STARKVILLE, Miss.--Months of preparation proved to be worth every ounce of effort when Mississippi State enjoyed a presence on the National Mall during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.
The venue gave the university valuable exposure in the nation's capital over a nearly two-week period that included Independence Day. It was an opportunity for students, faculty and staff representing the university to interact with people from around the country and all over the world.
"This was a dance we couldn't afford to miss," said Peter Ryan, associate provost.
Held annually since 1967, the festival this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the congressional legislation passed during the Civil War that created land-grant institutions such as MSU. This year's theme, "Campus and Community," also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with which MSU has a long working relationship.
A total of 18 institutions of higher learning participated this year, each with exhibits to demonstrate their respective contributions to the modern land-grant system.
The national award-winning EcoCAR was among MSU's featured displays, including the original vehicle--a plug-in hybrid adapted by students to achieve 118 miles per gallon and took top honors in national competition. The display also explained key technologies for EcoCAR2, which students are currently developing. The MSU team was recognized this year as winners of the initial design phase of the EcoCAR2 competition.
Located in the festival's "Sustainable Solutions" area, EcoCAR2 team members answered questions about fuel efficiency and performance, while also providing simple lessons about energy for children. Kimberly Torries of Gulfport, a business administration graduate student and EcoCAR2 outreach coordinator, used balloons to demonstrate kinetic and potential energy to youngsters while their parents learned how university research is on the cutting edge of automotive advancement.
"We saw many really well-informed members of the public, and had a lot of very good questions about our exhibit," said Matthew Doude of Starkville, a mechanical engineering graduate student who leads the EcoCAR2 team.
In the nearby "Reinventing Agriculture" area, MSU's thermography exhibit also appealed to scores of passersby. Summertime temperatures were illustrated as visitors saw their own reflections in bright colors that revealed their personal thermal gradients. With temperatures near 100 degrees, jewelry and the tops of heads reflected heat, while lips and teeth--particularly those that enjoyed a recent sip of water--showed "cold."
One sweaty youth slid a cool water bottle across her head, creating the illusion of a "mohawk" in the thermal image projected on a television monitor. People played with hot and cold packs to see how temperatures affected the images as they learned how thermography allows for noninvasive diagnostic methods of disease and injury in animals, among other applications.
Designed to be interactive, each MSU exhibit engaged the public with hands-on activities. "Maggie," a mechanical milking cow, proved to be among the most popular draws for festival visitors and appealed to children and adults alike.
One mother noted that her daughter had insisted on returning to milk "Maggie" at least three times a day. For many, the experience represented one of the first times they had considered the track of food commodities from agricultural settings to the marketplace.
David Gillen of Clifton, N.J., and Chris Magee of Brandon were among College of Veterinary Medicine students who demonstrated workings of the Mobile Veterinary Clinic that spays and neuters an average of 30 shelter animals a day in a 16-county area.
They explained numerous benefits of the program, including valuable surgery experience for students and life-saving surgeries to animals that otherwise face a much higher probability of euthanasia than adoption.
"It's interesting to teach people about animal overpopulation and how to do something about it, as well share with them what our efforts have been to approach the problem," said Magee, a senior who has completed nearly 200 spay and neuter surgeries as a veterinary student.
He said it's not uncommon for veterinary students at other universities to complete only a few surgeries prior to graduation.
Mother and daughter Ida and Vera Smith of Maryland said they were attending the festival for the fourth consecutive year. Both are former Peace Corps travelers who attend each year to learn new things about cultures and traditions in the United States and beyond.
"I learned about the digital thermal imaging and the mobile unit and the services that both provide," Vera Smith said of the MSU exhibit.
"These were wonderful interactive displays," said George Hopper, dean of MSU's colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Forest Resources. "Once you're able to get people involved, they start asking questions, and when they ask questions, then you've really got an opportunity to do some teaching.
"Our students are great teachers and great ambassadors for our university and our state," Hopper added.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.