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Kansas State University

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A newly formed partnership will enable Kansas State University to help rural communities identify ways to adjust to future climate scenarios that may affect their families and livelihoods.

The Central Great Plains Climate Change Education Partnership will include both agricultural and rural education stakeholders, as well as K-State Research and Extension and the Center for Instructional Innovation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is supported by a two-year, $1 million National Science Foundation grant.

"Agriculture, especially in this region, is vital in terms of the world's food supply," said Ben Champion, K-State director of sustainability and the project's principal investigator. "Crop and animal production in this region is highly sensitive to any changes in precipitation patterns, surface and groundwater supplies, and temperature extremes. There are things producers can do now to minimize the risk of being adversely affected by any such changes."

The goal of the partnership is to meet with rural Kansans to learn about their needs and to find out how to develop effective strategies for dealing with such environments, whether it’s adjusting current management systems or adopting new practices.

"In keeping with the land-grant mission of developing knowledge that serves the citizens of the state of Kansas, that's exactly what we need to be doing with this grant opportunity," Champion said. "We need to make sure rural areas have what they need to meet any future precipitation and temperature environments that may occur."

K-State was one of 14 programs chosen to receive the National Science Foundation award, which is a Phase 1 grant that supports building the partnership among interested parties and then planning locally relevant educational programs. After that K-State can apply for a five-year grant that will support the development of these educational programs. The partnership also helps with K-State's goal of becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025.

Some educational programs could include training extension specialists to work with rural communities in preparing to meet different future climate scenarios. In turn, specialists can solicit the expertise, knowledge and concerns of communities so that policymakers can effectively address producers' needs.

"What we need to do is make sure this education effort improves producers' lives and their capacity to deal with variations in climate, and results in development opportunities for rural communities," Champion said.

The partnership will focus on three areas: climate science, learning science and education practitioners. A 10-member team provides expertise in each of the areas.

The co-principal investigators for the partnership include Charles Rice, university distinguished professor of agronomy and director of the K-State Soil Carbon Center; Daniel Devlin, K-State professor of agronomy; and Roger Bruning, professor of cognitive psychology and director of the UNL Center for Instructional Innovation.

Other senior K-State personnel for the project include: John Harrington Jr., professor of geography; Jacqueline Spears, professor of curriculum and instruction; Timothy Steffensmeier, division head of communication studies and a research associate with the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy; Daniel Kahl, community development extension associate; and Shannon Washburn, associate professor of agricultural education.

Other senior UNL personnel involved include Lisa Pytlik Zillig, a research professor with the Center for Instructional Innovation and a research specialist at the university's Public Policy Center.