OSU answers public's questions online via virtual 'office'

Searching the internet for information is quick but often frustrating and accuracy can be an issue. Asking a professional via the expediency and ease of an email provides answers you need backed by research you can trust. 

Ask an Expert, a free online question-and-answer service of Oregon State University’s Extension Service, has a cadre of 250 faculty and volunteer specialists who will answer questions on average within 48 hours. The subject matter is far ranging, but questions about insects, sustainable gardening, plant identification, lawn care, and tree and shrub issues are especially common.

Since its inception in 2011, OSU experts had answered tens of thousands of questions before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then questions came pouring in, according to Sandy Reichhuber, the program’s administrative program assistant.

Questions ballooned to 6,625 in the first half of 2020, more than all of the questions answered in 2019.

“If we continue to grow at this rate, there won’t be any questions left unanswered and all Oregonians will be experts in gardening, food preservation, forestry, water quality and more,” Reichhuber joked.

Ask an Expert helps spot trends that Extension can respond to by increasing efforts to provide the public with research-based facts rather than the hit-or-miss information on the internet, Reichhuber said. For instance, concerned people have written in wondering why their large conifers are dying, a phenomenon brought on by increasing drought events in Oregon. Extension dealt with the emerging trend with a press release and Question of the Week.

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