Outreach continues during Covid-19 health issue

July 15, 2020

Entomology’s outreach plans creatively evolved to accommodate the COVID-19 cancellation of all OSU in-person activities on March 16. Our outreach team, Denise Ellsworth, Jeni Ruisch, and Jeni Filbrun implemented successful dynamic and interactive online programs, while maintaining their high level of continuous care for our Columbus and Wooster Bug Zoos.

Denise Ellsworth, Program Director Pollinator Education

  • A Bug’s World, our annual outreach event for 2nd and 3rd graders, brought close to 400 children to the Wooster campus in early March to observe, touch and even eat insects. The event is “all hands-on deck,” with faculty staff and students working together to make the event a success. Nearly 50 volunteers (many working both days of the event) help with activities and guide students from session to session. As luck would have it, the event came and went before life on and off campus changed because of COVID-19.
  • Pollinator Education & Outreach During COVID-19 Once the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic reached Ohio, spring entomology outreach plans came to an abrupt halt. Instead of in-person conferences, workshops, and small-group sessions, we modified “in person” to “on-line.”
    • Ohio Pollinators On-Line Course: Instead of meeting monthly with three grant funded pollinator education programs, Denise Ellsworth’s pollinator education program morphed into an 8-week on-line course developed in March and April on the national eXtension on-line campus: Ohio Pollinators On-Line. Through this course, 120 participants in the Volunteer Pollinator Specialist program, the OSU Pollinator Short Course and the Bee Survey Team completed activities, forums, and assignments to continue learning and networking about pollinators. 60% of participants have to date completed at least six weekly sessions, with another 20% working to complete the on-line course work. The course will transition to a Pollinator Advocate Certificate Program as the year unfolds -- a serendipitous product of COVID-19 that would have taken much longer without the crisis as motivation.
    • ZoomBees Pollinator webinars: A series of weekly webinars were conducted in March and April to educate participants about pollinator topics, including bumble bees, native plant habitat, bee identification and more. In total 11 pollinator-related webinars were produced, with an average of 90 participants per weekly session. The Bees in Your Ohio Backyard session attracted over 1000 participants!
    • The Ohio Bee Survey:  The Ohio Bee Survey was set to begin in 2020 with the goal of creating a detailed inventory of wild bees in Ohio. This survey relies on volunteer community scientists to collect bees weekly for 21 weeks across the state. Instead of in-person training sessions and “bee kit” distribution to community scientists, the survey coordinators (MaLisa Spring and Ellsworth) had to find creative ways to order, create and ship individual kits needed by bee collectors in the midst of the pandemic health crisis. 150 community scientists were successfully recruited across Ohio in nearly every county. Written materials and webinar trainings were developed to allow the survey to begin a few short weeks later than the original (non- COVID-19) timetable. Bee collectors are now surveying parks, farms, and home landscapes.


Jeni Filbrun, Wooster Campus Bug Zookeeper

  • BugZooWoo: Preparation for the New Science building on the Wooster campus is in full swing. Jeni Filbrun is planning, designing, and building new Bug Zoo displays and infrastructure, sourcing new animals, and preparing the new building’s USDA permit application – this will also allow Jeni to expand the insect diversity within the already large Wooster arthropod collection. Interested in “adopting” the BugZooWoo, or certain displays, contact Jeni: Filbrun.13@osu.edu


Jeni Ruisch, Program Director Outreach/Academic Coordination & Columbus Campus Bug Zookeeper

  • Columbus Bug Zoo: 2020 has been quite a ride so far! But like our most successful creepy crawly friends, the Entomology department is adapting to our changing environment. As our campuses shut down, access to facilities was greatly reduced. The arthropod residents at Waterman Farm require hours of specialty care several days a week and continuous monitoring of temperature and humidity levels. Rather than leave them on a reduced care schedule, Ruisch decided they would move into her house! Tank by tank, she loaded them into her car and shuttled them to her residence. Over 40 species in all, she set up a bug zoo in her dining room. And there they will stay until things go back to normal. (Well, as normal as they can be when you oversee a tiny zoo.)

Temporary Home of Columbus Bug Zoo

  • Outreach by Zoom: Our traditional in-person events were canceled one by one as the state shut down to stymie the spread of Covid-19. Classroom visits, festivals, and university celebrations and meetings evolved from face-to-face gatherings where people can touch and interact with arthropods, to remote iterations where the parameters for performance were flipped on their heads. We took our challenges as opportunities and ran with them! Classroom visits became Zoom meetings, with Ruisch sitting in her house and showing off her creatures and their behaviors for her laptop camera. She pivoted summer camps to self-taught curriculum for the campers. Even the COSI Big Science Festival became an online event, with hundreds of families tuning in from their homes to learn about the food web, and how it links animals together. All in all, this spring has been an example of successful dynamic teaching methods coming from all parts of the outreach department. But we cannot wait to get back to the face to face learning we have come to love.