in the system to make good decisions with the information we now know,” she adds. “We’re in the realm of finding solutions rather than finding problems.”

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