By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University’s representatives at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall are reporting successful efforts to raise nationwide awareness of the university’s engineering and agriculture programs.
The festival officially began on Wednesday and continues over the next two weeks, and it carries a “Campus and Community” theme commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act which created MSU and other land-grant institutions. More than 50 MSU students, faculty and staff traveled to Washington for the festival, with three programs represented in two areas of the festival.
The MSU EcoCAR team, named national champions at the EcoCAR 2012 Competition in Los Angeles this May, is appearing at the festival’s Sustainable Solutions area. Meanwhile, its Reinventing Agriculture area plays host to MSU’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic and a special thermal imaging exhibit. Peter Ryan, MSU associate provost for academic affairs and coordinator for MSU’s presence at the festival, said all three exhibits had many visitors, and the thermal imaging exhibit attracted special attention.
“’Maggie the Milking Cow,’ a life size Jersey cow, had a real big (first) day,” Ryan said. “Folks flocked to talk to the students about dairy production, use of thermal imaging for evaluating udder health and to try their hand at milking the cow. The cow was a feature of the Washington Post local section on Tuesday’s paper.”
Phil Bushby, veterinary medicine professor at MSU, is leading the Mobile Veterinary Clinic exhibit team, and he said the response to the MVC was overwhelmingly positive even before the festival officially started.
“We arrived Monday afternoon (and) set up the mobile unit on the Washington, D.C. mall (Tuesday),” Bushby said. “There are always people on the mall ... so even though we were still setting up, we had people showing interest.”
Bushby said the MVC’s exhibit is aimed primarily at raising awareness of pet overpopulation. An estimated 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in animal shelters each year, he said, and the MVC’s display features a computerized counter which uses this estimate to count animals euthanized in a single day.
“Every two seconds, it ticks up one,” Bushby said. “That comes to 16,000 a day. It also has a counter of the number of animals euthanized this year. On July 1, it’s going to hit 2 million. You stand in front of that counter for 10 minutes, and you watch that counter tick up by 300.”
Bushby said a lot of visitors are surprised to discover how severe the problem is; even animal lovers are often unaware of this severity. The display also educates people on the importance of adoption and programs like Homeward Bound, a program bringing animals from local shelters to homes in the northeast originated by MSU veterinary students.
“We’re excited about people learning about pet overpopulation, but we’re also excited about the opportunity to represent MSU and the CVM,” Bushby said. “One of the questions we’ve gotten from several people so far is, ‘Are other vet schools doing this same thing?” For the most part, the answer is no. It really puts Mississippi and MSU in a positive light.”
Ryan said it is still early in the festival, but faculty, staff and students have already gained much from it. Many MSU alumni and other Mississippi natives living in the Washington, D.C. area visited the displays, he said.
“The students from each of the colleges found this a very rewarding and positive experience today and enjoyed interacting with the public,” Ryan said. “The faculty also had a good day, and several reporters and TV recording crews interviewed the faculty.”