Ask an Expert All Stars honored for service

Linda Brandon, Master Gardener volunteer coordinator for N.C. Cooperative Extension in Guilford County, is at her computer quite a bit, assisting county homeowners with home garden questions.

So it’s no wonder that Brandon has answered more than 750 client questions about home horticulture through Extension’s Ask the Expert widget since 2009.

Brandon was among five N.C. Cooperative Extension professionals recognized as Ask an Expert All Stars by Extension Information Technology for quick responses to client questions asked through Extension’s Ask an Expert widget over the past year.

All Cooperative Extension’s county center pages include a link to Ask an Expert, where citizens can pose questions related to Extension subject matter areas. Questions are forwarded to Cooperative Extension representatives in the person’s home county who answer through the Ask an Expert widget.

Brandon has been a Guilford County Master Gardener since 2007, and she started work as program coordinator in 2008, overseeing the work of the county’s 165 Master Gardeners. Guilford Master Gardeners are available 30 hours each week to answer client questions by phone, email or for walk-ins, and Brandon says she enjoys the chance to help citizens.

“I’m on the computer all the time, and it’s no big deal to take 10 to 15 minutes to answer a question,” Brandon said. “I’m very customer-focused, and I treat questions with a high degree of importance.”

Ask an Expert All Stars were recognized for their quick responses – within 24 hours or less – and the high number of questions they answered.

The five Ask an Expert All Stars are:

• Linda Brandon, who answered 175 questions within an average of four hours. Brandon is N.C. Cooperative Extension’s leading respondent for Ask an Expert, having answered more than 750 questions since the widgets went live on Extension websites.
• David Goforth, Cabarrus County horticulture agent, who answered more than 100 questions in an average of less than 15 hours.
• Shawn Banks, Johnston County horticulture agent, who answered more than 100 questions in an average of less than 24 hours.
• Linda Blue, Buncombe County horticulture agent, who answered 65 questions in an average of 10 hours.
• Charlotte Glen, Pender County horticulture agent, who answered more than 60 questions in an average of less than 24 hours.

The beauty of the widget is that it retains the all agent responses in a database of the national eXtension program, said Rhonda Conlon, director of Extension Information Technology.

Response time is important, Conlon said, because research conducted by extension shows that Ask an Expert users who don’t receive feedback within 48 hours simply give up or look elsewhere.

One helpful feature of N.C. Cooperative Extension’s widget is that clients can include a photo with their question, adding valuable information to help Extension personnel answer a question.

The widgets were added to N.C. Cooperative Extension websites in 2009 and were well-received by clients. Conlon said that about 90 percent of the consumer questions are related to horticulture, which explains why the five All Stars are all associated with horticulture programs.

Brandon says that she gets a wide range of questions through the widget, including how to handle blossom end rot in tomatoes, when to prune and fertilize various plants or what type of grass seed is best for a yard. For disease or insect questions that come from Guilford County, Brandon can ask the client to bring in a sample or send a photo.

“People are always profoundly grateful for a response,” she said.

To ask a question on the N.C. Cooperative Extension Ask an Expert widget, find the webpage for your local extension center and click on the Ask and Expert widget above the search box in the left hand column.

A widget on the state Cooperative Extension page compiles questions that can be directed to the appropriate county center.

-Natalie Hampton

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